James Earl Jones has been Darth Vader since the original Star Wars all the way back in 1977. While the man formerly known as Anakin Skywalker has been canonically dead since 1983, Jones has consistently reprised the role over the decades, including in 2016's Rogue One and the recent Obi-Wan Kenobi series. But all great things must come to an end, Jones has quietly confirmed that he’s gearing up to retire from voicing the galaxy’s biggest drama queen.
According to a recent report from Vanity Fair, Jones signed over the rights to his voice to Respeecher, a Ukrainian tech company that uses an AI algorithm and archival footage to create new dialogue from actors who’ve either lost their voice or passed away. Jones is 91, and his voice has changed considerably in the last several decades. Enter Respeecher: the technology that helped bring to life a younger Luke Skywalker in Book of Boba Fett was implemented for Vader in Kenobi, while physically the character was portrayed by Hayden Christensen (Anakin) and Dmitrious Bistrevsky (Vader suit).
While recording Jones in 2019 for a brief vocal cameo in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, the actor told Lucasfilm sound editor Matthew Wood that he knew his time with the character was coming to an end. “[James] had mentioned he was looking into winding down this particular character,” admitted Wood. Wood then presented Respeecher to Jones, and the actor then signed his rights off. So while Kenobi has Jones credited as Vader, it’s actually the AI program doing the work, though the actor was informed of the show’s plans for his character.
Jones deserves to retire from such an iconic role, but it’s a little weird to ensure that his performance lives on through AI technology. There’ve been other actors who voiced the character over the decades and did a fairly good job at it, such as Matt Sloan in the Force Unleashed games. Similar to discussions about AI art, there’s something ethically dicey about this, and that feeling will likely not go away as Disney uses it in other shows or films.
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