The Trials on Tatooine VR Experience created by ILMxLAB was on display at Star Wars Celebration Europe, allowing fans to head to the famous desert planet and experience their favorite franchise in a completely new way.
When you put on the VR headset, the headphones, and get the controller in your hand, you look around the room. It’s been set up, thanks to four cameras in the corners, as (ironically) a virtual holodeck. If you get too close to the walls you’ll see a grid form. When you reach out to press the virtual start button, you’re instantly transported. You’re on Tatooine, twin suns shining, desert stretching for miles in every direction.
Immediately, it’s the most incredible thing a lifelong Star Wars fan has ever seen. You’re not just playing a game, you’re there, on the planet you met Luke Skywalker, and Obi-Wan (Ben) Kenobi, and Han freaking Solo. It’s breathtaking, and as I spun around hopelessly grinning, I heard the transmission. Han was coming in for a landing, and had something to deliver to me. I looked up into the sky and there it was, the Millennium Falcon in all its glory and phenomenal detail. I knew I was looking at a computer generated graphic, somewhere in the back of my mind, but it didn’t matter in the moment. To me, the Falcon was landing right in front of me, and that was the first time I got a bit choked up.
The Falcon lands, and R2-D2 comes down the ramp, delivered to help me, a young Jedi training with Luke on the planet, with a new mission. Unfortunately, there were also a couple of TIE-fighters, and though Han and Chewie got the best of them, they damaged the Falcon. A conduit lowered, and they needed my help fixing it up so they could be on their way. A simple series of button presses was all that was required – the developer and I joked afterwards, however, how I took an actual step as if I was stepping onto the platform, something he said was a common reaction. I got things working, but that’s when an Imperial remnant group of Stormtroopers arrived, beginning a ground attack. Han told me that Artoo had a gift from Luke to help – and out pops a lightsaber.
Taking the lightsaber, I instantly began gripping the real-world controller in two hands. I activated the blade, and felt a rush: power, responsibility, adrenaline, and a groundswell of love. This thing I’ve dreamed of (and heck, pretended) a million times in the last thirty years was happening. I was holding a lightsaber, standing next to Artoo and the Falcon, and Stormtroopers were coming in. I began to block the troopers’ blasts, somewhat clumsily at first. I then started to angle things better, and landed my first hit. Bam! “WOO!” I inadvertently shouted. I changed stances, trying out a couple of the other Jedi forms – mainly because I could, I knew them, and I wanted to see how versatile this weapon could be. It responded beautifully as I reposed from above and even from a backhand position. I started to get good at things just as the Falcon’s guns came back online and Chewie stole my fun (that ‘ole furball!).
As the lightsaber deactivated and the Falcon began to take off, the desert landscape faded away, and instantly, I was overcome with emotion and began to cry. They were tears of amazement and joy at having experienced something so real and so true to Star Wars. Just writing about it now, a few days later, a tear comes once again to my eye. It’s hard to describe what it means to be able to experience something you’ve loved so passionately and so long in such a unique way, but it is definitely a singular experience.
ILM has been making magic for decades, in Star Wars and other Lucasfilm properties, as well as across movies and franchises from Marvel to Star Trek and far beyond. But what ILMxLAB has pulled off with their first Star Wars VR experience pulls from your own memories and feelings, and makes them part of the moment. It’s everything I’ve ever dreamed of seeing in the Star Wars universe, and I can’t wait for more (especially with the Darth Vader experience announced at Celebration now on the way!).