The young, post-Return of the Jedi Luke Skywalker who appeared in last week’s penultimate episode of The Book of Boba Fett looked a great deal better than the young, post-Return of the Jedi, and extremely janky CG Luke Skywalker who picked up Grogu in the season two finale of The Mandalorian. However, there was still something off about Luke.
It’s not just his sudden adherence to the old Jedi dogma that turned his father to the dark side and would have prevented him from saving his friends in The Empire Strikes Back. The Jedi’s voice was still as stilted as Mando Luke looked.
There’s a reason for that, and it’s mainly because the man who played Luke Skywalker in the movies, Mark Hamill, didn’t record new dialogue for his return in The Mandalorian, and presumably, just as the visual effects evolved for his return in episode six of Book of Boba Fett, he didn’t here either. While Luke was physically portrayed by a new actor — Graham Hamilton, rather than Max Lloyd-Jones, who played the Jedi in The Mandalorian — the vocal performance used program called Respeecher, collating archival material and recordings of Hamill’s performances as a young man and creating a soundbank to stitch new material together.
As the show’s sound editor, Matthew Wood, explained in Disney Gallery: The Mandalorian last year, “It’s a neural network you feed information into and it learns. So I had archival material from Mark in that era. We had clean recorded ADR from the original films, a book on tape he’d done from those eras, and then also Star Wars radio plays he had done back in that time. I was able to get clean recordings of that, feed it into the system, and they were able to slice it up and feed their neural network to learn this data.”
The result? Something as aurally awkward as the first CG Luke was visually awkward. The tone is right and some of the inflections are there, but the voice is just a bit too slow… or the pauses are just slightly too long… or there’s still a flatness underpinning it that makes the voice sound like it’s coming from the same uncanny valley as Luke’s face.
What I don’t understand is if Respeecher can de-age voices — which it very much claims it can do on its site (“Kids say the darndest things… but recording with them can be challenging. With Respeecher, you can easily have an adult actor sound just like a kid.”) then why didn’t Lucasfilm have Hamill record the line and alter it rather than generate the speech entirely? Much like Lucasfilm had Hamill and a young stunt actor perform the physical role on The Mandalorian as opposed to making a purely CG Luke (shudder), could a new, “live” vocal performance by a human being for its base have produced a better result?
Oh well. Something tells me Lucasfilm is going to have several more chances to keep fine-tuning this Luke in various Star Wars TV series… before they give him his own Disney+ show in 2027, just in time for the franchise’s 50th anniversary. Calling it now, guys.