“Cal’s journey begins with listening to ‘Sugaan Essena’, an original song from Mongolian band The HU. That’s not Mongolian you’re hearing though, it’s a language created by the band exclusively for the Star Wars. It’s Cal’s favorite song for ship scrapping or galactic gladiator fights, but why does he love it so much? A special session is recorded by the band, so that everyone can get pumped up and feel like a Jedi.
It was written in the preface of the music video of ‘Sugaan Essena’ by The HU for the Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, a video game hosted on YouTube by EA Star Wars on February 19 this year. The music video has already reached 5.5 million views and that is how the Mongolian band staked their claim to “a galaxy far, far away.”
If anyone does not know, then Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is a popular single player game released on November 15, 2019 for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. The story revolves a survivor of Order 66, Cal Kestis, who is on the run from the Empire and its Inquisitors. Jedi: Fallen Order takes place between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope.
Later Nick Laviers, the Audio Director of the project, once recalled in an interview with Revolver magazine:
“We’d been on a voyage of exploration trying out various approaches to a band for Cal Kestis, the main character in Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, when players first meet him. Lucasfilm helped us hone in on a direction that was cool, but also felt very Star Wars and authentic to the time period of our story. During the process, we heard the ‘Wolf Totem’ by The HU and a light bulb went on. The music had otherworldly-sounding vocals and unfamiliar ethnic instruments that could be alien, all on top of a classic-rock backbone.
When we first connected with the band, their team was very excited about the project. They were amazing to work with and after some initial direction they were able to put together a track that really hit the mark on everything we were looking for. After a couple of rounds of revisions and The HU basically created an entirely new language that felt authentic to Star Wars, ‘Sugaan Essena’ was born.”
Also, the morin khuur (horse head fiddle) player and throat singer of the band, Galbadrakh Tsendbaatar aka “Gala” told about the making of the stirring single:
“When our managers told us that we might be working on something for Star Wars, and possibly writing a song for a Star Wars video game, it was a jaw-dropping moment for all of us. We were so excited! We were all fans of the Star Wars and we started watching these movies during our childhood and all of us dreamt of becoming Luke Skywalker. The character of Luke gives us a desire to be strong, and to remain an honest man.
Everything in Star Wars is unique, including the characters have completely different alien languages. That’s why we had to create a unique language for our Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order song. Writing the lyrics was a really creative process that we truly enjoyed.
For this song to be meaningful and understandable to us, firstly we had to write the lyrics in Mongolian language. Then, we performed it during our live shows in Europe and the U.S. After then, we formed lyrics in an alien language, which should be felt authentic about the Star Wars under the guidance of the game creators as the launch of Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order approached.
While we were working on this song, we were instructed to not use an existing language. So we resorted to our spiritual guides and thought about power of Eternal Blue Sky, and aligned with power in Star Wars that it would be translated into a spoken language. ‘Sugaan Essena’ means ‘The Black Thunder.’ This song is about the spirit and the heart of a warrior, which is brave enough as the power of thunder. It is the main quality of the lead character, Cal Kestis.
We want our audience to feel the power of thunder and warrior spirit from this song. Through ‘Sugaan Essena’, we wanted to wake up the inner warriors in each of us, so that you can face your fears and overcome it”.
It was a truly wonderful collaboration without a doubt. But the most surprising thing is that this is not the only connection between George Lucas’s famous Star Wars epic, on which more than one generation grew up, with Mongolia. For instance: In the third space opera film of 1983 Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi, bear-like aliens from the moon Endor helped the rebels and Luke Skywalker defeated the Palpatine Empire and spoke a language similar to the Kalmyk dialect of the Mongolian language.
When creating the language of an alien race, sound engineer Ben Bert used Kalmyk language. He heard the Kalmyk language in a documentary and preferred the sound, which seemed very unusual for a Western listener. Luckily, there were many elders, who perfectly knew their native language in the Kalmyk diaspora in the U.S.
After some research, he found an 80-year-old Kalmyk grandmother. Ben Bert recorded her stories and folk traditions in Kalmyk, and used these notes as a basis of the sounds, which became the language of the Ewoks. During a scene when C-3PO speaks the Ewok language, actor Anthony Daniels and the sound engineer coined words based on Kalmyk records.
Kosi Unkova was the old Kalmyk woman whose voice was used as an alien language. She was born in 1899 in one of the thirteen Kalmyk villages, around the army region Russian Don’s Cossac. The harsh trials of history took her far from her birthplace. She shared the sad fate of Kalmyk emigrants together with a thousand compatriots and tribesmen and separated from the house and relatives. After spending years in Europe, she crossed the ocean and settled in the USA with her family.
She could not even imagine that someday fate would bring her, an ordinary expat with the team of George Lucas, and then she would make a modest contribution to the world of cinema. Her legacy is the melodious sound of the Kalmyk language recorded in the golden fund of cinema world.
Kosi Unkova left this world in 1994 at the age of 95. It is exactly 5 years from the centenary to the moment when the prequel of the space saga of George Lucas – The Phantom Menace released on the screens.
In The Phantom Menace of 1999, the Queen Amidala of Naboo portrayed by matchless actress Natalie Portman wears the dress fashioned like a Khalkh Mongolian noble women. It is clear that costume designers of The Phantom Menace came up with ann idea of Amidala’s hairpiece inspired from the traditional Mongolian hairpiece. They are very similar.
The texture of the clothing is similar as it uses heavy fabrics, which is warmer. Even the cloak resembles the Khalkh Mongolian noble women style. Both have huge shoulder pads, which makes the costume very heavy and regal. It is also believed that the dress worn by Amidala when addressing the Senate is based on Mongolian imperial fashion worn by Empress Dondogdulam, the Queen of Bogd Khan.
The combination of magic in cinema, imagination, and the enduring handcraft illustrated in costumes and the set of design in this film is fascinating. It shows that the creators of fantasy and science fiction movies draw their inspiration from the different material cultures of our world. It also reminds us that we don’t need to go far, far away to the galaxy to see exciting and beautiful things…
This is the short story of how Mongolian culture including traditional songs, language dialects, and fashion are surprisingly reflected in the fantastic world of Star Wars.