Tennessee Tech researcher a subtle star in 'Star Wars' movie

As moviegoers across the state settle into their seats to enjoy the re-release of 'Star Wars,' they will unknowingly be seeing the work and hearing the name of a distinguished Tennessee researcher.

Cemil Bagci, a long-time mechanical engineering professor at Tennessee Technological University, provided advice to George Lucas' production company on how to animate models of robots, how drive motors work and how linkages are put together -- in engineering terminology, the fundamentals of kinematic motion.

Bagci's contribution is commemorated in the movie with "Batchi" -- the language spoken by household computers and home robots. "Tell your uncle if he gets a translator to make sure it speaks Batchi," Luke Skywalker's aunt calls out in an early scene as Luke and his uncle head out to bargain with diminutive Jawas over their collection of junked robots. One of the rejects did speak the language, and so C3P0 and his companion R2D2 begin their adventure in the film.

The connection hasn't escaped Tennessee Tech students. "A student came into my office just yesterday," Bagci said on Friday. "He said he wanted to ask a question and it wasn't about coursework, it was about 'Star Wars.'" It was also little surprise. In the 20 years since 'Star Wars' debuted, Bagci says doctors, acquaintances and even strangers have commented on his name and asked if there was a connection to the acclaimed science fiction trilogy. The fact that Bagci speaks rapid-fire Turkish-accented English underscores the connection, students wryly note.

Typically modest, Bagci says his contribution to the movie was minor. His work in robotics, mechanical and industrial design, though, has brought him an international standing in his field, frequent citations in engineering textbooks and listings in a handful of 'Who's Who' publications.

Bagci retired from Tennessee Tech in 1996 but continues to teach courses in the university's mechanical engineering department as well as work on several engineering design texts he has in progress. A 'Star Wars' fan himself who's seen the movies some 20 times, Bagci says he will also make time for another activity in the next few weeks.

"Yep. I'll go see it," Bagci says.