Here’s How Rogue One: A Star Wars Story Added that Unbelievable Cameo


Peter Cushing originated the role of Grand Moff Tarkin in 1977 but passed away in 1994. So, how did he appear in 2016’s Rogue One movie? Here’s how…

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was filled with several surprises. While everyone may have been concerned with Darth Vader’s screen time, few wondered who else would be making some cameos. Of course, there was the obvious speculation that Princess Leia may appear in the film, but no one was expecting a third villain to play such a dynamic role in the film.

Obviously, we knew Ben Mendelsohn’s Director Orson Krennic would lead the charge on the rebel spies. But his role in the Empire was a lot more nuanced than the trailers let on. Further, he was partly overshadowed by the appearance of Grand Moff Tarkin. Yeah, the same guy from Episode IV: A New Hope who took a cheap shot at Alderaan. Apparently, his role in the Empire was a lot grander than A New Hope showed. In fact, some may say that he set up the story better than Director Krennic because of his own underhanded plot to destroy the rebels.

Still, the questions remains —

How on earth did they put Peter Cushing in Rogue One? The actor originated the role in 1977, and the character died by the end of the film. Unfortunately, the actor passed away almost twenty years later in 1994. But, hey, we’re in 2016 and our technological advancements defeat even death. Well, you know what I mean.

Thanks to a New York Times interview, we can now take a closer look at how this is possible.

Bringing Back Tarkin

So, members of ILM (Industrial Light and Magic) and Lucasfilm went back to the beginning and resurrected an old character with a combination of digital and practical effects. In Rogue One, Guy Henry provides the body on set. But he also “wore motion-capture materials on his head, so that his face could be replaced with a digital re-creation of Cushing’s piercing visage.” While it almost sounds simple and Hollywood’s been digitally messing with people for years, the bigger problem Rogue One faced was the lighting.

As Hal Hickel, an ILM animation supervisor, explains: “[lighting him] the way he was in ‘A New Hope’ improved his likeness as Tarkin, but it worsened the sense of him being real because then he didn’t look like any of the actors in the scene.”

Plus, Cushing had some really defined cheekbones. Also, a really interesting way of speaking. Those little things cannot be replaced, not even with the best CGI tech of our lifetime. But with the permission of Cushing’s “estate,” Lucasfilm tried their hand at it anyway. John Knoll, Chief Creative Officer at ILM said, “Realism had to trump likeness.” Further, he explained that the choice weighed heavily on the creative team: “This was done for very solid and defendable story reasons. This is a character that is very important to telling this kind of story.”

Return of Princess Leia

The same goes for Princess Leia / Carrie Fisher’s appearance in the film.

"In her first shot, when Leia is seen from behind (wearing her trademark hair buns), she is played by a flesh-and-blood actor, Ingvild Deila. Then, in the reverse angle, when Leia is seen from the front, her face, hair and costume are a digital re-creation of Ms. Fisher, based on footage from “A New Hope.” (The character’s extended hand is Ms. Deila’s.)"

As the New York Times notes, Ms. Fisher died Tuesday. But her role in Rogue One means something even greater now. “To deliver on that moment of hopefulness, that is really underscored by the fact that you do get to see her face. That’s the best possible use of effects, to enhance the meaning and the emotion of the experience for the viewer,” said Rogue One producer Kiri Hart.

Of course, we can all debate whether or it not these digital effects elevated the Rogue One experience. But that would mean we missed the point entirely. In addition to the narrative, adding the characters reminded us how the entire franchise started and was a welcome nod to the fans, both old and new.

Related Story: This Rogue One Fan-Made Opening Crawl is How the Movie Should’ve Started

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is now playing in theaters everywhere.