20 legendary Black science fiction actors who rocked the genre

14 of 21

James Earl Jones

We all know James Earl Jones for his vocal performance as the sci-fi bad guy to end all sci-fi bad guys, Darth Vader. But, as you may or may not already know, the young Jones actually starred in science fiction films before and after his famous appearance in Star Wars in 1977.

In 1975, two years before he would speak to audiences as Vader, Jones took a lead role in The UFO Incident as alleged alien abductee Barney Hill. Depending on how much you believe the story, this is either a dramatization of a real-life event or a somewhat down-to-Earth sci-fi tale. If nothing else, there are definite science fiction elements to the made-for-tv movie, including creepy alien medical experiments and unearthly objects in the sky.

Really, though, we’re here to talk about Jones’ role in Star Wars. It may not have happened at all, if David Prowse had been correct. Prowse, a now-retired bodybuilder and character actor, delivered the physical performance for Vader. That means you’re seeing Prowse’s performance in all of the gestures and movements of the character.

Prowse spoke all of his lines during the filming, but director George Lucas didn’t entirely like Prowse’s West Country accent for the character. That’s where James Earl Jones came in.

With Jones, Darth Vader became the owner of a deep, dark, and very, very intimidating voice. Vader, who initially appeared as little more than a memorable villain, would eventually need that sort of gravitas and impact as his story progressed. As many people now know, Darth Vader has a deeper connection to Star Wars’ main characters than initially suspected. Jones’ now legendary voice performance makes it all the better.