James Earl Jones has been the iconic voice of Darth Vader since the beginning of Star Wars, but at 91 years old, it seems he’s ready to have the work done for him. According to a report from Vanity Fair (via Deadline), Jones signed over the rights to his archival voice work, allowing the Ukrainian startup Respeecher to leverage AI technology and recreate the sound of his voice in Disney Plus’ Obi-Wan Kenobi.
To do this, Respeecher uses sound bites to “clone” an actor’s voice, allowing a studio to record new lines without having the actor present. Matthew Wood, Skywalker Sound’s supervising sound editor, told Vanity Fair that he presented Jones with the option once he “mentioned he was looking into winding down” the role of Darth Vader. After Jones gave Lucasfilm permission to use the AI-generated voice, Vanity Fair says the studio tasked Respeecher with making Vader sound like Jones’ “dark side villain from 45 years ago” in Disney Plus’ Obi-Wan Kenobi.
This is why you might notice that Vader sounds a lot like he did in the earlier films in Obi-Wan, as opposed to Jones’ actual voice in 2019’s The Rise of Skywalker. Despite the studio’s use of AI for Vader’s voice, Wood says Jones takes on the role of a “benevolent godfather,” and still helps guide the studio’s depiction of the villain.
This isn’t the first time Respeecher has worked with Lucasfilms, either. The startup also generated a voice for the younger version of Luke Skywalker in Disney Plus’ The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett. In a press release, Respeecher explains that it used clips from “many early years’ worth of radio broadcasts, interviews, ADRs, and dubs” with Mark Hamill to digitally recreate Skywalker’s voice.
Other AI speech synthesis tools like Voicemod, Veritone, Descript, and Resemble AI have also emerged as potential ways for celebrities and creators to digitally recreate their voices.” As my colleague James Vincent points out, the trend could become popular among celebrities who want to “boost their income with minimal effort by cloning and renting out their voice.” Or, in Jones’ case, it could help preserve the voice of arguably one of the most famous villains in film.