It’s fitting that Dee Bradley Baker, a man of a million voices, started out as a Jawa, not in the Star Wars films, but as a promotional. When Star Wars was re-released in 1978, he was hired to put on the Jawa robes and make Jawa sounds outside a movie theater. He was paid in movie passes. Little did he know that it would foreshadow his voice work for Lucasfilm Animation.
Baker’s life shares some parallels with fellow Lucasfilm voice actor and sound designer Matthew Wood. The Star Wars voice veterans paired up for the “Voices of Star Wars Animation” panel at 2021’s New York Comic Con on Friday to share details about their work and answer fan questions.
Baker has done voices for cartoons, video games, and movies. He’s the human behind the chitters, grrrrr, or prrrs of iconic cartoon critters, such as Appa, Momo, Perry the Platypus, and myriads of fantastical species. He’s also prolifically voiced humans, such as Tarrlok of Legend of Korra and the multiplicity of Star Wars clone soldiers of CGI Lucasfilm Animation’s The Clone Wars, Star Wars Rebels, and The Bad Batch.
Wood’s portfolio is not without organic beings, but he mostly deals in droids, starting with General Grievous’s weaselly droid voice in Revenge of the Sith and Clone Wars. He also voiced the unlucky Separatist droids in the cartoons — savagely, his favorite quote is a droid crying “But I just got a promotion!” before he’s destroyed. Wood also played the thickly lekku-ed Twi’lek second-in-command of Jabba the Hutt, Bib Fortuna, in live-action (The Phantom Menace, The Mandalorian) and voice (Star Wars Visions, The Bad Batch).
Much of their acting experience stemmed from childhood theatre experience. Wood shared, “I was doing a bunch of theatre as a kid.” For Baker, “I started way back in the Shire ... wrong universe. I started doing acting as a kid, doing plays, standup, improv. I didn’t think voice acting would be a career for me, at least not in Colorado where I grew up. The winds took me to Orlando where I spent four and a half years at Disney doing improv.”
A good improvisational openness and readiness are important to Baker, and he applies improv to the Bad Batch bantering. “I don’t like to prepare. I want to show up ready. To collaborate you have to be open to the improvisation quality, on-the-spot collaboration.”
As for The Bad Batch, which is set after Clone Wars and focuses on a group of experimental mutated clones, Clone Force 99 are not like the “regs” clones. Baker, who voices all five brothers, recounted, “They talked about having separate different voice actors for them. But in the end, it made sense to have them come from the same DNA performer.” The show’s creator Dave Filoni liked the personality Baker was providing for each distinctive Bad Batcher, from the menacing Crosshair to the bombastic Wrecker.
Show director Filoni gave Wood leeway to play as well. In Clone Wars post-production, Wood can improvise his jokes, which is convenient when working with droids that have no moving mouths. No worries about matching lip flaps.
Wood’s voice work for Lucasfilm was enabled not by acting but his tech work. Wood explained, to the laughter of the room, “I got a job at Lucasfilm when I was a teenager to test video games for George Lucas.”
But it was sending a fax to a technician job opening that landed him a seat in the Skywalker saga. “I rolled a dice and sent [my resume through] fax. I did my resume in Mac Paint.” Later, the phone rang. His father answered. Someone on the other end said, “Yeah, somebody sent a fax. The office has been talking about it. We never got a fax before. Do you want to come in for an interview?”
When he gave additional details that were not indicated on his resume, Wood claimed he said, “In excellent health, living with parents.” He got the job.
But Wood’s path forward was nearly halted due to anxieties over car tires and traffic. When testing The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles TV show, Wood said that George Lucas apparently asked, “Hey, go get one of those kids from the technician division?” So Wood was selected for an interview for assistant sound editor on the show.
He recalled a coworker telling him, “‘You don’t want it. [The job is] like nine or ten miles from the freeway on a very winding road and you’re gonna go through so many sets of tires.’ And I thought, I can’t afford tires. But as soon as I was in the interview, I was like, of course I want this job!”
For both actors, voiceover in animation remained a viable profession during the COVID-19 pandemic, since it didn’t demand an in-person appearance. “The technology was there,” said Baker, who built a home studio. Wood worked on the recently released Marvel favorites Wandavision and Loki from home. For The Mandalorian, Wood noted, “[Showrunner] Jon Favreau was quick to get us all home and make sure we were safe.” Wood said he’d be good with at-home work sticking around post-pandemic. “If I have artists that want to stay home. That’s 100% fine by me.”