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James Earl Jones steps back from voicing Darth Vader, signs off on using archived recordings to recreate voice with AI

Jones first voiced the famed film villain in the original 1977 “Star Wars."
/ Source: Variety

James Earl Jones, who has voiced Darth Vader for nearly 50 years of “Star Wars” films, seems to be stepping away from the role.

According to Vanity Fair, the 91-year-old actor has signed off on archival voice recordings being used by young filmmakers, who plan to utilize artificial intelligence synthetic speech technology to recreate Jones’ younger voice from his previous films for future Lucasfilm projects.

“He had mentioned he was looking into winding down this particular character,” Matthew Wood, a Lucasfilm veteran of 32 years, told the outlet. “So how do we move forward?”

James Earl Jones and Darth Vader attend the charity premiere of "Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones" in New York on May 12, 2002.
James Earl Jones and Darth Vader at the charity premiere of "Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones" in New York on May 12, 2002.Jim Spellman / WireImage file

The company has enlisted the assistance of Respeecher, a Ukrainian startup that uses AI technology to craft new conversations from revitalized old voice recordings. Respeecher’s relationship with Lucasfilm began with the Disney+ series “The Book of Boba Fett,” for which they recreated the voice of young Luke Skywalker. The two also teamed for the voice performance of Darth Vader on the series “Obi-Wan Kenobi,” which debuted on Disney’s streamer this summer.

Bogdan Belyaev, the 29-year-old speech artist, was tasked with delivering the new recordings to Lucasfilm, but tragedy struck on Feb. 24 when Russia invaded the country. As air raid sirens powered through the city of Lviv, Belyaev hurried to finish the project and send his work back to Skywalker Sound in Northern California.

“If everything went bad, we would never make these conversions delivered to Skywalker Sound,” he says.

Following the debut of “Obi-Wan Kenobi,” Jones’ family informed Wood that they were pleased with the result of the synthesis between the actor’s voice and Respeecher’s technical work. Jones is credited for “guiding the performance” of Darth Vader in the Disney+ series, with Wood describing the actor as a “benevolent godfather.”

Jones first voiced the famed film villain in the original 1977 “Star Wars,” while David Prowse appeared on-screen in the notorious black mask. Jones voiced the character on both the big and small screen up until this point.

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CORRECTION (Sept. 26, 2022, 8:45 p.m. ET): A photo caption on a previous version of this article misstated when a photo of James Earl Jones and Darth Vader was taken. It was taken May 12, 2002, not May 12, 2022.