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How Liam Neeson Might Appear (One Way or Another)


Recently, Star Wars has joined the list of Hollywood studios that have started using actors from outside their time. Famously, fans were amazed at Mark Hamill’s surprising appearance in The Mandalorian, looking like he did in the ’70s. And, of course, Carrie Fisher appeared in The Rise of Skywalker nearly three years after she died. And now, just a week ago, fans were left to wonder whether James Earl Jones really did voice Darth Vader in the new Obi-Wan Kenobi series. Yes, his name is in the credits, but so is Respeecher, a voice cloning software used to recreate actors’ voices. For the record, it still remains unclear whether the software was used to spruce up lines read by the 91-year-old actor or if it was used to fabricate his voice from scratch, but one thing remains clear: time holds no sway over who Disney will have in their movies.

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The new Disney + series features the now slightly aged Jedi having a crisis of faith. Several scenes show Obi-Wan pleading to speak to his old Jedi master, who was defeated by Darth Maul in Episode I. It was implied at the end of Revenge of the Sith that Yoda taught Obi-Wan the art of speaking to Jedi who had past to see them in the form of force ghosts that we have seen before. So one might wonder, will Liam Neeson reprises his role as Qui-Gon Jinnor will Disney build a Neeson force ghost from 1999?

Deepfake Star Wars

Most people nowadays are familiar with the term deepfake. It’s a practice that involves placing someone’s likeness on top of another person’s to create media that appears to star a real person who was never there at all. While it started as a harmful exercise, used to make things like revenge media, it’s been used in slightly more innocent ways in recent years. Famously, the Tom Cruise deepfake account rose to popularity on TikTok not just because of its hilarious comical approach to impersonating the actor but because of the surprising accuracy with which he was able to fool viewers into thinking that it might actually be Tom Cruise.


Related: Can Obi-Wan Kenobi Escape the Reputation of the Star Wars Prequels?

Creating a deepfake involves deep machine learning technology that requires an AI to process vast amounts of data in order to learn what a person’s face looks like from many angles. The AI ​​then takes its model of that person’s face and then transposes it on top of whoever is acting as the body double like a mask. However, the process used to create 30-year-old Mark Hamill was slightly different. The special effects artists of Industrial Light and Magic and Lola Visual Effects used a process they like to call de-aging. Instead of putting one face on top of another, they create an entirely independent similar likeness combining not just Hamill’s face from the old movies, but facial features of the double body and graphic editing techniques as well.


The process was similar to Carrie Fisher’s posthumous appearance. An AI took data from Fisher’s face and transposed it on a double body, but her hair and costume were also digitally created. Respeecher, the AI ​​used to impersonate someone’s voice, uses similar deep learning algorithms, taking data acquired from patterns in a person’s speech and simulating their voice. Mark Hamill did not speak at all for his appearance in The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett. Instead, his voice was generated entirely by the algorithm. Though fans could tell a distinct difference between Hamill’s voice and the algorithm’s, the technology is getting better all the time, and the only thing the algorithm needs to create more accurate fakes is a bigger data set.

What About Liam Neeson?

As of yet, Liam Neeson is not on the cast list for Obi-Wan Kenobi, but neither was James Earl Jones until he appeared. And Mark Hamill managed to keep his surprise cameo quiet for nearly a year until it showed up on The Mandalorian. It seems to be a joy for the studio to use surprise cameos to entice fans, so it becomes harder to predict whether or not we will see big stars in the series. Although, as things are progressing in the show, we seem to be building to a big climactic moment where we will find Obi-Wan at his darkest hour, and his master will finally appear to instruct him.

Related: 12 Best Liam Neeson Movies, Ranked

Whether Disney will use the face and voice replicating technology remains to be seen, but if they want to create a moment with Qui-Gon Jinn, it seems that an appearance from Liam Neeson would not be necessary. As technology improves and the art form becomes more popular, approximations of human beings get closer to the real thing, almost building a bridge over the Uncanny Valley. In the future, fans might get more excited to see the character they find familiar as opposed to the actor that played them.


But studios may be keeping these cameos silent so as to not alert actors who may be unaware of their participation in the projects. In 1990, Crispin Glover sued the producers of Back to the Future II when the movie hired another actor to impersonate his likeness without his permission. This created a precedent that made it illegal to use an actor’s likeness without their consent, so it’s unlikely studios will just create computer generated actors. But contracts that detail the rights to an actor’s likeness can extend years beyond their performance, and the term “likeness” may grow to mean more than just a face on an action figure.





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