A Surprise 'Rogue One' Return Needed Some CGI Help

When Disney announced that Rogue One: A Star Wars Story would take place right before Episode 4 — A New Hope, fans of the series immediately began debating on which characters would return from the original trilogy or the prequels. Would actors still alive today, like James Earl Jones as Darth Vader or Jimmy Smits as Bail Organa, return to their beloved roles all these years later? Now that Rogue One has finally hit theaters, it's safe to say that fans looking for familiar faces got all that and more — SPOILERS START NOW — with the appearance of Grand Moff Tarkin in Rogue One.

But how Grand Moff Tarkin is in Rogue One is sure to be a much talked about subject, almost as much as why the character's reappearance is so significant. For one thing, the character hasn't been seen on the big screen since his debut in A New Hope. (Tarkin, of course, is known as the Imperial Governor in charge of the Death Star, the massive weapon the Rebels are attempting to help destroy in Rogue One.) For another, the actor who originated the character, Peter Cushing, died in 1994, making his return to the franchise near impossible. Thanks to modern technology, however, the character of Tarkin was very much available to return. In fact, Tarkin is actually a pretty big supporting character in Rogue One. But, how did they do it?

As the eventual man in charge of the Death Star, Tarkin's appearance in Rogue One was almost inevitable. But, after his appearance was hinted at in later trailers, it was widely assumed that he would appear only in silhouette or as a brief cameo that would allow the CGI effects to be minimal. Instead, Tarkin appears in a handful of scenes, many of which feature close-ups and full conversations. In other words, Tarkin's role in Rogue One required a lot of movie magic. "It was a lot of blood, sweat, and tears from [special effects and animation studio] Industrial Light and Magic," director Gareth Edwards told RadioTimes.com about Tarkin's return.

To bring Grand Moff Tarkin back to the big screen, Edwards worked closely with visual effects supervisor John Knoll, who championed the CGI performance. But, while visual effects would be able to create Cushing's likeness, they wouldn't be able to make the performance from scratch. That's where British actor Guy Henry came in.

Know for his role in BBC's Holy City soap opera and his appearance as Minister of Magic Pius Thicknesse in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Henry played Tarkin on the set of Rogue One, only to have his face completely erased from the final product. "It was a massive thing for him, it was very gracious of him, because essentially he's doing this big performance and getting zero credit for it," Edwards revealed to RadioTimes.com.

Grand Moff Tarkin isn't the only character who returned to Star Wars via some CGI magic. Princess Leia also has a brief cameo, but unless Carrie Fisher has a time machine she's not telling us about, her appearance definitely had some technological help.

Some might critique these CGI performances, but if it means seeing Tarkin on the big screen, you won't hear me complaining.

Images: Walt Disney Studios; Lucasfilm