It’s difficult to imagine Darth Vader without the distinctive baritone of James Earl Jones echoing from behind the iconic mask. Yet, George Lucas initially envisioned a different voice for his Star Wars antagonist.
Among the myriad of indelible images, sounds, and themes that define the Star Wars franchise, few are as universally recognizable as Darth Vader. Even in the lineup of Star Wars characters, Vader stands out as an icon.
Interestingly, two individuals contributed to bringing Darth Vader to life on screen: David Prowse, who physically portrayed the imposing figure in the legendary black suit, and James Earl Jones, whose resonant voice provided the menacing tones of the Sith Lord. Initially, George Lucas aimed for something different from the distinctive Bristolian accent that Prowse naturally possessed, seeking a voice that exuded a deeper, more foreboding quality.
This is where James Earl Jones entered the picture, although Lucas originally had his sights set on Orson Welles for the role. Lucas revealed at the American Theatre Wing Gala, where Jones was being honored, that he had to make a pivotal decision between Welles and Jones, ultimately choosing the latter. He stated, “[Jones] won hands down.”
Jones himself acknowledged the competition for the role, admitting in the book “The Making of Star Wars” that Lucas had approached Welles before him. Jones, who was between projects at the time, recalled Lucas asking him if he’d be interested in “a day’s work.”
In his own humble manner, Jones insists that David Prowse deserves the lion’s share of credit for embodying Vader. He expressed in his autobiography how enjoyable it was to provide the character’s voice, considering it hardly felt like work at all. In contrast, Prowse is lauded for his diligent efforts in crafting the persona of Darth Vader.
In truth, both Prowse and Jones are integral to the enduring legacy of Darth Vader. Prowse’s physicality brought a formidable presence to the character, down to the minutest gestures like his distinctive pointed stance, imbued with a palpable aura of menace. Simultaneously, Jones’s commanding voice lent an unparalleled gravitas to Vader that no one else could have replicated, not even a luminary like Orson Welles, considered one of the greatest actors in cinematic history.