Disclaimer: This post examines Rogue One: A Star Wars Story as a case study of cultural adaptation in film translation. I was not involved in translating any materials for the film.
By now, many people will have seen and enjoyed a Star Wars spin-off movie Rogue One. One of the things that occurred to me after watching it was the challenge of translating the word “rogue.”
Without spoiling too much of the plot, Rogue One is the self-proclaimed name of a stolen spacecraft that goes on an unauthorized, desperate mission. Dictionary.com Unabridged defines “rogue” as follows:
In the film, taking this daredevil initiative against all odds is portrayed as a courageous, if foolhardy, endeavor. In other words, “rogue” needed to express these shades of meaning:
- going out on your own
- possibly illegal
What Russian words would make a suitable spaceship name yet convey this positive sense of “rogue”? Here are some options I weighed before looking up the actual approved translation. Each of them successfully represents some aspects of “rogue” but may fail to represent others.
Otchayanny (отчаянный) – Desperate/Daredevil
First of all, I decided to look at some typical names for vessels. As there have been comparatively few spacecraft, I included sea vessels in my search. As it turns out, Russian destroyers have traditionally been named with adjectives.
I thought the Russian word otchayanny (“desperate, daredevil”) conveyed the sense of having the immense pluck to go on a dangerous, clandestine mission. At the same time, отчаянный evokes despair and a sense of a doomed, last-resort effort, which may unintentionally send a negative message. The English word “rogue” also has negative connotations in some contexts, so this may not be a game-stopper.
Otvazhny (отважный) — Courageous
Otvazhny was another possible candidate. This adjective has the advantage of communicating a strong, positive message — bravery and willingness to take risks. However, it does not convey the illicit shades of “rogue” and makes the mission sound much less controversial. Several other adjectives shared these traits, e.g. besstrashny, “fearless.”
Partizan (партизан) — Partisan/Guerilla
I had also considered the noun partizan (“guerilla fighter, underground resistance member, wartime partisan“) for the name. As partisans have often been a sort of guerilla militias organized to sabotage enemy operation, this aligned nicely with the plot of the film and conveyed the sense of an unauthorized, undercover mission. At the same time, partizan is also used colloquially to jokingly refer to someone who undertakes things with no proper planning and with dubious outcomes.
So what was the official translation?
The official Russian release, as I eventually learned, opted for izgoy (изгой, outcast). Just as the proposed translations above, this variant captures some important aspects of “rogue” — being shunned by your community and denied its support, possibly for something unorthodox you suggested. At the same time, izgoy only captures the expulsion aspect and does not convey the sense of taking matters into your own hands against all odds and despite the lack of official authorization.
What translation do you think is closest to the English?
While I was not involved in the translation of this film, I have worked on audiovisual projects ranging from subtitling to interpreting at film premieres. Take a look some of the films I have translated on my Translation page.