In 1977, George Lucas unveiled the future of filmmaking with Star Wars, and in the nearly 50 years since, fans have been fighting like mad to stay in the past. While the original movie introduced words like “Wookie” and “X-Wing” into the collective consciousness, every subsequent attempt to move audiences to new depths has been met with crickets if not outright disdain and protest.
So now the mighty minds at Disney are employing their considerable money and expertise towards figuring out how to do just that — a task rendered more difficult by virtue of the fact that time marches on. The movies have already ventured into the uncanny valley by creating the CGI likeness of departed actors like Peter Cushing and Carrie Fisher (not to mention The Madalorian’s de-aged Mark Hamil). And now, we’ve got a new wrinkle: James Earl Jones is preparing to shut the door on his time as the voice of Darth Vader. And Disney’s ready to use an A.I. program to make sure the character will forever sound exactly-ish the same way he did back in A New Hope.
Vanity Fair reports that 91-year-old Jones has signed off on Disney using A.I. to recreate his performance as he prepares to retire from his time as Anakin Skywalker or (from a certain point of view) Darth Vader. A Ukrainian start-up called Respeecher appears to have wooed Disney with its remarkable A.I. program and Jones was impressed enough with the result to give the company his blessing.
The fact that Jones approved this move is reassuring. Of course, the future of A.I. and recreating the visual and audio likenesses actor as they age, retire and pass away remains a legal muddle and ethical quagmire. In trying to fulfill fans’ desire to stay in the past forever, it seems very likely that Disney is creating a darker future.