Ever wondered what it might be like to join the Rebel Alliance, or what you might look like in Stormtrooper armor? With the opening of The Void's Secrets of the Empire at Downtown Disney in Anaheim (as well as Orlando, Florida's Disney Springs, and the one across the pond at Westfield in London) fans are getting the chance to live out some of their wildest dreams in a galaxy far, far away. The experience puts fans in the boots of Rebels in disguise, and takes place some time before Rogue One, with familiar faces like K-2SO and Captain Cassian Andor to guide players along.
My love for virtual reality advancements and die-hard passion for Star Wars meant I couldn't resist this, so last week, I finally caved and grabbed tickets.
The Downtown Disney location is situated around the corner from the Grand Californian entrance to the area, and looks pretty standard from the outside. After checking in and opening the door using the Force (okay, okay, it's a sliding automatic door, but I did it anyway when they asked me to) we were led in to choose armor colors, and listen to a mission brief featuring Diego Luna as Cassian Andor. Without spoiling too much, your group must disguise themselves as Stromtroopers and infiltrate an Imperial base on Mustafar to uncover a crate that carries something rather special.
We were then led to an area to suit up with torso armor and protectively bulky VR headsets, given a safety schpiel that was very "in-universe," and sent on our way. The magic, of course, began when we lowered our headsets, watching bright pixels and graphics transform into a small, very Star Wars room. Like that, we were "suited up" as Stormtroopers, which, on a personal note, can be a hilarious thing to look at when there are distinct height differences between your party members, because the VR tech used keeps you at your exact height in simulation. This five-foot-nothing trooper was ready to take on the whole galaxy.
It's a little hard to talk about how incredible the experience is without spoiling it, but one of the things I will say is that it's way, way more than just shooting down baddies. You can feel the heat of Mustafar's lava around you, and even smell comes into play - so if you were ever curious about what the sterile air of an Imperial compound is like, you might find an answer here. Teams are actually challenged to work together, and more than once, I took on the role of code-breaker, solving puzzles or figuring ways out of rooms while the rest of my party covered me and held off enemies.
At one point, a certain scoundrel in our group decided to blast open a door instead of letting yours truly figure out the code, and we had to make our way through a narrow hallway while blaster fire rained down upon us, so the whole thing seems like it's set up to react to the party's decisions. While this writer isn't particularly sure that there's a way to flunk the mission, it certainly makes itself seem challenging enough, and provides more than enough "oh crap" moments to make players feel some sense of urgency. This goes all the way to the extent of your body armor vibrating and jolting whenever you're actually hit with a blaster bolt, which apparently happens to even the sharpest of shots.
I can say in full confidence now that do not regret a single cent of what I spent on this experience. If this collaboration between The Void and ILMxLAB is even a fraction of what Disney's imagineers are planning for Galaxy's Edge, I might run the risk of never leaving the place. In a way, I almost felt like I'd been "training" for the experience my whole life, and any Star Wars fan that experiences it might feel the same. Some advice, though, for those brave enough to take on the Empire: stay on target, Rebel, because the terror of the Dark Side thrives on Mustafar...
Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire is available now and ends in early Spring.