James Earl Jones no longer voices Darth Vader

When Obi-Wan Kenobi premiered earlier this year Disney+, some viewers noted that Darth Vader sounded just a little different. It certainly didn’t sound like another actor was lending his voice; James Earl Jonessignature bass came through loud and clear. But it almost came through also loud and also clear. Jones is now 91 years old, and in recent years his Vader appearances, particularly in Star wars prequel Rogue one, sounded a little different. But Vader i Obi-Wan showed no signs of age.

A new article in Vanity Fair explains the difference. The 91-year-old Jones had quietly “stepped back” from the role, letting Lucasfilm create his dialogue using archival footage and AI technology.

Here’s more from their article:

“Jones had mentioned that he was looking at winding down this particular character,” he says [Skywalker Sound sound editor Matthew] Tree. ‘So how do we move on?’ When he eventually introduced Jones to Respeecher’s work, the actor signed off on using his archival voice recordings to keep Vader alive and vital even by artificial means—appropriate, perhaps, for a character who is half mechanical. Jones is credited with leading the show forward Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Wood describes his contribution as “a benevolent godfather.” They inform the actor of their plans for Vader and follow his advice on how to stay on the right course.

Vader’s new/old voice was created by Respeecher, a Ukrainian technology company that uses “archive footage and a proprietary AI algorithm to create new dialogue with the voices of artists from long ago.”

Lucasfilm Ltd.

You can hear the difference for yourself below. Compare this performance by the real James Earl Jones from rogue one…

…with the AI-enhanced Vader off Obi-Wan Kenobi…

It doesn’t sound artificial; indeed, the work of Respeecher is remarkably seamless. You’ll swear it’s young James Earl Jones speaking. But it sounds like that young James Earl Jones, not the 91-year-old version.

It’s actually an incredible piece of technology (albeit one with slightly disturbing implications). And it makes you wonder: Which actor will we hear again next?

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