James Earl Jones—the voice of Darth Vader—scored big today as Disney and Lucasfilm continue their quest to extinguish all the humanity from their Star Wars empire.
From his early role as Dr. Rush on Dr. Kildare in 1966 to Coming to America 2 in 2021, James Earl Jones’ career spans over sixty years and almost a hundred and ninety film and television credits. He’s won more than twenty-one awards, including a lifetime achievement Oscar in 2011.
But Jones is arguably best known as the chilling voice of the evil space knight, Darth Vader.
Since his first (uncredited) performance in the original 1977 film Star Wars, Jones has been the voice of the galaxy’s greatest nemesis on every Lucasfilm project featuring the Vader character.
And now, thanks to an ultra-dedicated team of speech synthesizers from war-torn Ukraine, Jones has solidified his position as the only Vader voice for the foreseeable future.
James Earl Jones’ voice of Darth Vader to be created using A.I.
According to an interview in Vanity Fair, Jones has reportedly allowed the Disney + producers of Obi-Wan Kenobi to recreate Jones’ voice using a combination of A.I. tech and old recordings of the actor.
This agreement essentially means Jones can continue to be the voice of the evil space sorcerer forever.
The winners and losers
There are two big winners in this deal—and two big losers.
Jones is obviously one of the winners. And good for him. Anyone who continually works until the respectable age of 91 deserves to retire on their terms.
Furthermore, with all the blood, sweat, and tears Jones’ has shed for his industry, this deal may well give him some satisfaction that his talent can generate new work beyond his physical career. (And let’s not forget the continued royalty checks.)
The other winner is a company called Respeecher. They, along with a man named Bogdan Belyaev, helped create the ability to craft new dialogue by using the existing voice recordings of performers who are no longer performing.
29-year-old Belyaev was the main focus of the Vanity Fair article, detailing how he and many of his Ukrainian colleagues had to navigate meeting deadlines while being bombed by the Russian army.
Good for them. This deal sounds like a big success for a company that came through under unimaginably impossible circumstances.
But the big losers in this deal are the actors and us, the audience.
Unlimited tweaks from Hollywood
To say Darth Vader is an iconic character is like saying chocolate is a popular flavor—it’s a bit of an understatement. And part of what made that character so significant is Jones’ talent.
His operatic, sub-woofer-infused voice is as distinctive as the man himself. His Broadway performance of Troy in August Wilson’s Fences garnered him a Tony award for Best Lead Actor in 1985 and is still considered one of the best Broadway performances in history.
Is it any wonder a talent of this caliber could have propelled the Vader character from a mere menacing villain to a multi-film superstar? Would a lesser talent have been able to make our hair stand on end when Jones uttered that line—No, Luke. I am your father?
It wasn’t just that voice that made Jones perfect for the role. It was also his ability to choose how to use his instrument. Jones, after all, had a literal lifetime of experience to guide him, to find the best way to convey the line effectively.
Now, it seems any subtleties of the Vader character will be chosen by directors and film executives who can tweak the performance ad infinitum with the taping of a keyboard key. Performances in the future might be created entirely by committee.
With the Star Wars franchise continuing down the road of wooden performances and near-absent characterizations, it seems logical to remove humanity altogether from future projects.
True, it would be hard to imagine anyone else voicing the character, but is the better alternative to have Vader played by a computer program?
When Obi-Wan described his old friend as “more machine than man” in 1983’s Return of the Jedi, did any of us realize how prophetic the line might become?