45 years after his deep baritone first emanated from Darth Vader’s black mask in the original Star Wars, 91-year-old James Earl Jones is stepping away from his duties voicing the galaxy’s most iconic Sith lord. While the legendary actor’s move marks the end of an era, Lucasfilm has been quick to reassure audiences that Vader will continue to hunt the Rebel Alliance and Jedi alike, thanks to a team of voice experts located in the last place you’d currently expect to find anyone doing the vocal equivalent of freezing someone in carbonite: Ukraine.
According to a report from Vanity Fair, Ukrainian workers at Respeecher have ensured the voice of Darth Vader will live on, despite Russia’s ongoing invasion of their country. With Jones stepping away from the role, the team harnessed Respeecher’s voice-cloning A.I. technology to immortalise the signature tones of Anakin Skywalker’s darker half for the Disney+ Obi-Wan Kenobi series and possible future appearances.
According to Lucasfilm supervising sound editor Matthew Wood, while the company’s top priority was the Ukrainian workers’ safety, the team brought a level of believability to Vader’s vocals that otherwise wouldn’t have been possible: “There are always alternatives that we could pursue that wouldn’t be as good as what they would give us. We never wanted to put them in any kind of additional danger to stay in the office to do something.”
When Jones expressed his intentions to step away from the role, Wood was left wondering how Vader’s character could possibly continue to be a presence on our screens. Wood explains that the answer has Respeecher, with Jones giving his approval for archival recordings of his voice to be used so that Vader’s reign of terror to continue. Doing so mixed the human and the mechanical in a way that seems entirely fitting for a character Obi-Wan once described as “more machine now than man.”
While it’s unclear when we’ll next hear Vader monologue threateningly, only a fool would bet that the Obi-Wan Kenobi series is the last time we’ll see him wield his red lightsaber. In the meantime, check out the trailer for the latest Disney+ Star Wars series Andor here, or watch the show via the link below.