At the age of 91, James Earl Jones has officially retired from Star Wars. That’s right, the legendary voice actor and vocal persona of Darth Vader is finally hanging his hat. In a move that many consider could be a step forward for progressive technology, Jones signed his voice rights over to Lucasfilm and Respeecher.
What is Respeecher?
Respeecher is a Ukrainian Artificial Intelligence startup company that has been working with Lucasfilm. They’ve been striving to bring us the voices of famous characters which can no longer be created organically.
For instance, Disney+’s The Book of Boba Fett featured a young Luke Skywalker. While Mark Hamill is still alive, his voice has changed dramatically over the years as he’s aged. Naturally, it would be difficult if not impossible for him to voice a younger version of himself from 45 years ago.
This is where Respeecher steps in. The company utilizes archived voice audio recordings with AI technology to replicate familiar voices. James Earl Jones has finally rescinded his right to Darth Vader’s voice, thus allowing Lucasfilm and Respeecher to continue the legacy in their own way.
According to Vanity Fair, Respeecher’s founder, Bogdan Belyaev, became trapped in a bunker in Ukraine while working remotely with Lucasfilm, based in the United States. When Russia invaded Ukraine, the 29-year-old tech CEO and Respeecher’s employees continued their work while hiding for their lives.
James Earl Jones Is Paving the Path to a Greater Trust in New Technologies
Jones’ move to sign over his voice rights comes as a potential boon to field of AI. This is because there has been an ongoing debate as to whether or not it’s ethical to use the voices of deceased actors in new technologies. With James Earl Jones leading the way, there is a hope that other actors will follow suit. This could allow their voices to continue to be used in media.
James Earl Jones Has Struggled With a Stutter, Muteness, and Sinusitis
James Earl Jones’ rise to stardom as the voice of Darth Vader (and Mufasa in The Lion King) has some fascinating roots. While he is known for his deep, harmonious voice, he actually has suffered from a stutter and chronic sinusitis for his entire life.
He once told The Daily Mail that both issues arose at the young age of 5 when his family moved from Mississippi to a farm in Michigan. The move affected his development, resulting in a sudden muteness and subsequent stutter.
While Jones wasn’t completely mute, he spoke infrequently. He told Daily Mail that he’d communicate with his family and the farm animals.
“As a small child, I would communicate to my family, or at least those who didn’t mind being embarrassed by my stutter or my being embarrassed,” he said. “I did communicate with the animals quite freely, but then that’s calling the hogs, the cows, the chickens. They don’t care how you sound, they just want to hear your voice.”
Jones Was Bullied in Sunday School Because of His Speech Impediment
Jones was also on the receiving end of childhood bullying due to his speech impediment.
“Stuttering is painful,” he admitted. “In Sunday school, I’d try to read my lessons and the children behind me were falling on the floor with laughter.”
Luckily, Jones eventually became the pupil of a teacher who pushed him to work on his stutter. Donald Crouch was a poet who recited and memorized poetry in the case that he ever became blind. The intention was so that he could keep himself occupied with his memory. (He eventually did go blind, so the technique paid off). Crouch got Jones into debates, poetry, and dramatic reading.
Jones worked diligently to get his stutter under control, eventually moving on to Yale drama school. Eventually, he would become one of the most legendary and prominent voice actors the world has ever known.
And thanks to tech wizard Bogdan Belyaev, Respeecher, and Lucasfilm, we’ll be able to keep listening to Jones’ voice in new contexts, at least for the foreseeable future.