James Earl Jones has apparently relinquished the role of lead Star Wars antagonist Darth Vader to AI voice technology. The 91-year old actor and EGOT winner originated the character with his vocal performance in 1977’s Star Wars.
In a report by Vanity Fair about the Ukrainian start-up Respeecher, it was revealed that the process of transitioning the vocal responsibilities from Jones to the company’s proprietary AI algorithm has been ongoing since the Sith Lord’s revival in the 2022 Star Wars prequel series, Obi-Wan Kenobi. The Respeecher programmers employed an algorithm that uses archival recordings to create new dialogue.
Jones provided his singular, sinister take on Darth Vader for a number of Star Wars spin-offs throughout the years, but his last contribution came in 2019’s The Rise of Skywalker. It was after the sequel trilogy wrapped that Jones expressed interest in “winding down” his tenure in the role. He ultimately signed off on continuing as the character’s mouthpiece artificially and, according to Kenobi supervising sound editor Matthew Wood, acted as “a benevolent godfather” while guiding the Sith’s succession.
Respeecher also worked in conjunction with Lucasfilm on the Disney+ series The Book of Boba Fett, in which a de-aged Mark Hamill returns as the original trilogy’s young hero Luke Skywalker. The Kyiv-based company completed their work on Kenobi, their most recently released project, amidst the Russian invasion of Ukraine, with employees overseeing voice edits in fortified theaters, hallways and bathrooms of apartment buildings, and in one case, an “ancient brick ‘basement’ no bigger than a crawl space.”
The Star Wars universe has just expanded even more with the arrival of the Disney+ series Andor and the announcement of Squid Game star Lee Jung-Jae joining The Acolyte. No AI vocal technology appears to have been used on the former just yet, but it does utilize a seemingly ageless Diego Luna.