James Earl Jones is retiring from his role as Darth Vader. Even though he never wore the imposing costume, his iconic voice acting makes the character what it is. It’s not surprising the actor is saying goodbye to Darth Vader, he is 91 years old after all. But thankfully, this doesn’t mean we won’t hear James Earl Jones’ iconic Darth Vader voice anymore. Jones signed over the rights so Lucasfilm can use artificial intelligence to add his voice to Darth Vader for any future projects.
The studio already used the AI program Respeecher to create Jones’ Darth Vader voice for his return in Obi-Wan Kenobi. And Lucasfilm used the same technology to recreate Mark Hamill’s voice from decades ago for Luke Skywalker’s appearances in The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett. Both actors received credit for those roles.
We saw this news on Deadline. Jones performed as Darth Vader most recently for one line in The Rise of Skywalker. But his contributions to Revenge of the Sith, Star Wars: Rebels, and Rogue One were invaluable. And, of course, his other iconic work in the original trilogy (and the Holiday Special!) cannot go unpraised. But voice actors other than Jones have picked up the Darth Vader’s mantle in video games and shows like Robot Chicken.
Artificial intelligence also gave Val Kilmer his voice back after a tracheotomy. These examples all have the benefit of the person in question being alive to consent to AI uses of their voice. But there are others uses that raised eyebrows, like Andy Warhol’s estate green-lighting an AI voice for a docuseries. AI recreating Anthony Bourdain’s voice for another series also created some controversy. There’s also the recent news that Amazon is training Alexa to talk in other people’s voices. The company presented the heart-warming option of a beloved grandparent being able to read bedtime stories even after they’ve passed away. But we all know that people will immediately use such technology unethically.
All that being said, we’d love to hear Majel Barrett’s voice again as the voice of the ship’s computer on Star Trek. It was something she wanted before she passed away, but the technology just wasn’t ready at the time. So, in the case of James Earl Jones, Darth Vader, and AI, at least, we’ll count ourselves lucky.
Melissa is Nerdist’s science & technology staff writer. She also moderates “science of” panels at conventions and co-hosts Star Warsologies, a podcast about science and Star Wars. Follow her on Twitter @melissatruth.
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