In 1976, George Lucas began filming what would become the first installment of the most legendary movie franchise in history, Star Wars.
In addition to casting relative unknowns for the roles of the film's three main heroes Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), Han Solo (Harrison Ford), and Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Lucas also filled a prominent roles with distinguished experienced actors.
While Alec Guinness was arguably the actor with the biggest pedigree in the film, having won an Oscar in 1957 for Bridge On The River Kwai and would eventually be nominated for Star Wars as well, another veteran British talent delivered an equally memorable performance.
Peter Cushing was known for his work with Hammer, a British horror studio that made numerous movies during the two decades before Star Wars.
Cushing played many characters during his career, including Van Helsing and Victor Frankenstein. His wiry frame, severe features and cool demeanor all contributed to his convincing turns playing scientists and vampire hunters.
Occasionally he would play a villain, but outside he was also known as the first cinema version of Doctor Who, starring in two 60's movies as the titular hero and bringing the character to a new audience.
While his TARDIS adventures are not considered series canon, it introduced some detials that remain to this day, such as the Dalek homeworld of Skaro.
The Quiet Menace
Tarkin was one of the most ruthless, cold and calculating villains ever to appear onscreen when Star Wars arrived in theaters. There were no Bond Villain machinations or Norman Bates psychosis in Cushing's performance. Never have the words "You may fire when ready." seemed so ominous.
Indeed Tarkin was played as one would imagine a Nazi camp commander during the Holocaust, with each atrocity simply being next thing on a to-do list. No emotion. No remorse. Just the mission.
While Obi Wan and Leia felt the pain of her home planet's demise, to Tarkin it was simply another day at the office, which makes him all the more terrifying.
The only time Tarkin seemed human was in his interactions with the young Princess Leia, where a slightly lecherous, but regretful side crept out.
One often-missed part of what made Cushing's character great was that Tarkin's faith in his weapon was so absolute he refused to evacuate. He was incensed at the suggestion and remained stoic as the battle proceed. In today's movies you'd inevitably get a shot of him saying "Oh shit..." or panicking before he died, often killing not only the character, but their aura of evil for a gag. Cushing just delivered that same stare, believing to the end that the Rebels would die.
Chillingly, Cushing's next role after Tarkin was playing a Nazi in the schlock movie Shock Waves. Sadly, his career never really recovered. His final movie roles were small roles in the spoof Top Secret and the flop Biggles in 1986.
Cushing disappeared from the screen and passed away in 1994 from prostate cancer.
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From Beyond The Grave.
When Rogue One was announced and its place in the Star Wars timeline revealed, fans began to question whether or not Tarkin would be a part of the story. When the announcement was made that the character would indeed be in the film, many more wondered exactly how Cushing's character would return. However, Tarkin didn't simply make a cameo appearance, the character is a significant part of the story and it is a classic Peter Cushing performance.
While some fans may debate the quality of recreating Cushing through the use of CGI, the animators nailed the performance. It is quite simply as good as Cushing's work in the first installment or any film he made before it. Older fans will be thrilled that not only is Tarkin back, but he is as ruthless and evil as they remember and it's the Peter Cushing they remember as well.
Tarkin's ongoing rivalry with Director Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) also works and there is genuine chemistry between the characters on screen.
For the first time in history, it could be argued that a deceased actor should be able to be considered for an Academy Award decades after his death, or at least certainly forwards the idea of a "Best Animated Actor" nomination.
If you thought Andy Serkis deserved one for his work on the Apes franchise, then Cushing really deserves one for Rogue One.
What does this mean for other beloved actors who are no longer with us? Could we see Heath Ledger return as The Joker or Steve McQueen once again ride a motorbike in a chase? How about a Cushing and Christopher Lee reunion for a new Dracula movie?
Soon actors my not even be required to film movies in order to be a part of them.
It's not hard to imagine a day in the future where actors sign on for one movie and the studio is able to recreate them through CGI for any sequels.
Such practices would raise many questions, ethical and otherwise, but for now let's marvel at Rogue One's achievement. The film has raised an underrated and brilliant actor from the grave for another performance as one of the most memorable movie villains in the Star Wars universe.