Some Thoughts On ROGUE ONE’s CGI Controversy (SPOILERS)


Attack of the Clones indeed.

Coming out of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (my review), people are polarized over the use of CGI visual effects in one particular regard, and they’re making their opinions known across the interwebs in full, er, force.

Of course I’m referring to the resurrection of Grand Moff Tarkin, played by the late Peter Cushing, to his 1977 visage and form via Industrial Light & Magic. Fans are divided about its efficacy; some are amazed by the quality and feel it adds a lot to the prequel, while others find it “not quite good enough” to the point of unnecessary, aggravating distraction. The anti-VFX cloning crowd believes that a new actor should’ve been hired, close to Cushing’s likeness, so that the character could be as authentic as everyone else on-screen. (Here’s a screed from’s Matt Goldberg.)

First, my two cents. Even though the technology still isn’t 100%, man, it sure has come a long way. It’s really impressive. Yes, there are imperfections to quibble about if you’re so inclined, but it’s a genre movie and I think the nitpicking in this case (by some trolls, not all skeptics) is bordering on obnoxious nerdom.

(See video below for details about how the effects for both Tarkin and Princess Leia were produced.)

Also, to gripes about the effect becoming dated at some point (and maybe even sooner rather than later), well, most visual effects technology become dated at some point. It’s a thing. Indeed, movies become dated in a whole number of ways. But if they’re good, they’ll endure. It’s only when the movies are bad that we’re bothered by their dated elements (effects, clothes, hairstyles, and otherwise).

I suspect that had a real-life lookalike actually been used instead, the nitpickers would still have come out in droves with the reverse complaints. They would likely have argued that Tarkin is too iconic to be played by anyone else, and that an actor lookalike is a distraction that they couldn’t get past. Furthermore, they’d suggest, CGI has come so far (just look at that young Tony Stark in Captain America 3!) that certainly a CGI Tarkin would’ve been the better option, even with its imperfections.

Some people will never be pleased.

Here’s the bottom line: this isn’t a technology that can be developed “on the side” until it’s exactly right. It takes money – blockbuster movie money – to evolve and advance. It has to be done in tentpoles like Star Wars, or it’ll never be done at all.

But to paraphrase Ian Malcolm – just because they could, does it mean that they should? After all, what are the long-term implications of such animation, particularly when the technology reaches its full potential? Will former screen legends be bastardized for profit? Will new actors be marginalized?

My hunch to both: no and no.

New actors will always emerge because people will always have a craving for new. If they didn’t then, similarly, people would never need another rap album, or rock album, or old pop standard album, or whatever, because there are great copies of those by legends already. But, of course, there are new albums in those genres all the time, and always will be, because we’ll always be intrigued by fresh takes.

As far as bastardizing icons for profit, well, only if the late actors’ family estates have something to say about it. Legally speaking, this isn’t something filmmakers and studios will be able to do willy-nilly. In the case of Cushing, Lucasfilm garnered the rights to his image from the Cushing estate. And as a matter of fact, their reaction to the final result is actually pretty neat.

Talking with Variety, Joyce Broughton – Cushing’s former secretary of over 30 years and current estate executor – was deeply moved by seeing the performance. “When you’re with somebody for 35 years, what do you expect?” Broughton says. “I can’t say any more because I get very upset about it. He was the most beautiful man…I have to say,” she adds, “I’m not a Star Wars fanatic, but I did think whoever put it together were absolutely fantastic. It’s not just a silly sort of thing. It’s really good!”

In addition, many current actors are already getting their visages scanned to provide these opportunities for their family’s estates in perpetuity.

This is not only an inevitable thing but, I believe, a good thing. It will actually help past eras of films and icons to be rediscovered and endure. Besides, the market will ultimately rein in bad Hollywood decisions with this new technology. Like with anything, viewers will tell Hollywood – through their pocketbooks and social media – what’s good, what’s bad, and when a line has been crossed.

As long as Hollywood does right by actors with this new technology, everyone will be happy.

One thing’s for sure: after seeing this, George Lucas probably wants to get his digital hands on his six Star Wars episodes again.

3 thoughts on “Some Thoughts On ROGUE ONE’s CGI Controversy (SPOILERS)

  1. To me, it wasn’t personally bad. There was plenty of detail in the face. However, it was pretty obvious that it was a CG character. Perhaps technology hasn’t caught up yet to what people are expecting (something flawless and seamless looking).

  2. I was just struck by the fact that there didn’t seem to be any noticeable improvement in the technology since Tron: Legacy came out six years ago. The CG likeness was remarkable, *until* the character spoke or looked around the room or tried to do anything with his mouth or eyes. Plus, the voice didn’t really sound like Cushing’s. The whole thing was very distracting.

    The young-Downey footage in Captain America: Civil War and the young-Douglas footage in Ant-Man were much, much more successful, though I think there they were working with an actual performance and giving the actor a digital facelift, instead of animating the entire face from scratch.

    1. While I feel differently about your first point (this worked markedly better than Tron: Legacy for me), I’m still with you on your second point. When they can work with the actual live actor, at this point the age manipulation works better in those instances (see also Benjamin Button). Nevertheless, I expect all of these technologies to continue to improve, and they will by having big budget movies fitting the bill for it.

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