With news of Episode 8 slowly being drip-fed to us, Star Wars remains omnipresent in our collective consciousness. But as we look forward to horizons new, it seems that we have yet to escape from the controversy over Rogue One’s technological terror...
Suffice it to say, the reappearance of Peter Cushing’s Grand Moff Tarkin has caused quite a stir. The legendary horror actor has been dead for over twenty years, but that didn’t stop his conniving commander from returning to menace rebel scum in a galaxy far, far away.
This, in turn, provoked an outraged response in some quarters. Naysayers have attacked the CGI Tarkin’s “dead-eyed stare”, as well as the incorrect proportions of his re-constructed face. Other moviegoers have hailed its intricacy, and called it a landmark in special effects. Other fans still have labelled the debacle as a lot of fuss over nothing — but there are a lot of complicated issues involved in this furor.
Now, the project’s overseer and veteran effects guru John Knoll has entered the fray and addressed the critics directly:
“There are people that have said quite vehemently that it looks terrible and looks like a video game, and I will assert that that is not the case... I think this work was done with a great deal of affection and care.”
There’s no denying that a lot of time, money and effort went into bringing CGI Tarkin to life, but its quality is not the only thing being questioned; indeed, the performance has also reinvigorated the discussion of Hollywood ethics…
“You See Lord Vader...[We] Can Be Reasonable.”
The key part of this unease is the fact that Peter Cushing passed away in 1994, and we’re essentially seeing him — or rather the replica of him (courtesy of actor Guy Henry) — alive again onscreen. For some critics, this CGI creation is one step too far into the uncanny valley. David Edelstein of Vulture even likened the use of Peter Cushing’s features as “grave robbing,” and as we can see from Twitter, this attitude isn’t limited just to film critics.
CGI Tarkin looked better this time around, but it's still not quite right & it's just uncomfortable to see a dead guy resurrected on-screen.
— Brian Danuff (@briandanuff) January 6, 2017
Judging by many comments on the internet, lots of people assume these reactions to the “grave robbing” are all hyperbole — surely Cushing doesn’t care about his face being used because, well, he’s no longer with us? This might be true, but we’ve got to bear in mind that he never exactly gave his consent to projects like Rogue One.
Sure, using an actor’s likeness for merchandising and promotion is common practice, but appearances are notoriously important commodities in Hollywood. Whole careers are made and based upon actor’s bodies, so making new movies that use an actors' likenesses without their presence or consent are another, decidedly thorny matter.
Again, Knoll was on hand to quickly defend the studios actions.
“...We wouldn’t do this if the estate had objected or didn’t feel comfortable with this idea. And...we weren’t doing anything that I think Peter Cushing would’ve objected to... Cushing was very proud of his involvement in Star Wars and has said as much, and that he regretted that he never got a chance to be in another Star Wars film because George [Lucas] had killed off his character.”
Knoll’s comments are certainly true in terms of Cushing’s attitude. Unlike Alec Guinness, Cushing relished being in Star Wars, and he was a crowd-pleasing actor who considered roles based on what his fans wanted to see from him. Plus, as Variety reported, the executor of Cushing’s estate openly approved of his appearance in Rogue One.
So, an open and shut case, right? Far from it, actually. Whether you were creeped out by the CGI Tarkin or not, there are a lot of concerns about how Hollywood will approach using the technology further down the line.
“...Your Sorcerer’s Ways...”
The sad passing of Carrie Fisher back in December only served to reinvigorate these discussions. As we know, a younger computer-generated version of Leia featured in Rogue One, and upon her passing, many assumed that a CGI copy of Fisher would appear in Episode IX. Fisher had apparently loved her cameo at the conclusion to Rogue One, so surely that was the go-ahead they needed?
Yet in a very rare move, Lucasfilm denied that this scenario was even being considered, reportedly out of respect for the iconic actress; but this statement, more than anything, proves just how much of a touchy subject these kinds of resurrections are.
Though Guy Henry recently came out and said, in reference to Tarkin: “For better or worse, it's my performance," we must think about the legal minutiae of these CGI models. If it came to award season, who would get the credit for Tarkin? Henry, Cushing, or the effects team? Are all actors potentially subject to these kinds of computer-generated revivals? How will their contracts deal with it, and will they or their families be remunerated for them? And in terms of respect for the dead, how long will a studio have to wait after death, until they can recreate them on screen?
John Knoll certainly is aware of these concerns, and downplayed these fears in the interview with Yahoo:
“They fear a slippery slope...’ Well if they’re going to do this now, where’s the end of it? Soon we’re going to have all sorts of dead celebrities [reappearing in movies and] endorsing products.’
Knoll’s comments definitely show some awareness of these issues, but the thing is, these scenarios that he discusses are already happening. Among other such cases, the likeness of a younger Audrey Hepburn was created for a chocolate advert several years ago, so coupled with the CGI Tarkin, it seems that the future is already here.
Should we expect to see a new version of Alec Guinness’s Obi-Wan Kenobi return to the Star Wars saga? Could this practice occur en-masse within the coming years? And what will happen to the acting profession and the industry as a whole?
It seems that yet again, we’ll have to wait and see since, as Yoda once said, “Always in motion is the future."
About the Creator
A fanatical film-watcher, hill-walker, aspiring author, freelance writer and biscuit connoisseur.
These articles first appeared on Movie Pilot between Jan 2016 and Dec 2017. Follow me on Twitter @Farrow91