Talking Tarkin and the controversial technology used to resurrect him…masterstroke or ethical breach?
With the release of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story we were treated to the return of one of the finest British actors to ever grace the silver screen, a performer that epitomised the villainous antagonistic nature of the sinister Empire in A New Hope.
The legendary Peter Cushing.
The actor shot to fame for his gritty performances in British classic movies At the Earth’s Core and Doctor Who movie, Daleks — Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D as well as being a mainstay of the cult classic Hammer horror series performing in such classics like The Gorgon, The Mummy and Frankenstein. His work often found him performing opposite long-time friend and colleague Christopher Lee, who had been offered the role of Governor Tarkin back in 1977 but declined leaving George Lucas free to cast Cushing. Lee However, went on to honour his friends work in George Lucas’ prequel trilogy as the infamous Count Dooku.
Cushing’s legacy has endured the test of time with a great deal of his work being adored by generations of fans around the world but, to the hordes of Star Wars fans he will forever be immortalised as the villainous Grand Moff Tarkin, Imperial tactician and commandant of the dreaded Death Star battle station.
It was a quintessential performance, one that earned his work a rejuvenated interest from a generation of new fans desperate for more of the evil master of the Imperial war machine. However, his demise in A New Hope’s stunning finale brought an end to that possibility despite the actor himself expressing an interest in reprising the role for the subsequent sequels. In contrast to Sir Alec Guinness’ opinion of the Star Wars saga and its resulting fandom, Cushing enjoyed filming the space adventure despite a pair of ill-fitting boots. The hard leather footwear belonging to his costume caused him to seek special permission from George Lucas to film his scenes whilst wearing a pair of comfortable carpet slippers. And so, all of his scenes in the successful first instalment of the franchise were all filmed from the knee up to accommodate his comfortable footwear.
Despite his part being restricted to just a few minutes of screen time, the role of Governor Tarkin immortalised him in the eyes of the Star Wars fans and his death in 1994 was treated with the utmost respect. However, the sudden and unexpected rumour of his involvement in the prequel movie Rogue One: A Star Wars Story sent the fans into a delirium. In typical fashion, Lucasfilm refused to confirm or deny the characters return and we were forced to endure an agonising wait until the film opened to confirm the characters return. And then, Director Krennic arrived upon the bridge of a Star Destroyer to be confronted by the silhouette of the legendary Governor Tarkin. Just having the character involved in the story was a monumental moment in the Star Wars universe, one that couldn’t possibly be surpassed.
Or so we thought.
Expecting the character to remain in silhouette for his duration of his scenes and staring menacingly beyond the Star Destroyer bridge windows at the finished Death Star, we were overwhelmed when the character turned to face the screen. But, instead of the anticipated stand in actor being revealed to us we were blown away when the face of Peter Cushing emerged from the shadows. The character was being portrayed by the sublime actor Guy Henry who appeared to be the perfect body double for the deceased actor but the face was Peter Cushing’s through and through. It was an amazing computer generated performance that highlighted the true potential of the motion capture technology which was only accentuated further when he uttered the epic words “You may fire when ready” the famous phrase from A New Hope.
Governor Tarkin was back.
The technology was not without its flaws and the final rendering wasn’t one hundred percent convincing in certain scenes, but for all intents and purposes Peter Cushing was back and reprising the role that heightened his decorated career. From a personal standpoint, I was delighted to see the legendary Peter Cushing return to the screen and threaten the galaxy with the Death Star once again. The film would not have been the same without him and his presence only served to heighten my delight at the stunning movie directed by Gareth Edwards.
And then, in the aftermath of the movie’s release with the hype and hysteria dissipating, some sections of the fan base began to attack his posthumous return arguing that his performance breached some sort of ethical code of conduct. It was a valid question and not one to be taken lightly by the studio heads at Disney or Industrial Light and Magic, the technology giant responsible for every special effect shot of the Star Wars saga. However, when the subject was raised with Peter Cushing’s estate, the response was more than favourable. In fact, they were delighted with the concept and afforded Lucasfilm every support in their endeavours.
The unearthing of a latex face cast manufactured for the filming of Top Secret, a spy spoof movie from Cushing’s past was made available to ILM boss John Knoll who, swiftly began work with his amazing team to produce a digital rendering for Cushing’s return to the Star Wars saga. The work was painstakingly done with every care and consideration taken for the authenticity of the final product, from the contours of his lips down to the saliva between them, the team left no stone unturned in their quest to honour the actor in the finest possible way. Guy Henry filmed every scene whilst utilising a digital mapping prostheses that would allow the digital rendering of Cushing’s face to be digitally pasted atop his with excellent precision and the finished result was breath-taking.
A much beloved character from the Star Wars universe had returned to the saga he had helped build to amazing effect despite the actor being deceased for more than twenty years. The ethicality of his return is a valid argument, one that cannot be determined by any one individual but with the actor himself being disappointed that he could not reprise his role in a Star Wars sequel considered and with his estate’s full support of the project, the argument should be resolved.
I am personally delighted that the legendary Peter Cushing is back in the Star Wars universe and playing the character that first terrified me when I was a youngster. I have fond memories of watching At the Earth’s Core and shouting “That’s Tarkin” when he arrived upon the screen and vividly remember appreciating the actor that little bit more consequently. Despite having such a limited amount of screen time in A New Hope, the character of Governor Tarkin cast a great shadow across the galaxy, one that even Darth Vader respected and he was catapulted into my favourite characters thus. If Cushing had been replaced by a stand in actor or that of a hologram transmission I don’t believe the finished result would have been as nostalgic as Rogue One has become.
Gareth Edwards and the devoted team at ILM have done a fantastic job with Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and long may its success continue. From the very first Star Wars movie, they have been pushing the boundaries of special effects, flying by the seat of their pants and producing some incredible results in the process and Tarkin should considered a crowning achievement.
In closing, technology is evolving at a considerable pace but that will not change the fact that the real essence of movie making remains in the story telling, a concept invented by George Lucas and his original team at ILM. Governor Tarkin was an instrumental element of the original Death Star, one that would have been damaged by his lack of involvement in Rogue One and being a much beloved character, his return should be celebrated.
Industrial Light and Magic have made Peter Cushing’s wish a reality with this technology and have developed a way for him to return to the Star Wars universe in a way many of us never thought possible. I for one was blown away when Tarkin turned to face the screen and delivered a veiled ultimatum to Director Krennic. In that moment, Rogue One surpassed my expectations and delivered something very rare in my avid movie going experiences.
In a world where unwanted reboots of our favourite classics are thrust before us every summer and earning a deserved groan of discontent in the process, Lucasfilm still hold dear the one thing other franchises have lost sight of…storytelling. In one foul swoop, Rogue One has delivered upon what many films have failed to do in many of the last few years and impressed me. The loving commitment being applied to the franchise is a testament to George Lucas’ creation and when all is said and done, the force will always be strong with the custodians of his legacy.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story with Peter Cushing is available to buy on Blu Ray and DVD now. Grab your copy today and join the fight against the empire!
So…jump into your X-Wing and visit the Death Star where you will find the villainous Governor Tarkin waiting to greet you for the first time since 1977.
And as always…
You May Fire When Ready…
*Author’s note: I’d like to offer my personal thanks to ABC Correspondent Clayton Sandell who broke the original story and permitted the use of the images in this article*