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The Significance of British Accents in Star Wars

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Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi can be seen as an allegory of the American Revolution...well, if one has a loose definition of "allegory" that is.  Regardless, nothing supports this notion more than a Rebellion taking place against a tyrannical Empire (a conflict still rooted in US Culture) and, of course, The Rebels speaking in American accents and the Imperials British.  

I've always found it extremely strange, and almost disconcerting, that few fans of Star Wars, or even casual watchers of the film, speak of this obvious disparity in accents! It was such a vital element to separating "Us v. Them"/The Rebels from the Empire/the "Good Guys" from the "Bad Guys", yet it's so scarcely acknowledged, and George Lucas of all people seemed to drop it entirely from the Prequels, other than Ewan's Young Obi-Wan and "Darth Sidious" (will never get over that terribly stupid and pointless title).  

Some people on this very Forum, though, have pointed out that Darth Vader, despite being voiced by the Deep South born American James Earl Jones, speaks with British pronunciation and an accent.  It may be a bit "uneven" in this regard, (on the Tantive IV in Star Wars he sounds particularly English and in much of the original film, whereas in Empire and ROTJ he doesn't seem nearly as British, although still having quite an English flavor to his vocal phrasing).  Furthermore, once finally unmasked in Return, Vader as Anakin Skywalker is portrayed by a longtime British (as in VERY British) stage and BBC actor, with an extremely strong and undeniably authentic, natural English accent.  

In conclusion, Anakin should have had a British accent in the Prequels. 

Luckily, I don't consider the Prequels "canon" and thus don't "have" to accept anything from those films as the true background history to the OT and the old EU (and some select current EU material) that I consider truly part of my personal SW canon.  

Additionally, I always imagined the British/English accents to be representative of the proper speech of the "Core" political worlds to the Republic and/or Empire, as in Coruscant/Had Abbadon (whatever you want to call "Imperial Center"), Alderaan, and so on), and that the "American" accent(s) generally were spoken for the following reasons: 

1.) They were from the "Outer-Rim" worlds and/or had no or too short of exposure to the "proper" Core-World pronunciation of "Basic".  Example: Luke, raised on Tatooine, and having been there his whole life away from Galactic affairs until the later in the first movie (No, that's not a typo. SW is the first movie).  "Anakin" even though, if you don't accept the Prequels as canon, he was probably born on Tatooine and lived his youth much like Luke, spent several decades in the middle of Galactic affairs prior to Star Wars and thus probably acquired the English accent after "hanging out" with Obi-Wan and all the Core-World Republic magnates and presumably living in the heart of the Republic when not embarking on "Idealistic Crusade(s)" during the Clone Wars.

2.) Alien creatures speaking the Human Language: Some, like, Yoda, have an American/Non-English accent (despite his Object-Subject-Verb word order permutation).  

3.) Characters "born" and raised in a Core world who...abandon it.  This seems to be Princess Leia (lol) who spent 18-20 years living as the Princess of the Alderaanian Royal Family.  We clearly hear her speak in a British accent (albeit a technically "false" one. Sorry, Carrie!) when she's aboard the Tantive with Vader and aboard the Death Star with Tarkin and Vader.  This hints that the English accent is the standard of diplomacy and formal conversation in the Empire, hence why Leia speaks in "one" to Vader and Tarkin in Star Wars and why almost every Imperial (if not every one) has a British accent...sans the Stormtroopers (which can be explained by them being the "commoners", perhaps?). However, whenever she's in Rebel company, she has the accent and pronunciation of a loud and proud American Girl. 

Obviously, this disparity was purposed to bring about deeply ingrained American cultural/historical positive correlations between Individualism/Freedom/Liberty/Rebellion with Americanism and the history of the American Revolution, and to effectively show the difference in "status" and rigidity/grandeur (?) between the Rebels and the "Imps", however, why this was largely lost with the Prequels and wasn't upheld with Anakin somehow, just seems...wrong. The guy got an "accent" in 20 years...and it's even stronger when his mask is off!! 

What are your thoughts? 

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-Someone, someday, needs to bring back the LIGHT SIDE to Star Wars.  Has anyone else noticed striking similarites between the character of Anakin/Vader and George Lucas, or is it just me? 

-It's called STAR WARS. NOT "Episode IV: A New Hope". Kids, get this straight.  

-Please read the Archie Goodwin daily SW comics: Too good to be forgotten! 

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more likely because the films were mostly shot on location with mostly English actors in minor roles , I actually find it more to disturbing that they used american voice actors for ADR and overdubs for the imperials, it takes me out of the movie.

As for Vader having an english accent, I think that has more to do with him being  a classically trained actor and anything that comes out the mans mouth has a regal sound to it, but it's a very neutral accent, neither English or overly American, maybe had they got better actors to play young Anakin it might have flowed better

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I think it has a lot to do with, like buddy-x-wing said, where it was filmed, but it also has a lot to do with different directors.  If you look at ESB, THAT'S the film where this distinction is most evident, and that's because Kershner did it deliberately.  He made all the Rebels American and all the Imperials British.  But the first film certainly isn't as divided as that, particularly due to much of the British cast being redubbed with Americans.

There is no lingerie in space...

C3PX said: Gaffer is like that hot girl in high school that you think you have a chance with even though she is way out of your league because she is sweet and not a stuck up bitch who pretends you don't exist... then one day you spot her making out with some skinny twerp, only on second glance you realize it is the goth girl who always sits in the back of class; at that moment it dawns on you why she is never seen hanging off the arm of any of the jocks... and you realize, damn, she really is unobtainable after all. Not that that is going to stop you from dreaming... Only in this case, Gaffer is actually a guy.

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I also would have liked to have seen a more noble Republic as well.  Something a bit more Romanesque, but that's just me! 

-Someone, someday, needs to bring back the LIGHT SIDE to Star Wars.  Has anyone else noticed striking similarites between the character of Anakin/Vader and George Lucas, or is it just me? 

-It's called STAR WARS. NOT "Episode IV: A New Hope". Kids, get this straight.  

-Please read the Archie Goodwin daily SW comics: Too good to be forgotten! 

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There was plenty of time to pick up a British accent between ROTS and ANH. I knew someone who moved down south after living most of their life in California, and they picked up quite a twang after 15 years. I didn't even recognize their voice on the phone at first.

Things just sound more evil when you're British. Imagine Tarkin or Palpatine with an American accent, and it just doesn't work. ;)

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Where were you in '77?

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Like Buddy x said, it was mainly the result of the location and not done on purpose for Star Wars. Making of TESB claims it was Kershner who decided to continue to use it as a trope.

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SilverWook said:

There was plenty of time to pick up a British accent between ROTS and ANH. I knew someone who moved down south after living most of their life in California, and they picked up quite a twang after 15 years. I didn't even recognize their voice on the phone at first.

Things just sound more evil when you're British. Imagine Tarkin or Palpatine with an American accent, and it just doesn't work. ;)

By British I guess you mean English but a posh Edinburgh accent could have worked with Tarkin as could a posh Bostonian accent.

Back when Americans were getting really good television from us on Masterpiece Theater and the like there must have been a feeling that we had actors (coming from a still thriving theatrical background with more gravitas) which was exploited along with the weak pound when filming.

If you look at Game Of Thrones you have almost every kind of British, American and Continental European, Middle Eastern accent on display there.

Some real, some 'acted' and the characters are all rather mixed (Charles Dance plays a rounded character which does nasty things but is also admirable in some ways).

There was clearly an attempt to make the English accents represent authority (either from the Old Republic end with Mon Mothma, Obi-Wan or from the Imperial end).

And remember not only is it an English accent it's an RP English accent which explains why Leia puts that on when she is being authoritarian.

Anakin should have been dark haired and develop the same accent as Obi-Wan.

In my opinion he should have been a middle player in the story (like Mace was).

That way the story could have focussed more on a character we know little about and know nothing about his fate.

Someone who rocks the boat, someone charming and interesting like Han was.

Someone American.

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t6Dp2OfIT_M

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Anakin probably should've had either a semi-cockney or Northern accent that would've developed into a more Received Pronunciation as the films went on.

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Which relatives?  Luke?  Owen?  Assuming you're talking about them, it would be because they spent no time around him, so it would therefore be impossible to pick up any of his speech patterns.

There is no lingerie in space...

C3PX said: Gaffer is like that hot girl in high school that you think you have a chance with even though she is way out of your league because she is sweet and not a stuck up bitch who pretends you don't exist... then one day you spot her making out with some skinny twerp, only on second glance you realize it is the goth girl who always sits in the back of class; at that moment it dawns on you why she is never seen hanging off the arm of any of the jocks... and you realize, damn, she really is unobtainable after all. Not that that is going to stop you from dreaming... Only in this case, Gaffer is actually a guy.

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I'm... honestly not sure.  I guess I was thinking of it a little when I made my statement, although it certainly holds true for Luke whichever version of the story you want to go with.  And it technically holds true for the ROTJ idea of Owen being Ben's brother... although then that probably creates the question of why Ben and Owen don't have the same dialect, although that could probably be explained by Ben running off to be a Jedi and gaining a different dialect while gone.  But then again, the same idea, as has been suggested already, could have happened with Anakin.

There is no lingerie in space...

C3PX said: Gaffer is like that hot girl in high school that you think you have a chance with even though she is way out of your league because she is sweet and not a stuck up bitch who pretends you don't exist... then one day you spot her making out with some skinny twerp, only on second glance you realize it is the goth girl who always sits in the back of class; at that moment it dawns on you why she is never seen hanging off the arm of any of the jocks... and you realize, damn, she really is unobtainable after all. Not that that is going to stop you from dreaming... Only in this case, Gaffer is actually a guy.

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This thread is quite old, but I was just wondering the same, so I jum into it… Basically, especially in ESB, the British accent wors as a class-accent for stiff elite Imperial officers, and also it gives a flavour of “Empire and colonies” feel. I think that works well, and we are so used to have Brits accents for Roman soldiers (Masada, I Claudius, The Caesars, Rome), or just many Germans in old WW2 movies (speaking either with a very British accent like in “Inside the 3rd Reich” or with terrible fake German ones). Anyway, for good or bad reasons, this high class snobbish accent is easily associated with scheming militaristic generals ! My 2 cents…

Major General Maximilian Veers
Imperial Army
Commanding officer of the Blizzard Force of the Death Squadron at the Battle of Hoth
(actually I am not an admiral, damn it !)

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I’ve seen it suggested (and possibly confirmed in some book or other, I can’t remember) that in-universe, the English accent = Core Worlds, American = Mid/Outer Rim. I like this explanation a lot because the implication is that the Empire’s officer corps is disproportionately drawn from Coruscanti recruits while most of the stormtroopers are from the sticks, but it’s kind of blown to hell by the fact that Corellia is always depicted as being in or near the Core and Han definitely doesn’t have an English accent.

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Man I hated that British dialect from the beginning of Rogue One, I don’t know who that guy was. Took me right out of the movie. Was it Scottish or whatever. I’m talking about the guy who Cassian meets in the streets.

And in the time of greatest despair, there shall come a savior, and he shall be known as the Son of the Suns.

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Viewing the Holiday Special again recently, the lack of British accents for any of the Imperials stuck out like a sore thumb. 😉


Where were you in '77?

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LexX said:

Man I hated that British dialect from the beginning of Rogue One, I don’t know who that guy was. Took me right out of the movie. Was it Scottish or whatever. I’m talking about the guy who Cassian meets in the streets.

It was Daniel Mays, a rather good actor. He’s from Essex (It’s the Jersey of London LOL).

I did find it oddly distracting as it was not something I’d heard in SW before. I was also initially distracted by the new strong Glasgow and Indonesian accents in TFA. I guess it’s down to the Star Wars accents being quite rigidly American and RP British before. The sudden and heavy use of Aussie/Kiwi accents in AOTC and ROTS was and is strange. If ANH had kept the west-country, Scottish and Cockney accents we’d probably be used to it.

Now that I think of it… Diego Luna’s strong Mexican accent in R1 wasn’t something I even noticed. Is there something about a Spanish twang that immediately says “Rebel-Space-Assassin”? Or maybe as Star Wars has a big toe in the Western genre, that accent just feels so right for a SW gunslinger.

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