'Star Wars': Why James Earl Jones Declined Being Credited in Both 'A New Hope' and 'The Empire Strikes Back'
If there’s one unmistakable cinematic voice, it’s that of Star Wars villain Darth Vader. Even those unfortunate souls who’ve never seen the original trilogy recognize the resonant and commanding voice of the Sith Lord. But despite being immediately identifiable, the voice behind the mask — legendary actor James Earl Jones — was not credited for his work in the first two movies: Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back.
Why didn’t James Earl Jones take credit for voicing Darth Vader in early ‘Star Wars’ films?
Wearing a helmet that muffled his speech, the actor inside Darth Vader’s suit — Dave Prowse — voiced concerns that no one would be able to hear his lines. He was told not to worry because they would be re-recorded. However, no one told him he wouldn’t be the one re-recording those lines. But Prowse’s thick Devonshire accent might have failed to give Vader the menace and gravitas Jones brought to the role.
Director George Lucas searched high and low for the perfect voice, listening to tapes of famous actors. He came across Jones, who had finished shooting films with two of Lucas’ friends. Though he worried at first about casting the film’s only Black actor as a villain, he thought Jones’ baritone was the best fit. And besides, it’s not as if Jones was actually in the suit or anyone saw Vader’s face in the first two movies.
Nevertheless, Jones would have received credit in those two films. But he declined, viewing his role as minor. According to Force Material, he viewed his part as a “special effect” and Prowse as Vader. It’s not hard to see Jones’ reasoning. After all, he reportedly recorded all of the lines for Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope in only two and a half hours. Jones understandably considered his voiceover work as minor, especially in a fantastical film that even Lucas thought would fail, according to Insider.
What about Dave Prowse as Vader?
Given how synonymous his voice has become with the role, some still think James Earl Jones played Darth Vader. However, Prowse wore the suit in most of the first three movies (along with stunt double Bob Anderson) despite tension between the actor and Lucas.
Not only was Prowse upset about Jones’ voice replacing his lines — a fact he did not learn until the first movie debuted. But he also apparently became intoxicated at a sci-fi convention shortly before the release of The Empire Strikes Back and leaked word that Vader was Luke Skywalker’s father. In addition, Prowse was blamed for leaking Vader’s eventual death in Return of the Jedi. As a result, Anderson played Vader for most of the final movie.
A final point of contention came when Prowse learned his face would not be used for the unmasked Vader. Instead, that role went to Sebastian Shaw. So it’s not surprising that most people don’t associate Prowse with Star Wars in the same way they associate Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, and James Earl Jones with the franchise.
Did Jones ever get formal recognition for his work in ‘Star Wars’?
Jones declined to receive credit for the first two movies, but he relented by the final installment, What Culture reports. Though he believed Prowse’s performance defined Vader more than Jones’ voice work, it became widely known after The Empire Strikes Back that Jones was the voice of Vader. Some viewers even believed he wore the suit.
And though owners of the original VHS and DVD trilogies will see Jones’ name in only the final movie, Lucas had Jones credited for all three in 1997’s Special Edition. Chances are, if viewers watch the trilogy on cable or online now, they’ll see his name in the end credits.
Not bad for a few hours of work. And it’s ironic given that one of the most iconic movie voices of all time belongs to an actor who stuttered in his youth.
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