Full of profanity, weird mis-translations and bizarre sexual sub-plots, the subtitles on an obscure Chinese bootleg version of Revenge Of The Sith help reinvent the third instalment in the Star Wars saga as something truly outlandish and inspired.
As part of our week of alternative Star Wars coverage leading up to The Force Awakens, Jordan Adcock spoke to the man who uncovered the amazing oddity
Picture the scene. Padme is dead. The Jedi are lost. Anakin’s journey to the dark side is complete.
Darth Vader steps forward to shout “Nooooooooooo!” at the end of Revenge of the Sith, and then the following sub-title duly pops up:
Welcome to the weird and wonderful world of the brilliantly named Star War: The Third Gathers – The Backstroke of the West, otherwise known as Revenge Of The Sith when accompanied by possibly the worst – and also the funniest – English subtitles ever produced for a film.
It’s not that they’re simply a bit inaccurate; they are consistently so mangled in comparison to the actual dialogue that ROTS becomes an all-new experience with them. Even when it’s mostly right, it’s still hilariously wrong:
But just where did this intergalactic nonsense come from?
Shortly after ROTS came out in 2005, blogger Jeremy Winterson (having already seen the film in a cinema, it should be said) picked up a pirated DVD copy from a Shanghai marketplace.
He said he might not have even discovered the subtitles if it wasn’t for visiting relatives:
“I woke up in the morning one day to hear my sister laughing hysterically and faint noises of lasers. She and her husband were up very early because of jet lag and had nothing to do, so they’d decided to watch some movies including Revenge of the Sith.
“I walked into the living room to see what they were laughing at and that’s when I saw the amazingly mangled subtitles of the opening battle.”
And just when did Jeremy sense he might have something special on his hands? Around the moment Obi-Wan asks R2-D2:
It’s not the only time Obi-Wan – renamed here as ‘Ratio Tile’ – tries to pry into others’ sex lives at unfortunate moments.
There’s his exclamation to Anakin – renamed here as ‘Allah Gold’ – when his ship gets hit by buzz droids:
Or how about when he and the Presbyterian Church (Jedi Council, to you and me) order Allah to spy on Speaker D aka ‘The Pudding’ (Palpatine)?
Why are the subtitles so bad? Jeremy has his own theory:
“Someone had listened to the movie and written down what they thought had been said in Chinese. Then it was machine translated back from Chinese into English.
“For example, ‘Hello there’ becomes ‘Everybody is good’ from Nimen Hao, which is a normal Chinese greeting.”
Sounds about right.
After all, no matter how bad translation tools were back in 2005, there’s no way Space General (Grievous) ordering “Activate ray shields!” should suddenly become:
And we particularly love the moment a clone pilot reveals some very sensitive information in the heat of battle:
You can ponder all day exactly how Space General would make his robotic troops eat dog, but it’s much easier and funnier to simply watch Backstroke of the West unfold.
Anakin’s imperative becomes not to turn to the Dark Side (or “compromise to black” as the captions put it), but instead to protect his affair with both Padme and Obi-Wan.
It’s not just that he and Obi-Wan are practically brothers. They’re much closer here – they even share an imaginary elephant friend.
I’m not kidding. They keep mentioning it at the most random moments.
Anakin has further turmoil to deal with, as Padme is planning to eat their baby, and the ‘Presbyterian Church’ is continually distrusting him and trying to make him the fall guy for their shady schemes.
So he finds comfort and sympathy from his other good friend, Speaker D.
And with that, space opera becomes soap opera. One with plenty more space battles, imaginary elephants and cannibalism than your usual soap, but still.
So which version does Jeremy ultimately prefer?
“Backstroke of the West. If every major release also had a spectacularly mangled subtitled counterpart the world would be a much funnier place.”
Here’s to that. Is it too much to hope that The Force Awakens gets its own hilarious pirated subtitles this Christmas, along with the other Star Wars films?
Wait – would Episode V become The Empire Strokes Back?
Okay, we’ll stop now. But you can find even more of the crazy subtitles on Jeremy’s blog.
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