In Rogue One the most surprising performances is from an actor who died in 1994. Peter Cushing has been recreated via CGI and plays a pivotal role in the film reprising Grand Moff Tarkin from the 1977 film A New Hope.
Cushing is mainly known for his many appearances in Hammer Films, in which he played, among other roles, Baron Frankenstein, Sherlock Holmes and the vampire hunter Dr. Van Helsing. He is best known outside the Hammer productions for Grand Moff Tarkin in Star Wars (1977) and as Dr. Who in two films based on the Doctor Who television series.
Although Cushing lived in the United Kingdom where there is no post mortem right of publicity (the legal term for the right to prevent others from profiting off your image without your consent) Lucasfilm and Disney secured permission from Cushing’s estate as a matter of course as the laws regarding postmortem rights of publicity differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. In the United States for example in the states that recognise a postmortem right of publicity it ranges between ten years after the actors death, to a perpetual right in the state of Tennessee.
In California, legislation passed in 1984 as a response to a court ruling that found that Bela Lugosi’s heirs had no power to prevent the use of his image in Dracula merchandise. In California the right to publicity lasts 70 years after an actor’s death, therefore permission is usually obtained before such a use of likeness is attempted. Additionally an actor’s contract defines the extent and nature of their rights as far as whether the copyright holder of their performance can use their likeness whether that is in a sequel, a video game or an advertisement.
A right of publicity requires an actor to give permission for further use of footage in addition to permission from the copyright holder. In Rogue One, Lucasfilm held the copyright to Cushing’s original performance. However in the credits there are two references “With Special Acknowledgment to Peter Cushing, OBE” and “Special Thanks to The Estate of Peter Cushing, OBE.”
Peter Cushing’s wife died in the early 1970’s, they never had children so when he died of cancer in 1994 he left his estate to his secretary Joyce Broughton. She couldn’t discuss details regarding the rights to publicity due to a confidentiality agreement she signed with Disney and Lucasfilm.
The advent of this technology has lead to actors signing provisions in contracts limiting the use of their image after their deaths. It has been reported that Robin Williams signed a waiver prior to his death preventing any use of his image until at least 2039.