James Earl Jones has been Darth Vader’s iconic voice since the beginning of Star Wars, but at age 91, it looks like he’s ready to have the job done for him. According to an report of Vanity Fair (through Deadline), Jones signed the rights to his archival voice work, giving the Ukrainian startup responder to use AI technology and mimic 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 the actor being present. Matthew Wood, Skywalker Sound’s supervising sound editor, said: Vanity Fair that he gave Jones the option as soon as he “stated that he was looking to wind down” the role of Darth Vader. After Jones gave Lucasfilm permission to use the AI-generated voice, Vanity Fair says studio commissioned Respeecher to make Vader sound like Jones’ ‘dark side villain from 45 years ago’ in Disney Plus’ Obi-Wan Kenobi.
This is why you may notice that Vader sounds a lot like he did in the earlier movies in Obi-Wanunlike the real voice of Jones in 2019 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 the studio portray the villain.
This isn’t the first time Respeecher has teamed up with Lucasfilms either. The startup also generated a vote for the younger version of Luke Skywalker in Disney Plus’ The Mandalorian and Boba Fett’s book. In a press releaseRespeecher explains that it used excerpts from “many early years of radio broadcasts, interviews, ADRs and dubs” with Mark Hamill to digitally recreate Skywalker’s voice.
Other AI speech synthesis tools, such as 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 “increase their income with minimal effort by cloning and renting out their voices”. Or, in Jones’ case, it could help preserve the voice of arguably one of the film’s most famous villains.