"Rogue One" proves stars don’t have to be alive to still be on the screen

Casual viewers may not even notice, but one of the chief surprises in the movie is the unexpected reappearance of one of Darth Vader’s top officers, Grand Moff Tarkin, played by Peter Cushing. Cushing, who first appeared in 1977’s “Star Wars,” has lots of screen time, pages of dialogue and interactions with other actors such as Ben Mendelsohn, who plays fellow Imperial officer Orson Krennic.

Which is remarkable considering that Cushing died in 1994.

What you’re seeing is a digital performance, a visual effects (VFX) achievement that dazzles precisely because it’s seamless. This isn’t a cheesy, pasted-in effect that repurposes old footage, but a living, breathing, resurrected Cushing. The slender 6-foot-4 British actor Guy Henry (he played Pius Thicknesse in the final Harry Potter films), who does bear a resemblance to the gaunt Cushing, was hired to play the role on set, in part to avoid the dead-eye effect that plagues simulations of actors. Then the VFX team magically transformed him into Cushing. “One of the best performances in ‘Rogue One’ is by an actor who died in 1994,” ran a headline in The Washington Post last week.

This, it turns out, is what the entire VFX industry has been building up to for all these decades. All those explosions and space chases were just the throat-clearing before the grand statement: Today they are bringing actors back from the dead. We always knew movie stars were gods. Now they’ve become immortal.