Die hard Star Wars fans had heard rumblings of a CGI version of Grand Moff Tarkin appearing in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story for a while now. Considering Tarkin is in command of the Death Star during A New Hope, it made sense that his character would be around during the direct prequel to the original Star Wars. Without him, Rogue One could have felt neutered in the way Marvel and especially DC limit or completely restrict their television series from connecting with their respective cinematic universes.
Tarkin’s inclusion in the film presented a major risk for Lucasfilm. Not only would the Grand Moff appear, he would be featured as a key character in Rogue One. Gareth Edwards told IGN how nerve-wracking it was to take the risk of resurrecting Peter Cushing (who passed away in 1994) through CGI to play a major role in the first Star Wars spinoff:
“We were all very nervous about it and kind of, ‘Can we do this? Is it crazy? Because we can’t get it wrong, it has to be spot-on.”
And it was spot on. The risk has paid off in some major ways. Not only is it a groundbreaking accomplishment in computer graphics animation but it also serves to inform his character in the original Star Wars in some quite remarkable ways. John Knoll and the wizards at Industrial Light and Magic didn’t just recreate the likeness of Peter Cushing, they truly brought him back to life in the film so well that he was actually able to give a performance. While I could still tell he was CGI because my brain was telling me so, I was in shock because I didn’t want to believe it. I wanted to believe he was real because he looked it. Some of the people I saw the film with who weren’t Star Wars fans wouldn’t even have known he was CGI had I not told them.
But the risk didn’t just pay off in the form of a technical accomplishment, it also provided new context to a film Star Wars fans have known and loved for years. I would strongly recommend watching Rogue One and A New Hope as a double feature. The direct prequel serves to inform the classic Star Wars on so many levels from raising the stakes even higher in the opening scene to plot holes to smaller moments like when the high-level Imperial officers are sassing back at Grand Moff Tarkin after he informed them the Imperial Senate had been dissolved. Originally it had been a bit odd that the Imperial officers were being rather insubordinate to Tarkin but now it makes a lot more sense. Considering Tarkin had taken Krennic’s command away from him, those officers had to have been harboring some serious resentment over a position they most certainly had ambitions of attaining themselves.
Whether you thought Tarkin looked perfect or fell into the uncanny valley, there’s no denying that Lucasfilm has delivered exactly what audiences wanted this year. Summer 2016 saw every reboot, remake, and sequel rejected by audiences at the box office. It is clear people are sick of the risk-averse nature of Hollywood. People want brave and bold chances taken in the cinema again and the biggest franchise of them all just took some major risks and delivered a film that manages to be one of the greatest Star Wars stories ever told even with some pretty major flaws with its lack of characterization and sometimes sluggish pacing.