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James Earl Jones Retires as the Voice of Darth Vader

A.I. technology will be used to replicated Jones's voice in future Star Wars appearances.

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 14: Actor James Earl Jones attends the "The Gin Game" Broadway opening night after party at Sardi's on October 14, 2015 in New York City.

Acclaimed actor and EGOT winner James Earl Jones is retiring from one of his most famous roles. Jones has voiced Darth Vader, the iconic villain of the Star Wars franchise, since 1977’s Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope. His booming, menacing voice was an integral part of creating one of cinema’s greatest villains, but at 91 years old, Jones is stepping away from the role. The actor has signed over archival voice recordings to Lucasfilm, which has recruited Ukrainian start-up Respeecher to replicate Jones’s voice using A.I. technology. A new article from Vanity Fair delves into the company, and how its employees have managed to continue working during the Russian invasion of the Ukraine.

Respeecher has replicated the voice of young Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) for The Book of Boba Fett, and replicated Jones’s voice as Vader for Obi-Wan Kenobi. Jones last voiced Vader with just one line of dialogue in 2019’s The Rise of Skywalker. Lucasfilm supervising sound editor Matthew Wood said of Jones, “He had mentioned he was looking into winding down this particular character, … So how do we move forward?” Wood introduced Jones to Respeecher’s technology, who signed off on his archival voice recordings and lent his expertise to guide the character. Wood called Jones “a benevolent godfather,” for consulting on the process. Jones and his family praised the final result in Obi-Wan Kenobi, crediting Respeecher’s tireless work.

Re-creating Jones’s voice is already a daunting task, but doing it in a war zone seems near impossible. Wood noted, “For a character such as Darth Vader, who might have 50 lines on a show, I might have a back-and-forth of almost over 10,000 files.” But as the Russians approached, Wood tried to minimize the demands of the project. Reporter Anthony Breznican wrote of Wood, “He remembers thinking, I don’t need to go back to them under an air raid siren to communicate this one particular part is a little different. But the Respeecher team’s attitude, he says, was: “Let’s work, let’s work in the face of this adversity, let’s persevere.”

Synthetic-speech artist Bogdan Belyaev said of their success with Obi-Wan Kenobi, “Why did I do it? It’s a big honor to work with Lucasfilm, and I’ve been a fan of Star Wars since I was a kid. Even if it’s war, there’s no excuse for you to be the troublemaker of what you loved from childhood.”

(via Vanity Fair, featured image: Jemal Countess/Getty Images)

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Chelsea was born and raised in New Orleans, which explains her affinity for cheesy grits and Britney Spears. An pop culture journalist since 2012, her work has appeared on Autostraddle, AfterEllen, and more. Her beats include queer popular culture, film, television, republican clownery, and the unwavering belief that 'The Long Kiss Goodnight' is the greatest movie ever made. She currently resides in sunny Los Angeles, with her husband, 2 sons, and one poorly behaved rescue dog. She is a former roller derby girl and a black belt in Judo, so she is not to be trifled with. She loves the word “Jewess” and wishes more people used it to describe her.