'CODA's Oscar Winner Troy Kotsur Invented 'The Mandalorian's Sign Language
Last weekend, actor Troy Kotsur received two great honors: 1) becoming the second deaf actor to win an Academy Award, thanks to his role in CODA, and 2) serving as an excuse for Chris Evans to smoothly segue into an ad for the next Pixar movie. Most actors can only dream of that moment. That said, the only achievement Kotsur's own kid self would be impressed by is the one he got last year, when he was honored by fellow Star Wars fans for expanding the language of their favorite galaxy:
The Tusken Raiders (or "Sand People" as Luke possibly problematically called them) have usually been portrayed as a bunch of savages who like to go around mugging people in the desert. They've always been seen as violent brutes -- not just the men, but the women and the children too. The Mandalorian began giving them a little more depth in the scene where Mando negotiates with them and, instead of growling like maniacs, they use sign language. Kotsur not only played the Tusken doing the signing in that scene, but he also came up with the language itself.
Kotsur says he developed the Tusken Sign Language based on his own research into their culture, which technically started over 40 years ago when he became obsessed with the first Star Wars movie as a kid. Despite missing out on John Williams' score and James Earl Jones' voice, the visuals were more than enough to get his young mind permanently hooked on this stuff. He watched the movie 28 times by his count and "dreamed to be a part of" that universe one day. His fandom continued into adulthood, as evidenced by this photo of Kotsur posing proudly with his personal nerd shelf:
The whole reason Kotsur got the Mandalorian job is that they needed someone well acquainted with American Sign Language to consult on the Tusken Raiders scene and a deaf mega-fan working in the industry fit the bill (he has worked as "ASL Master" in other shows). A few weeks later they found out Kotsur is also an actor and offered him the now iconic role of Tusken #1. Kotsur also served as consultant on The Book of Boba Fett, which included a whole plotline about Boba shacking up with the Tuskens, so the fact that they now have their own sign language came in pretty, uh, handy. No word on whether Kotsur also came up with Boba's rhythmical "like a bantha" movement or not.
It would be pretty cool if Tusken Sign Language ended up becoming as common as, say Klingon (there's already a Facebook group devoted to that mission). Hopefully Kotsur's success means Tusken #1 will get a bigger role in the future, like maybe a Book of Tusken Raider #1 spin-off series or nine-movie ennealogy.
Top image: Lucasfilm