Warning: This article contains major spoilers for Star Wars: Rogue One. Ever since the first trailer for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story debuted back in April, fans have been dying to see what the very first standalone movie in a galaxy far, far way would look like. Well, the wait is over, since the movie hits theaters this weekend, and the reaction has been incredibly positive thus far. It featured a ton of familiar characters in addition to plenty of new ones, but one character, in particular, may have come as a bit of a surprise to Star Wars fans. Amazingly enough, Grand Moff Tarkin appears in the movie.
Grand Moff Tarkin was originally played in Star Wars: A New Hope by the late Peter Cushing and he is an incredibly important figure in that movie, and the Star Wars universe in general for that matter. Additionally, in the new Star Wars canon, he has become an even more important figure as the mythology of the Empire has been fleshed out in novels like Catalyst. That being the case, director Gareth Edwards found a way to get him in the movie, even though the actor who originally brought the character to life is no longer with us. So how did they do it?
The idea to actually put Tarkin in the movie came from Rogue One: A Star Wars Story's visual effects supervisor John Knoll. He took on the task of bringing this version of Tarkin to life in the movie and did so through some technological innovation. The character actually seen on screen in Star Wars: Rogue One is purely digital. Industrial Light and Magic went through a painstaking and very long process of creating him using entirely CGI. While watching the movie, it is pretty clear that it is a digitally created figure, but they did capture Peter Chushing's likeness very accurately and managed to have the classic character not only appear in the movie, but be a major player in several key scenes in Rogue One. Here is what director Gareth Edwards had to say about it.
"It was a lot of blood, sweat and tears from Industrial Light and Magic... we went all or nothing in."
During the actual production, Harry Potter actor Guy Henry stood in for Star Wars villain Grand Moff Tarkin in order to capture the movements and to have something for the other actors to play off of. The voice for Tarkin was provided separately by Stephen Stanton, so it really was a massive effort to bring the character back for this movie. He was very important to the plot as anyone who has seen Rogue One: A Star Wars Story knows, but some have questioned if this was the right thing to do. Peter Cushing died in 1994 and using his likeness on screen again without his permission has some potential for coming off as inappropriate. Aside from that, while the innovation was certainly impressive in some ways it was still very obvious that Tarkin was CGI and that can be distracting while watching the movie.
In any case, it would have been nearly impossible to do this movie without Tarkin's presence in some way. In Star Wars: A New Hope he was the highest ranking Imperial officer on the Death Star and even above Darth Vader, was in charge of the planet destroying weapon. He is the one that gives the order to destroy Alderaan and doesn't seem the least bit distraught over killing more than a billion people. In the novel Catalyst, which precedes the events of Rogue One, it is further explained that Grand Moff Tarkin and Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) are bitter rivals who are both trying to gain favor with the Emperor. Since we don't see Krennic in A New Hope, it is pretty clear that Tarkin got the better end of that deal, making it even more crucial he appear in Star Wars: Rogue One, since the events in the movie lead directly into the events of Star Wars: A New Hope
The way in which Grand Moff Tarkin was brought to life may divide some Star Wars fans, but he needed to be in the movie in some way. Not only that, but Star Wars movies have always been known for advancing visual effects and technology and this was just another way of doing that. Despite anyone's personal feelings on the matter, it is hard not to be impressed with the amount of work that went into bringing Grand Moff Tarkin back to the Star Wars universe one last time.