Rogue One: A Star Wars Story brought back Princess Leia for a key ending scene - here’s how this surprise cameo memorable scene was created. While Star Wars: The Force Awakens was one of the most anticipated blockbusters in recent memory, Rogue One had the somewhat tricky task of being both a prequel to a beloved movie and setting up a spinoff series. Rogue One tells the story of the band of rebels who risk - and ultimately sacrifice - their lives to steal the plans to the Death Star. The film is one of the darkest entries in the saga to date, with pretty much every lead character being dead by the time the credits roll. While this sounds bleak, Princess Leia's Rogue One cameo underlines their mission was not in vain.
As a direct prequel to Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, Rogue One ends mere moments before the iconic opening of the 1977 film. With the story being so closely tied, the filmmakers needed to bring back certain characters from the original. Darth Vader has a brief but memorable role, but its how Rogue One brought back both Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) and Grand Moff Tarkin (Peter Cushing) that really got fans talking. In fact, the inclusion of Tarkin at all proved controversial, since the great Peter Cushing passed away in 1994 and some questioned the ethics of using a late performer's likeness for a new movie.
Rogue One’s filmmakers questioned this element themselves, but considering how important Tarkin’s presence is in A New Hope, he had to feature into the plot somehow. After brief consideration was given to having the character appear via grainy hologram, it was decided to hire actor Guy Henry to play Tarkin. Henry wore performance-capture equipment during these sequences and his face was replaced with Cushing’s computer-generated likeness for the final movie. The animators tweaked the effect in order to capture the subtle nuances of Cushing’s performance, right down to the curl of his lip pronouncing certain words. While some question the ethics, and overall success, of recreating the actor for Rogue One, it’s an undeniably impressive feat. Rogue One employed a slightly different technique to bring back Princess Leia, however.
Films such as Tron: Legacy and X-Men: The Last Stand previously tried CGI de-aging to mixed success, but the technology has noticeably improved in recent years. Michael Douglas’ de-aged Hank Pym in Ant-Man and Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury in Captain Marvel are two examples of how effective it can be. While Carrie Fisher didn’t actually perform Rogue One’s Princess Leia scene, the actress gave the moment her blessing. The final shot of Rogue One features Princess Leia being handed the Death Star plans obtained by the rebels, with Norwegian actress Ingvild Delia hired to play the role for the brief cameo.
After being hired, Delia spent months studying Carrie Fisher’s performance in the original Star Wars. On set, she wore a perfect recreation of Leia’s outfit and motion capture dots were placed on her face. Fisher’s likeness was then superimposed over Delia to complete Rogue One’s Princess Leia effect. Like Henry’s Tarkin, the response to the CGI recreation of a 19-year-old Carrie Fisher was somewhat mixed upon the movie's release. That said, before Carrie Fisher passed she was said to be very impressed by Industrial Light & Magic’s recreation of her circa 1977; she even thought the filmmakers had found some unused footage from Star Wars and inserted it into Rogue One. If they managed to trick the original performer, the effects artists clearly did something right.
Princess Leia only speaks one word in Rogue One, “Hope.” This line was actually taken from audio recorded for A New Hope, with sound editor Matthew Wood digging into Lucasfilm’s archive, transferring every take of Fisher’s delivery of the line "Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope” scene to Pro Tools. While it could definitely be argued Rogue One’s Princess Leia suffers somewhat from the uncanny valley effect, there’s still something stirring about the character’s appearance in the film. It would have felt odd not to feature Princess Leia in Rogue One and the character’s brief appearance was handled with great respect.
- Star Wars 9 / Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019) release date: Dec 20, 2019