The last 45 minutes of Rogue One will be talked about for a long time among Star Wars fans. That, and the cameos of a couple of Star Wars characters. If you haven’t seen Rogue One yet, you might want to click away. Then again, I doubt you managed to stay spoiler free this long.
Besides Darth Vader wrecking shit in the last 5 minutes of Rogue One, one of the biggest surprises was the return of Grand Moff Tarkin (or Governor Tarkin as he’s called in Rogue One). Disney didn’t recast the late Peter Cushing. Digital effects were used to bring Cushing’s Tarkin back, along with Carrie Fisher’s young Princess Leia.
The decision to bring Cushing’s character back to life via digital effects opened up huge ethical questions. It’s important to note Cushing’s estate did approve the use of the late actor’s likeness.
Kiri Hart, a producer on Rogue One and head of Lucasfilm’s Story Group, explained to the New York Times that bringing Tarkin back was vital to the story. Rogue One is a direct tie-in to A New Hope. “If he’s not in the movie, we’re going to have to explain why he’s not in the movie,” Hart said. “This is kind of his thing.” Hart’s referring to the Death Star here. In A New Hope, Tarkin commands the battle station. Rogue One lays out how Tarkin assumes command of it.
But recreating Cushing as Tarkin via digital effects in a convincing way wasn’t easy. The folks behind the movie were ready to go with different solutions if it didn’t work out. “We did talk about Tarkin participating in conversations via hologram, or transferring that dialogue to other characters,” said John Knoll, a producer on Rogue One and the CCO of Industrial Light and Magic.
The New York Times article dives into how the team at ILM completed the effect. Actor Guy Henry dressed as Tarkin and was equipped with full performance capture rigs on his head. Knoll describes it as “a super high-tech and labor-intensive version of doing make-up.”
Knoll doesn’t see this technique being used much in the future. “It is extremely labor-intensive and expensive to do. I don’t imagine anybody engaging in this kind of thing in a casual matter,” says Knoll. “We’re not planning on doing this digital re-creation extensively from now on. It just made sense for this particular movie.”
Plus, the ethical dilemma will always be there. Even if there is approval from the actor’s estate.
I thought Disney handled it well here. Tarkin plays a small, but major part in the story surrounding the first Death Star. And the effect used to bring Tarkin back was incredible.
Rogue One is a unique situation. Knoll talks about how Tarkin’s character is an important part of the movie’s story, and he’s right. Although, I would be surprised if Star Wars implemented this tech anymore in the future. At least, to the scale it was used in Rogue One. With two massively successful Star Wars movies under Disney’s belt, I hope they start branching out and telling stories that aren’t so connected to the original trilogy.