James Earl Jones Retires From Voicing Darth Vader

Future “Star Wars” productions will recreate Jones’ menacing voice using artificial intelligence

James Earl Jones and Darth Vader
James Earl Jones beside Darth Vader in 2002 Photo by Jim Spellman / WireImage via Getty Images

Since 1977, actor James Earl Jones has struck fear into the hearts of moviegoers across the galaxy as the voice of Darth Vader, the faceless villain of the popular Star Wars franchise.

But now, at 91, Jones has decided to retire from the role. His iconic Darth Vader voice will live on through an artificial intelligence (A.I.) program that can learn his’ tones and inflections, Vanity Fair’s Anthony Breznican reports. Jones signed over the rights to his archival voice recordings to Respeecher, a Ukraine-based startup that is working with Lucasfilm to preserve and recreate the actor’s menacing voice using a proprietary A.I. algorithm.

“He had mentioned he was looking into winding down this particular character,” Matthew Wood, a supervising sound editor at Lucasfilm, tells Vanity Fair. “So how do we move forward?”

In the Star Wars storyline, Darth Vader—or Anakin Skywalker—dies near the end of Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, which was released in 1983. But in the years since then, Jones has reprised the role in films such as in Rogue One (2016) and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019).

When Disney, which bought Lucasfilm in 2012, set out to make the recent “Obi-Wan Kenobi” miniseries, the company tasked Respeecher’s A.I. algorithm with recreating the aging actor’s Darth Vader voice from 45 years ago. Jones helped “[guide] the performance” of his A.I.-generated counterpart, acting as a “benevolent godfather” to the series, Wood tells Vanity Fair.

Respeecher also created the voice of a young Luke Skywalker for The Book of Boba Fett (2021).

As Justin Carter writes for Gizmodo, Disney’s decision to create an A.I.-generated version of Jones’ voice is interesting because other actors have played Darth Vader over the years and “did a fairly good job at it,” such as Matt Sloan in the 2008 video game “The Force Unleashed.”

“Similar to discussions about A.I. art, there’s something ethically dicey about this, and that feeling will likely not go away as Disney uses it in other shows or films,” Carter writes.

Actor James Earl Jones sits for a portrait at the Longacre Theatre in New York.
James Earl Jones Jesse Dittmar for The Washington Post / Getty Images

Beyond Star Wars, Jones has had a prolific acting career on film and on the stage dating back to the 1950s. He has received numerous awards, including two Emmys, a Grammy, an honorary Oscar and two Tonys, which makes him a rare EGOT winner. Earlier this month, a Broadway theater was renamed in the actor’s honor. Jones first performed at the theater in 1958, just a year into his Broadway career, and the name change comes amid a push to recognize Black artists on Broadway.

“On stage, Jones was commanding, powerful,” Kenny Leon, a Tony-winning director, tells Variety’s Michael Appler. “He embodied the elegance and dignity of African American men.”