Recently “Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire” opened up at a new VOID Experience Center in Downtown Disney at the Anaheim Disneyland Resort. It is a hyper-reality, multi-sensory experience created in tandem by Lucasfilm’s ILMxLAB and The VOID to immerse you in the Star Wars universe.
In the interests of not being responsible for any perceived spoilers, here’s the official story overview for the experience:
“A galaxy far, far away needs your help. In groups of four, be transported with family and friends into Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire.
Under the orders of the budding rebellion, you and your friends will travel to the molten planet of Mustafar. Your mission is to recover Imperial intelligence vital to the rebellion’s survival. Alongside the pragmatic droid K-2S0, your team must navigate through an enemy facility walking into danger at every turn. Disguised as Stormtroopers, grab your blaster, solve puzzles, and fight giant lava monsters in an effort to complete your mission.”
The story takes place between Star Wars Episodes III and IV, and features “Rogue One” characters K-2S0 (Alan Tudyk,) Cassian Andor (Diego Luna,) and Sam Witwer as Athex.
Prior to opening, we were given the opportunity to go through the experience. It takes approximately 30 minutes from start to finish, with about 10 minutes spent filling out waivers and getting suited up. Participants buckle themselves into a vest and helmet and choose colored accents for their Stormtrooper appearance to distinguish each other within the group.
After watching a short film in which Cassian entrusts you with a mission vital to the Rebellion, you enter a small loading area where your visors go down and your group is magically transformed into stormtroopers. On entering the ship with K-2S0 and Athex, they begin filling you in on the plan, and you are off on your adventure. On the conclusion (hopefully successful) of the campaign, you return your gear and exit out into the lobby where souvenir apparel and in-attraction photos can be purchased.
I thought the whole thing was remarkably impressive and a lot of fun. The first minute or so is basically taken up by everyone marveling that they can look down at themselves and see nothing but stormtrooper. It seems amazing that you can look at your own armored hands moving around and grabbing things without having to hold anything or wear sensor gloves. While there are some moments where you might appear to be in peril, such as crossing a bridge over lava or feeling vibration when someone shoots you, there is no jumping, running, or climbing permitted throughout the experience. The main people who might have difficulty with this are those who suffer from claustrophobia, as the quarters are pretty close at some times, both virtually and physically, with the helmet covering the top half of your face.
One thing that surprised me was how almost everything you see actually exists in some physical form. From doorframes to guns to control panels, you actually manipulate and interact with objects with your own stormtrooper hands in a pretty convincing manner. Even more impressive was the thought which only occurred to me in retrospect, that your whole journey which takes you onto ships and space stations, out onto balconies and into elevators–it all occurs in the space of what used to be about two Downtown Disney shops. The manipulation and distortion of your sense of space is really amazing, considering there are more than one group going through at the same time and you never run into each other in that small space.
[For those five of you that read my blog on SIGGRAPH 2016, you may reflect on my moment of prescience when I went on about how amazed I was at the display of the rudimentary beginnings of this sort of technology, and how great I thought the potential was for theme park attractions.]
Afterwards, there was a ribbon-cutting ceremony with Cliff Plumer, CEO, The VOID; Curtis Hickman, Co-founder and Chief Creative Officer, The VOID; Vicki Dobbs Beck, Executive in Charge, ILMxLAB; Mark Miller, Executive Creative Producer, ILMxLAB; and Disneyland Ambassador Mikey Trujillo.
Of course, it’s not a Disney celebration without confetti cannons.
And after a group photo of all the people involved with the creation of “Secrets of the Empire,” the attraction opened and the Mustafar tourism department just got a lot happier.
“Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire” opened at Downtown Disney in Anaheim, CA January 5, 2018, having previously opened at both Disney Springs at WDW in Orlando, FL and Westfield in London (Shepard’s Bush) on December 16, 2017. Tickets may be purchased from The VOID website (www.thevoid.com) for $29.95. Guests must be at least 10 years old and those requiring mobility assistance may be accommodated depending on their ability to transfer/size of their wheelchair.