James Earl Jones, the 91-year-old voice of Darth Vader (among many other noteworthy roles) is stepping back from Star Wars and his portray of the Dark Lord of the Sith. The news comes from Vanity Fair, which on Friday profiled a Ukrainian firm developing an AI that will continue voicing the character.
Jones has signed off on using his archived voice-over work to build the AI at Respeecher, the company hired by Lucasfilm to develop a voicing solution for Vader. “[Jones] had mentioned he was looking into winding down this particular character,” Matthew Wood, the Lucasfilm sound editor working with Respeecher, told Vanity Fair. Wood called Jones “a benevolent godfather,” and said the two remain in close contact, discussing the AI project, with Jones giving his advice on how to preserve Vader’s legacy and his authentic voice.
Respeecher is headquartered in Kyiv and its work has been greatly affected by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and assaults on the capital city, which began Feb. 24. Respeecher managed to ship audio files for Vader’s role in Disney Plus’ Obi-Wan Kenobi on that day, Vanity Fair reported. Though Wood, mindful of those developers’ safety, began pulling back on work requests to Respeecher, the response from Kyiv was, “Let’s work, let’s work in the face of this adversity, let’s persevere.”
Jones has portrayed Vader since the initial 1977 film, though others have voiced the character in video games and other adapted works since then. David Prowse wore Vader’s helmet and cloak for the first three films; Vader’s physical portrayal has since been handled by Hayden Christensen (in Obi-Wan Kenobi, and 2005’s Revenge of the Sith) and Spencer Wilding in 2017’s Rogue One.
Elsewhere in his prolific career, Jones has won a Grammy Award, two Tony Awards, two Primetime Emmy Awards, and an Academy Honorary Award, in 2011, “for his legacy of consistent excellence and uncommon versatility.”