Use of a Dead Celebrity’s Likeness (Rogue One Spoilers)

Image of Rogue One Spoilers

This article will contain spoilers for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, if you haven’t seen the movie yet, go away or be spoiled about a shocking return. 

So the headline already may be a spoiler but how else to even hint at what I will be discussing today. Rogue One (for the second hour at least) gave us an exciting new chapter in the Star Wars saga. Yes, the first half dragged and yes the characters were kinda boring but we got the most basass Vader sequence ever and got to see the surprising return of some characters portrayed by actors that are dead. So, does Disney need permission to use the likeness of actor Peter Cushing to play Tarkin once again?

Tarkin originally died in A New Hope and the actor playing him, Peter Cushing, died in real life in 1994. Aww, too bad he never got to see The Phantom Menace. But through the magic of CGI, Cushing has been brought back to life. The special effects looked a little cheesy to me but my friend who knows nothing about Star Wars thought CGI Tarkin was played by a real person. So the legal question, does Disney need permission to use the actor’s likeness?
cgi-peter-cushing-620x349The answer depends on where a celebrity dies. In the UK, the answer is no. Once a person dies, people can use their likeness without asking. In the States, it depends. For example, in California, if a person dies in the Sunshine State, the estate has the right to their likeness for 70 years. Here, Cushing died in the UK but Disney still went to his family and sought permission (or their blessing) to use his likeness. You can see a citation of the permission listed in the credits. In fact, Cushing’s estate manager was overwhelmed by the image and thought it was fantastic.

ILM, the Lucasfilm special effects team, has used such effects before in Fast & Furious 7 after Paul Walker was killed in a car accident but never to the extent as seen in Rogue One. Due to the high cost of this process, we did see certain characters get new actors, like Mon Mothma, but how far away are we from bringing back the late great actors? I could always use one more Bruce Lee movie.