“Time flies,” Matt Lanter tells StarWars.com.
He’s been the voice of Anakin Skywalker for more than 10 years now. Prior to Star Wars: The Clone Wars in 2008, Lanter had never done voice-over work in either animation or video games; he got his start in live-action. “I remember day one, going into the booth and auditioning for Anakin, and not even knowing it was Anakin,” Lanter says. “I remember all that pretty vividly.” Television audiences were immediately charmed by the bravado and charisma he brought to the role, and the critically acclaimed show went on to receive numerous awards and nominations over its original run, including a total of four Emmy Awards. Lanter’s Anakin will return to the small screen when the beloved series is revived on Disney’s direct-to-consumer streaming service.
In February, the character will also join the roster of playable heroes in EA’s Star Wars Battlefront II. Since its launch in November of last year, Battlefront II’s received regular content updates pegged to events such as the release of Solo: A Star Wars Story. Most recently, developer DICE introduced a number of alternate clone-trooper appearances, like the 41st Elite Corps led by Master Yoda on the Wookiee homeworld of Kashyyyk. The game’s Clone Wars additions are slated to continue with the introduction of the sinister General Grievous, played by sound designer Matthew Wood; James Arnold Taylor’s Obi-Wan Kenobi; and the Sith Lord Count Dooku, voiced by veteran actor Corey Burton.
“James I’ve known for ages,” says Burton, who first lent his best Christopher Lee impression to a trio of video games in 2002, when Attack of the Clones was released (one of which was The Clone Wars, Pandemic Studios’ predecessor to the Battlefront series). “Always a joy to work with James. And Matt and Ashley [Eckstein] were our young leads, both from a live-action background. I remember thinking, , I hope they can make the characters come to life just off the page, as good voice actors. And, of course, both of them became superb voice actors. I was so proud of them. They’re wonderful people. As is the whole cast and crew, and Dave Filoni. It’s one of the greatest joys in my career.”
If you talk to a handful of cast members, a recurring theme begins to emerge: the Clone Wars crew have become family.
“Matt and I, we really are kind of like brothers,” says Taylor. “We’ve always really clicked so well. We are in touch weekly, at least. Catherine Taber, who plays Padmé Amidala, is one of my dearest friends, and we’re working on many projects together. Ashley I see whenever she’s in town, and we text and email all the time. Corey Burton is one of the most brilliant voice actors on the planet, and he’s always been a hero of mine and a bit of a mentor to me. Whenever I get a chance to talk to Corey, it’s always a privilege.”
“It’s one of those things where you have a special bond with groups of people whom you’ve experienced something with that not many others have experienced,” Lanter reflects. “That’s definitely true for us.”
“We don’t just send Christmas cards; we actually see each other at the holidays and stuff, and that’s really rare,” says Taylor. “I’ve been on so many wonderful shows throughout my career doing this for nearly 30 years, but nothing like The Clone Wars and what we managed to all put together. And I think that’s because we all had such a love for Star Wars. Being able to play these characters — it’s really a great honor.”
For the 2008 Clone Wars feature, the late Christopher Lee reprised his role as Dooku one last time, while Burton played several other characters, including Ziro the Hutt. But Burton stepped into Lee’s shoes as the villainous count for the TV series. “I’ve always had a fairly easy time sounding like Mister Lee,” he says, suddenly becoming Dooku. “Because it was animated, they said to play him a little younger, a little more muscular, a little more of an action-based character, as opposed to the somber, quiet wizard. Although, throughout, he’s a very stoic, eloquent, and elegant character. He’s always gracious, always accommodating, while underneath is the ultimate evil: a manipulative monstrosity.”
“George Lucas and Dave Filoni both said, ‘Look, these characters are going to live in this world, so feel free to make them your own,’” Taylor recalls. “And so I’ve always tried to give kind of a hybrid of Alec Guinness and Ewan McGregor in my version, as a nod to both of these wonderful actors that have played this character, as well. So he’s changed, but at the same time he’s stayed the same, because the sensibility of Obi-Wan Kenobi is that he’s the one true believer of the Force, and the Jedi, and the code of ethics that he has. So I keep it all in the same mindset, but the voice has changed a little here and there.”
While Taylor and Lanter agree that there are some differences between voice-over performance for animation and video games — games are more command-oriented — Burton doesn’t approach them all that differently. “I just play the character and follow direction,” he says, “and try to imagine what’s happening. It’s basically the same kind of performance as a trained, old-fashioned radio actor. You just play the character sincerely.”
One of Taylor’s favorite studio memories is a session for the 2005 Revenge of the Sith tie-in game. His director, David W. Collins, brought in a laptop containing closely guarded footage from the film: the final confrontation between Anakin and Obi-Wan on the volcanic planet Mustafar.
“We needed to duplicate that sequence for the game,” Taylor recalls. “And that was really the turning point for me playing the character, because Ewan McGregor does such an amazing job of giving these levels to his performance. He had this kind of rasp in his voice: ‘You were my brother, Anakin!’ And recreating those scenes was really emotional and fun, but it was also, I think, what locked everybody’s minds into the sense that, ‘Okay, we have our actor here that can portray Obi-Wan anytime we’re using him in a video game or animation.’ So it was really special to me.”
By having Anakin, Obi-Wan, and Dooku appear in Battlefront II (with a mix of optional appearances inspired by both The Clone Wars and Revenge of the Sith), all three actors hope that players will get a taste of what it’s like to inhabit the characters the way they do when they step into a recording booth.
“You want them to slip into [Dooku’s] cape, so to speak,” Burton says with a laugh. “And feel that commanding, megalomaniacal sense of control and dominance over all of the other characters and events. The dark side. That reserve of strength.”
“It’s exciting having a playable Anakin,” says Lanter. “I know that we’ve had playable Anakins in the past — Lightsaber Duels was one of them — but there’s something about Battlefront. It’s just more immersive; it’s fun; it’s more adult-like. I think this is gonna satisfy the bigger kids. It’s pretty much my favorite game, and sort of the only game that I play. I’m really looking forward to seeing Anakin in that environment.”
“It’s cinematic, it’s beautiful. There isn’t anything missing from these games,” Taylor says. “And the texture, the tone, the shadow, the light, the music, the acting beats — it is really exciting to play. If you’re a gamer, it’s exciting on one level. And if you’re somebody that’s stumbled into this universe now, it’s like being able to be a part of the movies. So it really is fantastic.”
Battlefront II’s Clone Wars season is a fun way for fans to celebrate the return of the series, but for the actors it’s also an opportunity to get back into the spirit of their characters. On the way to his recording sessions, Taylor prepares by listening to audio tracks with all of Ewan McGregor’s lines from the prequel trilogy cut together, and he says we can expect plenty of familiar moments from both The Clone Wars and the live-action films when Obi-Wan arrives as a playable hero. (“Hello there,” indeed.)
“You know, we all stay in touch, but we’re all Star Wars fans, too,” says Taylor. “So we wanted to see this story come to its conclusion in a way that I think really could please everybody, and I’m so grateful for Disney and Lucasfilm making that possible.” In the meantime, Grievous comes to Battlefront II later this month. We can expect Obi-Wan Kenobi in November, with Dooku and Anakin following suit in January and February, respectively.
“It is such a cool thing,” Taylor says.
Find out more about Clone Wars content coming to Battlefront II, including an interview with General Grievous voice actor Matthew Wood, on this week’s installment of The Star Wars Show below!
Alex Kane is a journalist based in west-central Illinois. He has written for Polygon, the website of Rolling Stone, Syfy Wire, Variety, and other publications. Follow him on Twitter at @alexjkane.