James Earl Jones Hands Over Rights to Darth Vader Voice

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Darth Vader
Stefano Buttafoco/Shutterstock

After almost five decades of voicing the iconic Star Wars character, James Earl Jones is stepping away from his Darth Vader role. Instead of the actor, a voice-cloning company will be in charge of Vader’s voice for new movies and series from Disney and Lucasfilm.

James Earl Jones Retires From the Darkside

James Earl Jones
Featureflash Photo Agency/Shutterstock

After nearly 50 years of creating content for the hugely popular Star Wars universe, James Earl Jones is leaving his position as Darth Vader. The actor, who’s already 91 years old, decided to give away the rights to the character’s voice too. “He had mentioned he was looking into winding down this particular character,” Matthew Wood, supervising sound editor at Skywalker Sound, said. “So how do we move forward?”

There’s a way to continue, and Lucasfilm seems to have already figured it out. Other creators will use hundreds of archived voice recordings to take on his legacy. They’ll also make more clips using artificial intelligence and synthetic speech technology. In particular, one company has been in the spotlight for their Star Wars work this past year.

Respeecher, a Ukrainian startup company, uses AI technology to come up with fresh voice clips for new Lucasfilm projects. That includes the Disney+ series The Book of Boba Fett and Obi-Wan Kenobi, which came out in 2021 and 2022, respectively. For the latter, Respeecher recreated the voice of young Luke Skywalker.

Making Darth Vader’s Voice Under Flying Missiles

Respeecher team
Respeecher/Twitter

The Respeecher team deserves even more admiration after what they had to go through working on their most recent Lucasfilm project. Bogdan Belyaev of Respeecher was in the middle of working on Darth Vader’s recordings for the new series when Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24. The 29-year-old from Lviv heard sirens for the first time in his life and ran to a shelter with his family. However, his laptop was with him. Belyaev managed to finish his part as quickly as he could. “If everything went bad, we would never make these conversions delivered to Skywalker Sound,” he said. “So I decided to push this data right on the 24th of February.”

At the time, no one knew what would happen to the country. So, other employees located in Kyiv worked through sirens, too. Dmytro Bielievtsov, the company’s co-founder and CTO, as well as programmers and editors, worked in their corridors and underground shelters.

Despite the considerate dedication, Wood and Obi-Wan Kenobi director and showrunner Deborah Chow focused on the team’s well-being. When the Russian attack was revealed to the rest of the world, Wood decided to check in with the project less frequently. At first, he gave Respeecher more space and freedom with the recordings. Yet, the team pursued. “Let’s work, let’s work in the face of this adversity, let’s persevere,” Wood recalls hearing back. And it paid off: viewers loved the antagonist’s return. Wood and Jones’s family even praised Respeecher directly.

The whole team was honored to work with Lucasfilm and saw it as an opportunity. “We create places to work for people, we pay them money, we contribute to the Ukrainian economy, and that’s quite meaningful,” said Alex Serdiuk, the CEO and co-founder of the voice-cloning company. “But also, hopefully more people will hear about Ukraine—about our tech community, about our start-ups—because of it.”

Sources: IGNNBC, Vanity Fair