Virtual reality (VR) has come a long way over the last few years, and I’ve been lucky enough to experience it in various forms. At Star Wars Celebration in London in 2016, ILMxLAB brought the Trials on Tatooine to the show floor. This was my first experience of interactive VR, being immersed in an environment and being able to wield a lightsaber in a ‘semi-real’ situation. In early December 2017 I was lucky enough to be invited to the press junket for Star Wars: The Last Jedi in LA, and got to experience Star Wars: Jedi Challenges by Lenovo – defeating Darth Maul in the process, and also Droid Repair Bay by ILMxLAB. Droid Repair Bay is an 8-minute adventure using two controllers, taking place during the events of The Last Jedi, and I was very impressed and eager for more.
I didn’t have to wait too long; fast forward a couple of weeks and on the same day as the UK release of The Last Jedi in cinemas, I was invited by Disney UK to be one of the first to experience the next level of VR — augmented reality — at Westfield London. The experience, called Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire, is a joint collaboration between Lucasfilm, ILMxLAB and The VOID.
Unlike my previous experiences with this technology, Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire offers a full sensory, immersive experience, with you walking around inside the action with up to three friends. On my visit I was grouped with three other members of the press. We were taken to be kitted up, and far from simply donning a VR headset, here you get to wear a fully loaded vest/backpack which you are strapped into (the custom ‘Rapture’ vest/backpack features batteries, computer system, haptic feedback and more). The VR helmet is already attached to the backpack, and the attentive staff made sure we had the right size and that we were comfortable before continuing.
Once suited up, we were taken into a briefing room before starting our adventure. I don’t want to give too much away about the plot, but it’s set prior to the events of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. You take on the role of an undercover Stormtrooper trying to retrieve an object for the Rebellion. During the experience you get to see and work with Cassian Andor & K-2SO (both Diego Luna and Alan Tudyk came back to reprise their roles).
You do not remain in just one room during the experience, you move around from room to room, have tasks to complete and you’re even given a weapon to use at one point. You are completely immersed in a ‘real’ Star Wars adventure where everything around you seems and looks real. There are vibrations all around you, temperature changes and smells which all go a long way to making you feel as if you really are there; for most this will be the closest you’ll ever come to being in a Star Wars film!
The whole experience, from suiting up to the end, lasts around 30 minutes and I was literally blown away by every aspect of the adventure. Before we de-kitted we were able to get a group photo, after which there was the opportunity buy some themed merchandise from the shop.
As if that wasn’t enough, we then got to sit down and speak to some of the creative team behind Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire. We spoke to Cliff Plumer (CEO of The VOID), Ben Snow (VFX Supervisor at ILM), and Diana Williams (Lucasfilm Story Group Member) – we’ll be sharing the audio from this conversation later this month in an upcoming episode of RADIO 1138.
You too can experience Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire at The VOID at Westfield London (book here) until March 12th, at The VOID, Disney Springs Florida (book here) until mid-February, and at The VOID, Downtown Disney, California (book here) until March 6th — this is one experience you do not want to miss out on, and we can’t wait to do it again!
Big thanks to all those at Disney UK, Lucasfilm, The VOID and Westfield London for facilitating our visit. You can watch the trailer for Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire below….