James Earl Jones signs over iconic Darth Vader voice in the Star Wars universe

Jess Hardiman

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James Earl Jones signs over iconic Darth Vader voice in the Star Wars universe

Featured Image Credit: dpa picture alliance archive/Allstar Picture Library Limited/Alamy Stock Photo

James Earl Jones has signed the iconic voice rights to Darth Vader over to Lucasfilm and Respeecher – the latter a Ukrainian company that uses archival recordings and a proprietary AI algorithm to construct new dialogue. 

Respeecher worked with Lucasfilm to voice the young Luke Skywalker in Disney+ series The Book of Boba Fett, before being asked to recreate the voice Jones used for Darth Vader decades ago now that his own has altered with age. 

In an interview with Vanity Fair, Matthew Wood, a sound editor at Lucasfilm, spoke about how he had recorded Jones' voice numerous times throughout his 32-year career with the company – most recently for The Rise of Skywalker

Respeecher’s technology proved so impressive, that Jones – now aged 91 – agreed to ‘sign over the rights to his voice to keep Vader alive’, the outlet reports, adding that the star has ‘stepped back from the role’. 

Wood explained: "[James] had mentioned he was looking into winding down this particular character. So how do we move forward?" 

James Earl Jones in 2012. Credit: Doug Peters/Alamy Stock Photo
James Earl Jones in 2012. Credit: Doug Peters/Alamy Stock Photo

He added: “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.” 

The news has led to some speculation that the actor has retired from the iconic role, but this is not something that has been officially confirmed. 

However, Vanity Fair pointed out that Jones’ blessing for his trademark tone to be used in future projects within the Star Wars franchise, including ‘those produced after his own passing’, will at least ease concerns among fans, who will be able to enjoy his signature baritone vocals for years to come – as opposed to being forced to embrace a new spin on the role if another actor were to step up to voice Vader. 

Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader, played by Mark Hamill and voiced by James Earl Jones, respectively. Credit: 20th Century Fox
Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader, played by Mark Hamill and voiced by James Earl Jones, respectively. Credit: 20th Century Fox

Work at Respeecher has inevitably been impacted by the war in Ukraine, with programmers ‘training’ the AI to reproduce Jones’ voice and editors that pieced together the output all working from ‘corridors in the interior of their apartments’, Vanity Fair explained. 

“One took refuge in an ancient brick ‘basement’ no bigger than a crawl space,” the outlet said. 

Wood, meanwhile, was working from Skywalker Sound in Northern California as the supervising sound editor on the receiving end of transmissions from war-torn Ukraine. 

“Certainly my main concern was their well-being,” he said. 

“There are always alternatives that we could pursue that wouldn’t be as good as what they would give us. We never wanted to put them in any kind of additional danger to stay in the office to do something.” 

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Topics: Film & TV, Star Wars, Celebrity, Film and TV

Jess Hardiman
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