[WARNING: Minor spoilers for Rogue One below.]
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story inevitably had to take some risks in hearkening back to the original Star Wars trilogy. Chief among them was the revival of Darth Vader, whose impact on the film is considerable considering his limited screen time. But if you’ve seen Rogue One, you know by now that Vader was not the only classic Star Wars character revived in the franchise’s first standalone movie. The others were only possible through the work of Industrial Light & Magic.
Rogue One’s visual effects are among the most impressive of any movie released this year and featured some of the most forward-thinking work in the franchise. The ILM team’s most stunning effect came in the surprising revival of Grand Moff Tarkin, the high-ranking Imperial officer memorably portrayed by the late Peter Cushing in A New Hope. Bringing back Tarkin with the same look and feel of Mr. Cushing, who died in 1994, was an arduous task for the Rogue One team, but they ultimately did an impressive job in recreating him – and even giving him a substantial role.
Director Gareth Edwards admitted in a new interview with IGN that he felt more uneasy about bringing back Tarkin than he was about Vader, who was more easily recreated with two actors and James Earl Jones’ voice. Edwards knew that it would be risky to recreate a human character entirely with CGI superimposed over a different actor, but at the same time, Tarkin’s omission would feel glaring in a film about the building of the Death Star.
“We were all very nervous about it and kind of, ‘Can we do this? Is it crazy? Because we can’t get it wrong, it has to be spot-on.”
Edwards credited John Knoll, visual effects supervisor for Rogue One and chief creative officer at ILM, with having the confidence to convincingly execute a CGI Grand Moff Tarkin and selling producer Kathleen Kennedy on the idea. He also explained how British actor Guy Henry, who plays Pius Thicknesse in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, was the right choice to portray fill Cushing’s shoes.
Edwards gave Henry credit for not only his willingness to have an entire performance covered by CGI, but also for keeping his role in Rogue One a secret for so long. As a young actor, Cushing was an inspiration to Henry, and their resemblance certainly made him a fitting stand-in to revive the character. In the end, it appears that Rogue One’s risks with an entirely CGI version of a well-known classic character have overall paid off.
Some fans and critics have suggested out that Rogue One‘s Tarkin falls victim of the “Uncanny Valley” effect. The theory purports that the more human-like robots and animated characters become, the more they evoke feelings of creepiness. As lifelike as Grand Moff Tarkin looks in Rogue One, the knowledge that he is CGI could cause similarly unsettling feelings. But the alternative would have been to simply place Henry in the unobscured role of Grand Moff Tarkin, which would have carried its own unique set of risks. However you felt watching the revived Tarkin in Rogue One, there’s no doubt that ILM did a spectacularly convincing job bringing him back to life.