A Ukrainian tech company will permanently take over producing the iconic voice of “Star Wars” villain Darth Vader, following the recent retirement of the character’s long-serving actor.
91-year-old James Earl Jones has voiced Darth Vader for decades and is best known for uttering one of the most famous lines in cinematic history, “I am your father,” in the 1980 Star Wars film “The Empire Strikes Back.”
A fan favourite, Jones went on to win numerous awards, including a Grammy, Emmy, Oscar, and Tony, and continued to work as the voice of Vader for a string of Star Wars sequels and spin-offs.
However, after telling Vanity Fair that he wished to retire from the role, producers from LucasFilm entered into talks with the actor, who suggested the use of artificial intelligence and archival recordings to recreate his voice for future projects.
Matthew Wood, a LucasFilm senior sound editor, told Vanity Fair in August: “He had mentioned he was looking into winding down this particular character, so how do we move forward?” before announcing that LucasFilm decided to commission Ukrainian start-up company Respeecher.
The Kyiv-based voice-cloning company had already been working with LucasFilm to create numerous voices in the Star Wars universe, including Luke Skywalker in Disney’s “The Book of Boba Fett.”
Respeecher’s first attempt at recreating Vader’s voice appeared in the recently released miniseries “Obi-Wan Kenobi,” with much of the work being carried out amid the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The company’s cofounder, Alex Serdiuk, told Vanity Fair of the challenges the war posed to his workforce but also of the positives created by Respeecher, saying: “We create places to work for people. We create jobs. We pay them money. We contribute to the Ukrainian economy and that’s quite meaningful.”
“But also, hopefully, more people will hear about Ukraine – about our tech community, about our start-ups—because of it.”
“It’s been hard,” Serdiuk added. “A 44-million nation is in pain. Many refugees, many civilians died. Many people in the army died because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. We all have the additional [responsibility] of helping each other. You’ve seen how united and resilient Ukrainians are at this moment, but in terms of how we live now: We wake up, we go to work, and then we go home and try to get some sleep.”
“I’m currently separated from my family. So my wife and daughter, they’re abroad. I brought them to the border as soon as it all started.”
Bogdan Belyaev, a synthetic speech artist at Respeecher, ploughed on with the project despite Russian troops amassing on the border with Ukraine at the beginning of 2022.
“If everything went bad, we would never make these conversions delivered to Skywalker Sound,” he told Vanity Fair. “So I decided to push this data right on the 24th of February.”
After wrapping up on the editing stage of his work on Vader, Belyaev took time off to volunteer helping victims of Russia’s brutal invasion.
Of his determination to finish his work on the latest Star Wars project, he said: “Why did I do it? It’s a big honour to work with Lucasfilm, and I’ve been a fan of “Star Wars” since I was a kid. Even if it’s war, there’s no excuse for you to be the troublemaker of what you loved from childhood.”
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