Darth Vader's voice is given to AI by James Earl Jones

Darth Vader’s voice is given to AI by James Earl Jones

James Earl Jones has been the legendary voice of Darth Vader since the beginning of Star Wars, but at 91 years old, it seems he’s ready for someone else to do the job for him. Jones turned away the rights to his archive voice work, according to Vanity Fair (via Deadline), enabling the Ukrainian business Respeecher to use AI technology to reproduce the sound of his voice in Disney Plus’ Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Respeecher does this by “cloning” an actor’s voice using sound bites, enabling a studio to record fresh lines without the performer present. Skywalker Sound’s supervising sound editor, Matthew Wood, told Vanity Fair that he proposed the possibility to Jones after he “said he was looking towards winding down” the character of Darth Vader. According to Vanity Fair, once Jones granted Lucasfilm permission to use the AI-generated voice, the studio entrusted Respeecher with making Vader sound like Jones’ “evil side adversary from 45 years ago” in Disney Plus’ Obi-Wan Kenobi.

This is why, in Obi-Wan, Vader sounds a lot like he did in the early films, rather than Jones’ true voice in 2019’s The Rise of Skywalker. Despite the studio’s use of artificial intelligence for Vader’s voice, Wood claims Jones takes on the role of a “benevolent godfather” and nevertheless helps steer the studio’s portrayal of the evil.

This isn’t the first time Respeecher has collaborated with Lucasfilms. In addition, the startup provided a voice for the younger Luke Skywalker in Disney Plus’ The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett. Respeecher said in a news release that it utilized “many early years’ worth of radio broadcasts, interviews, ADRs, and dubs” with Mark Hamill to digitally replicate Skywalker’s voice.

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Other artificial intelligence speech synthesis programs, such as Voicemod, Veritone, Descript, and Resemble AI, have surfaced as viable solutions for celebrities and artists to digitally replicate their voices.” According to my colleague James Vincent, the idea might catch on among celebrities looking to “increase their income with minimum effort by replicating and renting out their voice.” In Jones’ instance, technology might help preserve the voice of one of cinema’s most iconic villains.

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