The next official full-length Star Wars film, Episode VII: The Force Awakens, is scheduled to hit theaters in December. Leading up to that release, the Disney/Lucasfilm hype machine has been running at full speed. One facet of this promotional juggernaut is a film called Star Wars: Rogue One, the first part of an ongoing Anthology Series that will compliment major Star Wars releases in the future. Rogue One tells the story of brave Rebellion fighters who capture the secret plans for the first Death Star, ultimately leading to the destruction of that space station in Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope. Given how close Rogue One and Episode IV are in the Star Wars timeline, it would be necessary for some characters to cross over. But there’s a logistical problem here because Episode IV was released almost forty years ago, in 1977. Of course, some characters could be recast with contemporary actors who look/sound enough like their Episode IV counterparts. But in one case, the producers of Rogue One are doing something else.
Even the most casual of Star Wars fans will remember the character of Grand Moff Tarkin, portrayed stoically by famed British actor Peter Cushing in Episode IV. Tarkin was the commander of the first Death Star and one of Darth Vader’s most trusted allies. He was only seen on screen a handful of times, but the character has endured as a fan favorite. (In fact, a recent Star Wars novel is dedicated to the telling of Tarkin’s backstory.) Peter Cushing died in 1994 at the age of 81. There’s no way he can reprise the role of Grand Moff Tarkin. But Cushing’s likeness will appear in Rogue One thanks to modern CGI techniques.
It has been said that this type of special effect is like “bringing dead actors back to life,” and it is somewhat eerie to consider. If Cushing can be replicated thru CGI now, then in theory, any person whose ever appeared on film could be resurrected in the same way. In the case of Tarkin, the character is arguably more integral to the Star Wars franchise than the actor who originally portrayed him. The mind begins to reel at the possibilities within future Star Wars films alone. Why not make a new movie based around Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, and Princess Leia, but instead of using the actors that portrayed those characters as they appear today, using CGI-rendered versions of the actors as they looked forty years ago? I guess the fan reaction to computer-generated Peter Cushing will be a good gauge for how far Star Wars producers can stretch this idea in the future. But it seems likely that this is the first step in that direction.