James Earl Jones has apparently given his permission for the voice of his iconic villain Darth Vader to become an AI-generated effect. Has already done so, in fact, for his recent “appearance” in Star Wars Disney+ series Obi-Wan Kenobi: Although Lucasfilm was quick to note that Jones “guided” the generation of Vader’s lines in the show, the actual voice for the character was generated by an AI firm called Respeecher in Ukraine.
This is per Vanity Fair, which reported, among other things, about how Respeecher’s employees apparently worked through the early days of the Russian invasion of their country to finish the effects for the show. (Skywalker Sound’s Matthew Wood says he tried to pull back on requests for tweaks to the lines as the situation in the country escalated, “But the Respeecher team’s attitude, he says, was: ‘Let’s work, let’s work in the face of this adversity, let’s persevere.’”)
Jones previously played Vader for exactly one line in J.J. Abrams’ The Rise Of Skywalker; before that, he’d returned to the character in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the animated TV series Star Wars: Rebels, and the final moments of Revenge Of The Sith. At 91 years old, though, Wood says Jones “had mentioned he was looking into winding down this particular character,” and so the studio started looking into AI as a solution. Wood says Jones was still involved in the project, acting as “a benevolent godfather” who gave guidance on how the character should sound. When presented with the finished result, Jones signed off on it; his family, according to the VF article, “told Wood how pleased they were with the result of all the work.”
AI voice generation has become more common in recent years; the creators of the Anthony Bourdain documentary Roadrunner were criticized last year for using an AI-generated version of the beloved food personality’s voice to read letters in their doc. And Star Wars has, of course, not been shy about using technology to create new performances from classic stars in recent years. Rogue One featured a CGI Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin, while a recent episode of The Book Of Boba Fett featured a digitally de-aged Mark Hamill. Now the question stands: How much more of Vader’s iconic voice will we be hearing in the years ahead, now completely generated by AI?