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What Does That Screen Say?


A Long Time Ago ...

From a young age, I have been fascinated by languages and alphabets. I guess that's why, when I saw a certain influential movie in my youth, I was mesmerized by a simple screen filled with text:

Thanks to Michael Donley for the screen capture

In case you don't remember, this text appears on a screen in Return of the Jedi, when Vader's shuttle is transmitting codes to the second Death Star. For years, this text has stuck in my brain. It interested me on a level much deeper than "what a cool Star Wars thing". It was a puzzle, a brain-teaser, and I hoped to one day crack the code.

When the "Aurebesh" alphabet came out from the Star Wars gaming materials of West End Games, I immediately wanted to translate the famous ROJ screen, hereafter referred to as "the screen". So I popped ROJ in my VCR, found the scene, and hit pause. Some of the characters on the screen didn't seem to perfectly match the Aurebesh alphabet, but they were close enough. So I diligently began to decode, quickly realizing that it was total gibberish:

After years of waiting, what a letdown. I realized that the person responsible for this Aurebesh alphabet had not made the movie text readable, and characters were assigned to English letters some other way. As I came to find out, Stephen Crane, the creator of Aurebesh, had originally tried to match the letters up to the screen, but abandoned this because it would be "an almost impossible task" (see for a feature by Aurebesh creator Stephen Crane). Considering what he had to work with at the time, Crane did a great job, and if it weren't for him I might not be here writing this today.

Anyway, I accepted Aurebesh as all I was going to get, and I moved on. Once the PC font came out, I think I spent a few hours giddily changing the font on random Word documents. It's amazing how interesting a paper on Hamlet looks when converted to Aurebesh.

And so it went for several years. Everyone in the Star Wars community seemed to embrace Aurebesh. In Episode I, Aurebesh was even seen in a cockpit readout in Anakin's Naboo fighter, and it translates nearly perfectly into English. So that, I figured, was as close to an official endorsement as one could get.

Continue on to Page 2: The Discovery


This page last modified on 8/25/2006
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