I think one of the most spectacular things that “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” pulled off was bringing back dead actors back to life. The first time that Grand Moff Tarkin turned around and uttered a sentence in the first standalone film was surreal. And it wasn’t until after I got out of the theater did I realize that the actor who portrayed him died over 20 years ago.
Peter Cushing played the dark general in the first Star Wars film “A New Hope” and was a brooding Brit on screen. His character played a deep role in the operation of the Death Star, so when it came time to revisit that part of the film franchise, Lucasfilm knew that they needed to bring back Tarkin in some form.
But with Cushing gone and him playing a critical role in “Rogue One,” how were they going to find someone to fill the shoes that Cushing left? They weren’t. Instead, they opted to use of CGI to recreate the actor in his entirety.
Computer graphics and special effects have improved in feature and quality with each passing year, allowing filmmakers to create a real explosion to life-like people. Recreating people, however, is much more difficult because of those massive amounts of life-like expressions and movements that humans do.
The award-winning team at Industrial Light & Magic lead the recreation which involved an actor wearing a full motion capture suit covered in dots so that digital artists could manipulate each and every pixel in each frame that Tarkin had a starring role. For those who saw the film, you’d know that was nearly one half of the full movie! It was an extremely labor intensive and expensive thing to do, but Lucasfilm knew that they needed to get it right in order for the nostalgic effect of the movie to be complete.
But we must remember that as Tarkin was brought back to life, Peter Cushing was consequently brought back to life as well. There have been some serious discussions on how ethical it is for filmmakers to do such a thing. Is it right to bring back a character by recreating the late actor who played him or her?
In the case of Cushing and Tarkin, the final approval of whether or not a deceased actor may appear in a film is up to that actor’s estate. They ultimately approved of the use as the estate and Lucasfilm had succeeded in making “realness trump likeness.”
While Peter Cushing’s estate approved of him bring brought back for “Rogue One”, the ethics of bringing back actors to life for monetary benefit still remains. Nevertheless, as long as Lucasfilm and other filmmakers can get the approvals and increase the realism in visual graphics, don’t be surprised if you see more characters from the past make a present appearance.
Princess Leia included.