Back in 1977, a few thousand dollars felt like a million bucks — especially while on the precipice of the biggest sci-fi blockbuster franchise of all time.
James Earl Jones revealed in a resurfaced American Film Institute interview that “Star Wars” creator George Lucas paid him $7,000 to voice iconic villain Darth Vader. Late actor David Prowse donned the Vader suit for the film “Star Wars: A New Hope,” but Lucas disagreed with Prowse’s natural voice for Vader.
“George wanted, pardon the expression, a dark voice,” Jones told AFI. “So he hires a guy born in Mississippi, raised in Michigan, who stutters. And that’s the voice. That’s me.”
As for the paycheck, Jones was all for his salary: “I lucked out, from all these so-called handicaps, for a job that paid $7,000! I thought that was good money. And I got to be a voice on a movie!”
However, Jones didn’t see eye to eye with director Lucas for the sequel “The Empire Strikes Back.” Jones wanted Vader to sound “more subtle” and “more psychologically oriented” behind the mask, but Lucas again had a distinct vision.
“He said, ‘We don’t know what we did right, so let’s just try what we did…What we’re finding out is you need to keep his voice on a very narrow band of inflection because he ain’t human, really,’” Jones explained.
Jones returned again decades later to reprise the role for “Star Wars: Rogue One,” with Jones’ legendary deep voice “looming large” in the feature, as producer Kathleen Kennedy previously teased.
Vader’s next appearance, sans Jones’ voice, will be in the Disney+ prequel series “Obi-Wan Kenobi,” premiering May 27 on the streamer. Ewan McGregor is back as the titular Jedi Master, with Hayden Christensen portraying Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader once again. Set 10 years after “Star Wars: Revenge for the Sith,” the series follows Obi-Wan as he hides from Vader in Tatooine and sets out to train a young Luke Skywalker.
Director Deborah Chow explained that the “Obi-Wan Kenobi” series Vader “isn’t the ‘New Hope’ Vader quite yet” and that the series will fill in the gaps between the film trilogies. “We are with the character sort of in the middle of this period,” Chow said. “It is still Vader obviously, but it’s a Vader that isn’t quite as fully formed as ‘A New Hope.’”
Star Christensen also called it an “honor” to don the Darth Vader suit once more, calling “Obi-Wan Kenobi” a “natural continuation” for the villain.
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