More than four decades after he first voiced arguably cinema’s most famous villain, James Earl Jones has ended his career as Darth Vader, with Vanity Fair reporting that the 91-year-old actor has agreed to allow a Ukrainian AI company to replicate his voice for future “Star Wars” titles.
In Vanity Fair’s new report published on Friday, sound artists at Lucasfilm and the Ukrainian AI speech company Respeecher discussed how Jones’ voice was recreated digitally for the recently released Disney+ series “Star Wars: Obi-Wan Kenobi,” which saw prequel trilogy stars Ewan McGregor and Hayden Christensen return as Obi-Wan and Anakin Skywalker. Though Christensen wore Vader’s infamous suit in the series, it was Respeecher that provided his voice during his duels with his former master and the Sith Inquisitor Reva Sevander.
“He had mentioned he was looking into winding down this particular character,” Lucasfilm Supervising Sound Editor Matthew Wood said. “So how do we move forward?”
Wood said that Jones served as a guide as Respeecher used dozens of recordings of his voice to teach their AI program to replicate his voice with the menace that he had when he first played Darth Vader back in 1977, with recordings from Jones’ recent performances in the “Star Wars” films “Rogue One” and “The Rise of Skywalker” as well. The same program had already been used in another Disney+ series, “The Book of Boba Fett,” to recreate Mark Hamill’s younger voice as Luke Skywalker.
Jones’ family told Lucasfilm and Respeecher that he was pleased with the results and gave them permission to continue recreating his voice in future projects. But Respeecher’s work was almost lost when Russian forces invaded Ukraine this past February, forcing their team to rapidly complete their work. Bogdan Belyaev, a sound artist for Respeecher, said he was sending off key sound data to Skywalker Ranch in Northern California right on the day that Russian troops began their attack.
“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,” Belyaev said.
While Respeecher can’t disclose what it is currently working on, the company says it has continued to develop its AI programs even through months of war.
“We create places to work for people, we create jobs, we pay them money, we contribute to the Ukrainian economy, and that’s quite meaningful,” CEO Alex Serdiuk said. “But also, hopefully, more people will hear about Ukraine—about our tech community, about our start-ups—because of it.”