Lucasfilm's making a Star Wars "hyper-reality" VR experience

Lucasfilm, ILM's X Lab and The Void are making a "see, hear and smell" Star Wars attraction this holiday in Orlando and Anaheim.

Scott Stein Editor at Large
I started with CNET reviewing laptops in 2009. Now I explore wearable tech, VR/AR, tablets, gaming and future/emerging trends in our changing world. Other obsessions include magic, immersive theater, puzzles, board games, cooking, improv and the New York Jets. My background includes an MFA in theater which I apply to thinking about immersive experiences of the future.
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Scott Stein
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Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire will be an immersive VR attraction coming this year to Orlando and Anaheim.


You don't have to wait until the Star Wars theme park is built: An immersive VR Star Wars experience is coming to California and Florida Disney parks this year courtesy of Lucasfilm and The Void.

Disney's Star Wars ambitions already include a new multiacre theme park and a "Westworld"-like immersive hotel. "Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire," however, a "hear, feel, touch and smell" experience, will blend VR and other immersive elements into a stand-alone attraction outside the park.

The Void, an immersive entertainment company that built last year's VR Ghostbusters experience and was part of the companies in the 2017 Disney Accelerator for new technologies, is creating the attraction in collaboration with ILM X Labs as well as Lucasfilm. New Void centers at Downtown Disney in Anaheim and Disney Springs in Orlando will host "Secrets of the Empire."

The "hyper-reality" experience seems to blend VR and other immersive elements. I'm not sure what "smell" Star Wars (Wet Wookiee? Ripe Bantha?) means, but it's something that the Ghostbusters experience plays with too (I still remember smelling toasted marshmallow).

Cliff Plumer, CEO of The Void and former head of VR company Jaunt and CTO of Lucasfilm, promises that it won't really just be just VR. In a conversation with CNET, Plumer helped answer other questions we had.

It isn't related to the Star Wars hotel and theme park coming in 2019

The experience isn't directly connected to that or the movies, says Plumer. "It takes place in a timeline in the Star Wars galaxy, but not directly tied in with any other projects." (That being said, note the "Rogue One"-like graphic above and K2SO-like droid.)

It's still largely VR-based, but adds other sensory effects

"The visual fidelity has raised the bar significantly from things we've done in the past," says Plumer.

It's designed for groups

Much like the Ghostbusters experience at Madame Tussaud's, Secrets of the Empire is created for multiple people to use at once.

Other immersive ideas will be in play

Plumer suggests that non-VR experiences will also be part of Secrets of the Empire, but wouldn't confirm what.

The experience will be Orlando and Anaheim-based, but will likely expand to other VOID centers over time

The Void has four entertainment centers currently, but Plumer promises an "aggressive" growth in Void centers in the next year. The idea, it seems, is for experiences like Secrets of the Empire to grow to those.

Future Void experiences could end up being more like escape rooms, or theater

"We're a location-based entertainment company, not VR company," says Plumer, referring to co-founder Curtis Hickman, who is also an illusionist. "Whether it's mixed reality or live performance, those lines are going to grey severely over the next couple of years."

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