Darth Gene

Masked characters are, for obvious reasons, very easy to redub. The better known the original voice, and the deeper the contrast, the more effective the result. Darth Vader is thus ripe for lampooning, being one of those few instances where the voice arguably supersedes the appearance of the character – in other words, as many people could tell you what he sounds like (usually in the form of awkward, barely recognisable impressions) as they could describe him visually. Thanks to James Earl Jones’ delivery, Vader’s voice is an integral, inseparable component of his character, to the extent that removing it means he’s simply not Darth Vader (cf. the end of Revenge of the Sith – you’ll know what I’m talking about). You do have to wonder how they cope in the foreign releases.

A glance over the internet finds any number of Star Wars parodies, many of which involve Jones, using dialogue from The Lion King and any number of other pictures that starred or featured him. For a bit of comic relief you could also do a lot worse than look up the original dialogue as recorded by Dave Prowse while he was stomping around the sets in character. The result is Darth Vader as performed by the Wurzels: a slightly effete pirate captain, perhaps. (There’s an urban legend that says that Prowse genuinely thought his own voice would feature in the final cut. I wish I could believe that.)

But it was the reuse of dialogue from Guy Ritchie’s Snatch – specifically the primary antagonist, Brick Top – that resulted in one of the funniest videos ever to hit YouTube. I am not including a link to it here, simply because Snatch Wars (go on, look it up if you must) is basically funnier than anything I’ve ever done and anything I’m likely to do. As redubs go, it’s the pinnacle, Everest, the holy grail. It’s where we’re all trying to reach. I was ambivalent about even mentioning it in this post, but I have to, simply because it was so influential.

The last videos I posted – i.e. the two Ashes to Ashes ones – were constructed while I was leafing through footage for this, almost as a side project. The idea of taking the hardest copper in Manchester / London and sticking his voice onto Vader the Grand Inquisitor was so obvious I couldn’t believe no one had done it before (I eventually found out why, but more on that later). Hunt is blessed with so many classic, instantly quotable lines throughout his forty-odd television appearances that this seemed as natural as breathing. So I rented the DVDs, ripped out the audio, and sat down at the computer.

And it took the entire summer.

All right, I was away for three weeks, here and there. But even leaving that aside I don’t think I had any idea what I was getting myself into. For a start, there was so much dialogue. I had to abandon my original idea of actually listening to every episode, and instead opted to read through transcripts for both shows, which I’d helpfully found online (although one is no longer available), and then skipping through each audio file to find the appropriate dialogue passages. Even then, a lot of stuff had to be ditched – lines and sequences which looked great on paper were, as it turns out, entirely unusable as they were undercut by music or background noises that meant their inclusion in Star Wars would have jarred completely. There were tears over some of the stuff I had to cut. Actual tears.

Even once you have enough dialogue – and there was enough, even with the net losses – actually putting the thing together was fiddly and problematic. The Dalek Zippy video had been much easier because I rarely had to contend with any sort of musical background; the score is minimal and where it did pop in I could remove it completely, because the Daleks were mostly speaking to each other. This doesn’t work in a film where half the time the character you’re dubbing has to react to dialogue from other characters, which means putting their lines in, and finding that you have to paste the appropriate part of the score back in underneath the dialogue you’ve inserted. And whatever section of the trilogy you happen to be watching, there is usually something playing in the background. Half the time I found I didn’t even have the right segment on what I’d assumed were fairly complete CD editions of John Williams’ music; even when it did exist I had to contend with the PAL DVDs of the trilogy, which were marginally faster. Have a look at the scene on the Death Star between Darth Vader and Moff Jerjerrod (yes, I looked that up; even I’m not that geeky) at 7:39 and you’ll see what I mean. It hangs together, but only just.

After all the technical stuff was done I had to sequence everything and come up with credits, and it was then that I had the idea of a little ‘next time’ preview at the end, which is worth watching even if you don’t watch the rest. And out of consideration to those of you who don’t really have sixteen minutes to spare, I have contracted the best of Darth Gene into its own two minute trailer, originally so that I could submit it to The Trailer Mash, but I found I liked the trailer even more than the full edition. What was strange was that I’d expected the whole production to be, like Dalek Zippy before it, a mixture of random moments and nothing more. I wasn’t expecting to tell the story that eventually took shape.

A lot of blood, sweat and tears went into this, and that’s why the subsequent YouTube embargo – related to Fox’s ownership of the material – really sucked. I should have thought about it at the time (although copyright infringement isn’t really a reason not to do something like this, you just have to be careful about where you put it). It’s a bit of a downer to find that a video that was months in creation has been blocked worldwide. I tried unsuccessfully to contest it under not-for-profit fair use (which I think is a reasonable argument) but after weeks of non-response from Fox I gave up and uploaded it to Viddler instead, where it is left undisturbed but largely unwatched. (The subtext behind this? Please pass this on, if you like it. The more exposure the better.)

It is occasionally patchy, and a little rough around the edges, and could probably do with some trimming in the Jedi sequences. But it remains, perhaps, my favourite of all the videos I’ve done, simply because I learned so much from the process – how not to do it, as well as how to do it – and it may be a while before I attempt anything of this magnitude again. And may the Schwartz be with you.

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