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James Earl Jones Has Retired from Voicing Darth Vader, Signed Over Rights to Recreate His Voice

The actor was credited with voicing the iconic villain in "Obi-Wan Kenobi," but did not record new dialogue for the Disney+ series.

A figure in a black cloak and metal helmet staring out from the bridge of a spaceship

“Obi-Wan Kenobi”

Lucasfilm Ltd.

It’s the end of an era in a galaxy far, far away. James Earl Jones, who voiced Darth Vader for over 40 years, has officially retired from the role.

Though the 91-year-old actor was credited with voicing the iconic villain in the Disney+ limited series “Obi-Wan Kenobi,” the show’s release was accompanied by speculation about whether he actually recorded any new dialogue for the show. As it turns out, he didn’t, though he still participated in the project. A new story in Vanity Fair reveals that Jones allowed the show’s producers to recreate his voice using a combination of archival footage and AI technology. The work was done by Ukrainian startup Respeecher, which specializes in recreating the voices of past performers.

Jones first lent his distinctive baritone to the “Star Wars” universe in 1977 when he voiced Darth Vader in “Episode IV – A New Hope.” He returned as the Sith Lord in both “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi” and has been a presence in every subsequent iteration of the franchise. He returned to voice the character in George Lucas’ 2005 prequel film “Revenge of the Sith” and reprised the role in the Disney films “Rogue One” and “The Last Jedi.” He also reprised the role in several episodes of the animated series “Star Wars: Rebels.”

While his days of playing Darth Vader are officially behind him, “Star Wars” fans can take comfort in the fact that they’ll continue to hear his voice on screen for years to come thanks to Respeecher. In addition to allowing “Obi-Wan Kenobi” to use his voice, he offered advice about the best way to proceed with the character. The show’s sound editor Matthew Wood described his role as that of a “benevolent godfather,” and noted that Jones was eager to see Darth Vader remain relevant for years to come.

Jones is not alone in that sentiment, as “Obi-Wan Kenobi” star Hayden Christensen recently expressed his desire to reprise the role again.

“I think this is a character that sort of resonates in our culture and in a very kind of profound way,” Christensen said. “And there’s certainly more there to explore. There are so many other stories that have been told in these other mediums.”

Regardless of how Disney proceeds with the character, and whether Christensen or someone else is wearing the helmet, fans will be hearing Jones’ voice whenever Darth Vader appears on screen.

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