Why Christopher Lee Was Reluctant To Voice Count Dooku In Star Wars: The Clone Wars [Exclusive]

George Lucas' "Star Wars" prequel trilogy, in this author's humble opinion, are films with strong concepts but jumbled execution. Consider, for example, Count Dooku. On paper, a morally gray Force user who comes to recognize the failings of the Jedi Order, only to succumb to the dark side, sounds fascinating. Later "Star Wars" projects would realize the character's potential after his debut in 2002's "Attack of the Clones." Yet his portrayal in Lucas' trilogy robs Dooku of much of his complexities prior to his demise at the start of its final chapter, "Revenge of the Sith."

It's only really thanks to Christopher Lee and the gravitas he brings to the role that Dooku leaves an impression at all in the prequel films. With his powerful, intimidating vocals, Lee was the rare actor who had just as much screen presence working in live-action as he did in animation. One need merely peruse his IMDb page to see that he was typically a highlight in the relatively small number of animated projects and video games he lent his voice to.

In that sense, it's no shock Lee was brought back to voice Dooku in the animated film "Star Wars: The Clone Wars." The 2008 movie was infamously composed of footage cobbled together from the original three-part premiere for the "Clone Wars" cartoon series after its distributor, Warner Bros. Pictures, dubbed it good enough for a theatrical release. (It was not.) Original Dooku voice actor Corey Burton was replaced by Lee in the film, though it wasn't because the Hammer Horror legend felt Burton's voice work was lacking. Quite the opposite, it would seem Lee was reluctant to dub him over at all.

The right of first refusal

Thankfully, Burton got the credit he deserved in time. He would return to voice Dooku and other characters (including Cad Bane) in the "Clone Wars" animated TV show and recently depicted a younger iteration of Dooku in "Clone Wars" director and producer Dave Filoni's "Tales of the Jedi." In an interview with Burton to promote the animated anthology series, /Film writer Bryan Young said Skywalker Sound's supervising editor Matt Wood had told him Lee was hesitant to replace Burton in the "Clone Wars" movie, feeling he was "really good." Burton confirmed Wood had told him the same thing:

"Yeah, yeah. Matt told me that, it's so flattering. But Christopher Lee was a big star, but he was like one of us, a character actor. Just, 'What do you need me for? Sure, I'll play that character.' And apparently, he liked my version of his Count Dooku character. I don't think from what I heard that he was all that keen on doing that job anyway, it's just that one of the actor's agents saw that there was this movie and in their contracts, all of the film actors had the right of first refusal."

Obviously, Burton was disappointed to be replaced, especially after Lucas told him and the rest of the original "Clone Wars" movie cast, "You have license now. You sort of own these character voices now since it's now animated." Again, though, Burton would come to leave his stamp on Dooku in animation soon enough. Honestly, considering how poorly the "Clone Wars" film was received (there's a reason you don't see it being reappraised the way films like "Attack of the Clones" have been), there might be part of him that's even grateful to Lee.

"Tales of the Jedi" is streaming on Disney+.