Darth Vader's Original Voice Was More Hilarious Than Terrifying

What goes into making a great movie villain? A compelling character arc and menacingly cool appearance are obvious starts. Take for instance one of sci-fi's reigning big bads for over four decades: Darth Vader. But when George Lucas first started filming the character in "Star Wars: A New Hope," many of the familiar plot points we now associate with Vader were still up in the air — including his status as father to both Luke Skywalker and Leia Organa. That wouldn't be conceived until "Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back." But that wasn't the only piece missing from the "Star Wars" saga or its villain, whom Lucas affectionately and appropriately once called "a walking iron lung."

Another was Vader's voice, which of course remains as memorable a feature as his terrifying silhouette. While it was James Earl Jones who gave him his intimidating aura via his vocal talents, without actor David Prowse, there'd be nothing to voice. After all, it's Prowse under the suit, and it's his mannerisms as Vader that Jones would try to shape his voice around. Although the two actors whose combined talents helped create one of the 20th century's most iconic villains remained amicable, a growing rift between Lucas and Prowse began to manifest that eventually led the actor to be banned from all "Star Wars" events. But before that happened there was a brief moment during the filming of "Star Wars: A New Hope" when Prowse could be heard speaking his lines as he acted them out. Whatever you think it sounds like, it's far more distressingly strange.

Prowse's Vader had an accent — and trouble being heard

Thanks to extensive behind-the-scenes footage, curious fans can take a listen at the original version of Vader's voice whenever they want. But be forewarned, as Force Material once carefully noted:

"​​With a strong Devonshire accent that earned him the nickname 'Darth Farmer' from the crew, the reality is that Dave Prowse was never going to be called upon to provide the voice of Darth Vader."

The accent is exceptionally jarring, though it's hard to pinpoint why it works for Grand Moff Tarkin (Peter Cushing) and not the Sith Lord. It probably had a lot to do with the amount of muffling caused by the costume and helmet. But David Prowse, a former bodybuilder, brought just as much awe in the full getup as James Earl Jones' voices.

The only problem was that George Lucas apparently refrained from telling the actor he wouldn't be using his voice. In an interview with Yahoo Movies in 2012, the actor described the whole situation as feeling "underhand." It's a shame, because however comical the comparison between Prowse's and Jones' renditions, it goes without saying Vader was brought to life by both men's different talents.

Jones relied on Prowse's acting

For his part, James Earl Jones always remained respectful of David Prowse's position and often defers to him as the true Vader. But even with his handpicked choice, George Lucas was very much still in the process of figuring out what worked and didn't work, well into filming the second movie. In an interview with the American Film Institute, Jones even went into some detail about the director giving him notes on how to maintain the ominous mystique they'd built around Vader in the previous film:

"Naturally I wanted to make Darth Vader more interesting, more subtle, more psychologically oriented. ... He said, 'No, no. What we're finding out is you've got to keep his voice on a very narrow band of inflection because he ain't human, really.'"

Although Jones was the right human voice to embody Vader, it's important to remember the character's voice is technically no longer created by necessarily human functions. As much as his booming timbre affords itself to the character, there's also this drone or hum to it that makes it feel robotically monitored.

This perhaps explains why Prowse's accent stands out so much when juxtaposed to decades of hearing Jones' version. But even his voice recordings as Vader reveal just how collaborative the effort to create Vader was. As reported by Open Culture, sound designer Ben Burtt worked a little effects magic in syncing scuba gear recordings to Jones' breaths to create the noises made by the Sith's breathing apparatuses. Then there's the fact that during the final film in the trilogy "Star Wars: Return of the Jedi," the first film Jones allowed himself to receive credit for, Vader's helmet is removed to reveal actor Sebastian Shaw as the redeemed Anakin Skywalker. With the "Obi-Wan Kenobi" series set to continue this tradition of three people playing the Sith Lord, it seems overwhelmingly pertinent to remember the combination of talents that went into bringing the Vader fans love to fear to the screen.