CODA’s Troy Kotsur made history. He became only the second deaf performer, and the first man, to win an acting Oscar. (His CODA costar Marlee Matlin was the first. She took home a golden statue in 1987.) Safe to say it was the biggest moment of his career in this galaxy. But it wasn’t his biggest moment in the galaxy far, far away. Kotsur is a Star Wars alum. One who made a unique impact on the franchise. Troy Kotsur not only played a Tusken Raider on The Mandalorian, he helped develop the sign language used by those Tatooine denizens.
With Kotsur’s career getting renewed focus thanks to his big win and moving performance in CODA, fans have rediscovered a 2020 interview he did with The Daily Moth. (A conversation we first learned about at /Film.) In it he talked about appearing as a Tusken Raider in episode five of The Mandalorian. That role fulfilled a lifelong dream for him. He wanted to be part of Star Wars since he was eight years old.
But he did a lot more than just appear on the show. He contributed to the changing perception of one of the franchise’s oldest clans. Lucasfilm hired Troy Kotsur to work on the sign language used by the Tusken Raiders. It’s singular to them thanks to Kotsur. His goal “was to avoid ASL” when developing their language. To do that he “made sure it became Tusken Sign Language based on their culture and environment.” That included creating a sign that means “Mandalorian.” Kotsur based that on the signature look of Mandalorian helmets and the “M” handshape.
You can see his full interview here. Or you can watch it below. His segment starts at the 11:53 mark.
The mindless Tusken Raiders Obi-Wan Kenobi warned Luke about long ago are no more. Those sand dwellers are complex and worthy of empathy. And a big part of that change started when we saw them communicating with Din Djarin.
Troy Kotsur deserved his Oscar. And he deserves accolades from Star Wars fans. He’s shown why representation matters in every galaxy.