Look who's Tarkin: 'Star Wars' prequel 'Rogue One' could re-create Peter Cushing in CGI

Cushing, who played villainous military officer Grand Moff Tarkin in the first "Star Wars" movie, died in 1994. Is this a fitting tribute to a beloved actor, or special effects gone mad?

Richard Trenholm Former Movie and TV Senior Editor
Richard Trenholm was CNET's film and TV editor, covering the big screen, small screen and streaming. A member of the Film Critic's Circle, he's covered technology and culture from London's tech scene to Europe's refugee camps to the Sundance film festival.
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"The Jedi are extinct -- their fire has gone out of the universe": The villainous Grand Moff Tarkin, played by British horror legend Peter Cushing. Starwars.com

The latest name to be added to the cast of "Star Wars" prequel movie "Rogue One" is reported to be Peter Cushing -- even though the Hammer horror legend has been at one with the Force for more than 20 years. According to the Mail on Sunday, Cushing's character from the first "Star Wars" film will be re-created using computer effects for the forthcoming prequel movie.

"Rogue One: A Star Wars Story" is currently being shot at Britain's Pinewood studios, directed by Gareth Edwards. The first cast photo was revealed last week for the film, which will star Felicity Jones, Mads Mikkelsen, Ben Mendelsohn, Alan Tudyk, Forest Whitaker and Donnie Yen. If a digital version of Cushing does join the cast list, it'll be perhaps the biggest test yet of computer-generated imagery's ability to create a realistic human character.

British actor and horror veteran Cushing, who died in 1994 at the age of 81, was cast in the first "Star Wars" movie in 1977 by director George Lucas. Cushing played the villainously gaunt military officer Grand Moff Tarkin, commander of the Galactic Empire's space station, the Death Star. See the clip below the new photo (and check out Princess Leia's weird British accent in the scene).

The cast of "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story". Disney

Between the events of the prequel trilogy and the original films, when "Rogue One" is set, Tarkin appears to have been one of the three most important men in the nefarious Galactic Empire. Tarkin joined black-clad badass Darth Vader in answering to the evil Emperor Palpatine; the evil trio briefly appear together at the end of the prequel series as the Empire comes to power in "Revenge of the Sith". Tarkin was played there by "Farscape" actor Wayne Pygram. A younger version of Tarkin also appears in the "Clone Wars" and "Rebels" cartoons, voiced by Stephen Stanton.

The new film "Rogue One" follows the adventures of rebel spies attempting to steal the blueprints for Tarkin's Death Star. According to the Mail's unnamed sources, the backstory seen in "Rogue One" sees Tarkin involved in Vader's creation.

"Rogue One: A Star Wars Story" is set to be released in 2016. "Star Wars" studio Disney has not responded to a request for comment.

In the history of computer-generated imagery (CGI), challenges have included creating realistic skin and hair. In this case, the challenge for the CGI folks would be...feet. During shooting of "Star Wars", Cushing's uniform included riding boots that turned out to be too small. He was therefore shot from the legs up or stood behind furniture, and was in fact wearing slippers while torturing princesses and vaporising planets.

On the one hand, I'm interested to see whether CGI is up to the job of creating not just a convincing character, but a convincing recreation of a familiar character, including their movement and mannerisms. This summer's blockbusters " Terminator: Genisys" and " Ant-Man" both used CGI to knock years off their respective stars Arnold Schwarzenegger and Michael Douglas, and while digital-Douglas looked great in his short scene, the CGI-ed young Arnie was by no means perfect.

But on the other hand, this makes me uncomfortable. It's not like effects are being used to complete a film that Cushing had been working on, as was the case with Oliver Reed's performance in "Gladiator", Brandon Lee's in "The Crow" or Paul Walker's in "Furious 7". This is more like the disturbing use of special effects to show Fred Astaire using a Dirt Devil in 1997, Steve McQueen incongruously driving a Ford Puma in 2007, Marilyn Monroe, Grace Kelly and Marlene Dietrich posthumously adoring Dior in 2011, or Audrey Hepburn enjoying Galaxy chocolate in 2013. A testament to the iconic power of our brightest stars, or just creepy?

Cushing has no say in the process, so who's to say he'd be happy with having his likeness used in this way? His co-star Alec Guinness, for example, came to hate "Star Wars" after the film came out.

The idea of an actor signing away their likeness is explored in last year's movie "The Congress", in which Robin Wright plays a fictional version of herself who is re-created in CGI -- with rather trippy results.

Surely we've got enough sequels and prequels, reboots and remakes without starting to revive actors of the past too. Plus, we'll miss out on the nerdy fun of recasting the role, which is one of the few redeeming features of a prequel. Fearesomely becheekboned "Avengers" star Tom Hiddleston would surely have been born to play the part if only he'd been born a few years sooner, so I'm voting for Charles Dance. Or Ian Hart in a wig.

Or maybe the whole story is just a rumour, and Mads Mikkelson will be playing Tarkin. He's certainly got the cheekbones.

Would a digital deceased star be a CGI step too far, or a fitting tribute to a beloved actor? And if you had to recast Grand Moff Tarkin, who could step into Cushing's slippers? Tell us what you think in the comments.