Star Wars just fulfilled one of my childhood dreams — in virtual reality

By | March 16, 2016

You’re going to hate me. Two of my colleagues already do. That’s because yesterday, while they were busy working, I was wielding a Jedi lightsaber. It was a virtual lightsaber, dreamt up by the wizards inside Lucasfilm, but a lightsaber nonetheless.

The pulsing blue laser sword I held may exist only inside a HTC Vive virtual reality headset, but you’ll have to trust me when I say it’s as real as a lightsaber experience can get — right down to the E-11 blaster bolts I reflected at hapless stormtroopers.

The VR experience is called Star Wars: Trials on Tatooine, and it’s not one you’re likely to experience at home. I tried it deep in the bowels of ILMxLab, the experimental virtual reality storytelling wing of celebrated Star Wars visual effects studio Industrial Light & Magic.

The studio is calling Trials on Tatooine an experiment, and I wouldn’t be too surprised if it’s never released to the public. The experience I had was carefully crafted: it just wouldn’t be the same without the array of powerful loudspeakers and deep booming subwoofers that let me viscerally feel when the Millennium Falcon came in for a landing, nearly crushing me where I stood.

The Falcon felt so real for a moment that I tripped over my VR umbilical cord when trying to back away, yanking the headset clean off my face. The only thing better was the pitch-perfect blue lightsaber, humming away in my hand. It felt powerful, like a living thing and yet simultaneously like an extension of my body. Just how my childhood self used to imagine it would be.


Honestly, Star Wars: Trials on Tatooine feels like more of an amusement park ride than a movie or game — which may be fitting, considering that Lucasfilm CTO and ILMxLab leader Rob Bredow says his studio is now collaborating with Disney Imagineering on a Millennium Falcon ride at Disneyland’s upcoming Star Wars Land. (He couldn’t say more about that — or whether VR headset owners will ever get to download Trials on Tatooine themselves — but we’ll soon share an interview with Bredrow on why he’s so enthusiastic to tell stories with VR tools.)

Calling the ILMxLab experience an amusement park ride isn’t a knock against it. Short and simple as it was, I wish I could share it with all my family and friends.