James Earl Jones Steps Back From Darth Vader Role, A.I. Voice Used On ‘Obi-Wan’
When Obi-Wan Kenobi premiered earlier this year on Disney+, some viewers noticed that Darth Vader sounded just a little different. It certainly didn’t sound like a different actor was providing his voice; James Earl Jones’ signature bass came through loud and clear. But it almost came through too loud and too clear. Jones is now 91 years old, and in recent years, his Vader performances, most notably in the Star Wars prequel Rogue One, sounded a little different. But the Vader in 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, and allowed Lucasfilm to create his dialogue using archival recordings and A.I. technology.
Here’s more from their article:
‘Jones had mentioned he was looking into winding down this particular character,’ says [Skywalker Sound sound editor Matthew] Wood. ‘So how do we move forward?’ When he ultimately presented Jones with 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 for guiding the performance on Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Wood describes his contribution as “a benevolent godfather.” They inform the actor about their plans for Vader and heed his advice on how to stay on the right course.
Vader’s new/old voice was created by Respeecher, a Ukrainian tech company that uses “archival recordings and a proprietary A.I. algorithm to create new dialogue with the voices of performers from long ago.”
You can hear the difference for yourself below. Compare this performance by the real James Earl Jones from Rogue One...
...with the A.I.-augmented Vader from Obi-Wan Kenobi...
It doesn’t sound artificial; in fact, the work by Respeecher is remarkably seamless. You’d swear that’s the young James Earl Jones talking. But it does sound like the young James Earl Jones, not the 91-year-old version.
It’s actually an incredible work of technology (albeit one with slightly unnerving implications). And it makes you wonder: What actor will we hear again next?