MOVIES

Darth Vader Without James Earl Jones’ Voice Is Weirder Than You Think

Visually, casting David Prowse made perfect sense. The man was a 6-foot-6-inch bodybuilder and weightlifter, so he had the physique required for an intimidating Darth Vader in his mask, cape, and body armor. He was picture-perfect and acted the part memorably, setting a high bar for Hayden Christensen, who had to put on weight to take over the role on “Obi-Wan Kenobi.” But the voice, well, it just doesn’t vibe. Thank goodness George Lucas and company were savvy enough to couple Prowse’s figure with James Earl Jones’ classically trained voice.

In the behind-the-scenes footage, one interviewee points out, “It was hilarious and terrifying at the same time because we didn’t know what Darth sounds like. That was the first time we heard him. We were like, ‘Is that it? Is he going to be some Scottish guy, or what is this?”

Of course, that wasn’t it. During later stages of the production process, Prowse’s voice was replaced by that of Jones, who explained the story in the same BTS footage, saying, “George had hired David Prowse, but he said he wanted a so-called ‘darker voice,’ and not in terms of ethnic but in terms of timbre.” Jones elaborates that there was a rumor Lucas had considered Orson Welles (“Citizen Kane,” “Touch of Evil”) but that he probably thought the voice would be too recognizable. “So what he ends up,” he continues, “is picking a voice that was born in Mississippi, raised in Michigan, and was a stuttered — and that happened to be my voice.”

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