James Earl Jones, one of America’s most distinguished actors who – despite never appearing on screen in the role – is perhaps best known as the voice of Darth Vader is ready to hang up his cloak and – at the age of 91 – let someone else take on the role.
What’s surprising is that that ‘someone’ is in fact ‘something’ as Jones has signed away the rights to his allowing Lucasfilm to create his unmistakable Vader tones using AI from here on in.
The move gives Lucasfilm a clear, Jones-endorsed and undisputed route to employ Respeecher, a Ukrainian startup, to use their AI technology and recreate the sound of Jones’ voice in the Disney+ series Obi-Wan Kenobi and any further Star Wars properties in perpetuity.
Respeecher utilizes sound bites to “clone” the actor’s voice by listening to many hours of source material to create an indistinguishable and controllable virtual double. This has previously allowed studios to record new lines from actors after filming has wrapped, without actually requiring the actor to be present to record them.
In a conversation with Vanity Fair, Matthew Wood, Skywalker Sound’s supervising sound editor said Jones was presented with the option since he once “mentioned he was looking into winding down” the role of Darth Vader.
After Jones gave the studio the go-ahead to use the AI-generated voice, Vanity Fair stated that the studio tasked Respeecher with making a (Virtual) Vader which sounded like Jones’ “dark side villain from 45 years ago”, primarily for use in Disney+’s spin-off series Obi-Wan Kenobi.
Which is why in, Obi-Wan, a lot of viewers have noticed that Darth Vader sounded a lot more like he did in earlier Star Wars films, as opposed to 2019’s The Rise of Skywalker – the last time thatJones’ voiced the villain.
Despite relying on the power of AI to bring the terror-inducing voice of Vader to life, Wood revealed that Jones still helps guide Lucasfilm as a “benevolent godfather” on how best to depict his most famous character.
Respeecher has previously worked with Lucasfilm to generate a voice for the younger version of Luke Skywalker in The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett. The tech company stated in a press release that it used clips from “many early years’ worth of radio broadcasts, interviews, ADRs, and dubs” from Mark Hamill to digitally recreate younger Skywalker’s voice.
And Respeecher isn’t alone. Voicemod, Veritone, Descript, and Resemble AI are just some of the speech synthesis tools that have also emerged as potential ways of recreating the voices of celebrities and creators.
While such tools can help celebrities boost their income with minimal effort simply by renting out their voice, in Jones’ case, it’s a form of preserving the voice of one of the best and most feared villains of all time.