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Last December, Star Wars fans dealt with a roller coaster of emotions. First, they saw the return of Carrie Fisher's classic Princess Leia, thanks to CGI effects, followed by the actress' passing. Now, these two events are causing many other actors to contemplate their own futures, after their own deaths. The idea that an actor's likeness may still be in demand after they pass away will likely cause them to include their desires as part of future estate planning.
While Rogue One: A Star Wars Story will go down in movie history as the film that showed that spinoff films in the franchise would be successful, its much further reaching impact may be in the way that the film advanced the technology of creating CGI humans on film. Both Peter Cushing's Moff Tarkin and a young Princess Leia appear in the film, both played by entirely different actors. While Carrie Fisher said that she approved of her alter-ego's cameo before she passed away, certainly Peter Cushing had absolutely no idea that such things would be possible when he passed away in 1994. Now, a new story in The Hollywood Reporter focuses on the idea that actors need to be considering how they want their likeness used in situations like this after they have passed away.
Making money of a celebrity's likeness has always been a valuable thing for the celebrities' estate to do after they have passed away. However, in the past, this was always limited to things like merchandise sales. Today, a long dead actor can actually act on screen again. Usually, the estate of an actor has an idea what the actor wanted to be done with his likeness after death, but if they did not specify, the estate has to make their best determination.
We're sure some of Hollywood's biggest stars are currently meeting with lawyers to update their estate planning documents. CGI's ability to recreate actors is only going to get better and in 10 or 20 years it's possible that the digital versions of an actor could be indistinguishable from the real thing.
While Disney has already said that they won't be using CGI to bring Carrie Fisher back for Star Wars: Episode IX, the opportunity for such things certainly existed and the question was an open one until Disney made a final decision. Paul Newman is being brought back to voice Doc Hudson again in Cars 3, by taking unused audio from his original Cars recording session. They received approval from the Newman Foundation to do so. Robin Williams' will specifically prohibits doing that with his Genie character from Aladdin. While voice over work like this has been something that's probably part of actors' considerations, it may act as a guide for decisions on physical likeness decisions.
We're certainly entering a new era in filmmaking where a movie can potentially cast long dead actors in new roles. It remains to be seen just how popular such casting decisions will actually be.