James Earl Jones is reportedly set to retire the voice of Darth Vader, with AI to take over the performance for future Star Wars projects, according to Vanity Fair.
At 91, Jones had mentioned to the sound crew who oversaw incorporating his voice into the most recent Star Wars films that he was “looking into winding down this particular character,” said Matthew Wood, the supervising sound editor at Skywalker Sound.
A 32-year veteran of Lucasfilm, Wood has recorded James Earl Jones’ voice numerous times over the years. Uncertain about how to proceed with replacing legendary Jones’ voice while still honouring the actor and his performance, Wood eventually settled on the AI firm Respeecher and their “synthetic-speech artists.” He said he chose them because the vocal performances they generate have a uniquely human touch and were able to faithfully recreate Jones’ voice as Vader from nearly 45 years ago.
When Wood presented Jones with Respeecher’s work, the actor signed off on using his archival voice recordings to keep Vader alive and vital even by artificial means. Jones received credit for guiding the performance on Obi-Wan Kenobi, with Wood describing the actor’s contribution as “a benevolent godfather.” In an effort to keep James Earl Jones in the loop with their plans for Vader, they give him updates on the character’s future and encourage his advice on how to stay on the right course.
This process will be similar to how young Luke Skywalker’s voice was recreated for The Book of Boba Fett utilizing archival recordings of 1980s-era Mark Hamill. Respeecher also worked with Lucasfilm to generate Darth Vader’s Return of the Jedi-era voice in the recent Obi-Wan Kenobi series.
For the full article, be sure to visit Vanity Fair.
In 2009, while breaking down the creative process of finding Vader’s voice during an interview with AFI, James Earl Jones said that during the filming of The Empire Strikes Back, “George (Lucas) had a chance to counsel me and said, ‘We don’t know what we did right, so let’s just try what we did before.’ Naturally, I wanted to make Darth Vader more interesting, more subtle, and more psychologically oriented, but George said, ‘No, you gotta keep his voice on a very narrowband of inflection, ’cause, he ain’t human, really.’ So, that was the answer.”
As James Earl Jones has gotten older, his voice has understandably aged with him and has lost some of its timbre and strength. AI, like deepfake technology, seems to have become a viable route for producers looking to continue the legacy of characters that their respective actors have aged out of. This has presented a number of ethical concerns over where the line between copyright and ownership of someone’s own likeness or voice is. To quote Ian Malcolm, “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”
During Star Wars Celebration Anaheim this past May, Dave Filoni and Jon Favreau announced that Season 3 of The Mandalorian would premiere in February 2023, though the recently released teaser trailer did not include a release date. Andor recently dropped, so it’s anyone’s guess whether Vader will show up in that series.
Make sure to subscribe to Disney+ to watch!