I’m standing in one of those hexagonal Star Wars corridors on the planet Mustafar when the doors at the end open. Against blinding light, the Dark Lord of the Sith makes another hell of an entrance. Only this time, I’m not in the cinema audience. I’m in the movie.
The black silhouette, lit only by the glow of his green belt buttons, fills my field of vision. He looms over me, hands me a box, and tells me to figure out how to open it. “Do not disappoint me,” Vader says, the familiar baritone rumble and claustrophobic iron lung breathing filling my ears.
So, no pressure then.
Pulse racing, palms sweating, I fumble around with the box, pressing things at random until a Kyber crystal pops out. The new boss is pleased and I’ve got the gig. What gig, I’m not exactly sure, but I’m packed off to lightsaber training immediately, with barely a moment to recover from the most terrifying job interview ever.
This is Vader Immortal: Episode I, a virtual reality game coming to the Oculus platform sometime this spring. It was officially unveiled Friday at Star Wars Celebration in Chicago, alongside news that Maya Rudolph will voice your virtual sidekick, a wisecracking droid named ZOE3.
Industrial Light and Magic, the Lucasfilm special effects wizards, have been working on this for more than three years, and it shows. Based on just a few levels I got a hands-on demo with, Vader Immortal — which is launching sometime this spring — may soon become the best reason to own an Oculus.
I’ve certainly never seen the system’s fiddly hand controls used so simply and intuitively as when I reached out and ignited a red lightsaber.
The trailer which also dropped Friday, above, doesn’t really do the game justice. You have to stand there with Vader towering above you, making all the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, to realize they got the most iconic villain in movie history exactly right.
ILMxLAB, the team behind the game, treated Vader’s exact height in the game as a state secret, although they conceded he seems to be in the ballpark of Vader actor David Prowse’s height (6 ft. 7 inches in his black boots). They did reveal that the Sith Lord’s level of looming was just one of the details about the game that was obsessively tweaked until it felt just right. (An option to make him so tall that even 6 ft. 7 in. people would see him from below was rejected.)
“To have him walk right up in VR — not only with his mechanical breathing, but talking to and addressing you directly — is something that I think is going to be meaningful for a lot of fans,” says director Ben Snow.
Yeah, no kidding.
If VR Vader sounds familiar, you may be thinking of Secrets of the Empire, a VR experience now installed in Disney Parks in Anaheim and Orlando, which also takes place on his home planet, Mustafar. Both were developed by ILMxLAB, but Snow told me that Vader Immortal came first — and that Secrets of the Empire was basically a testing ground for the technology being developed for the Oculus game.
Vader Immortal also seems to share some DNA with The Force Unleashed, a classic (and now non-canonical) 2008 game in which you play Vader’s secret Sith apprentice, a character named Starkiller. This time around, you’re a smuggler who gets tangled up in Vader’s web when a trip to Mustafar goes awry.
The team is holding its cards close to its chest in terms of plot, except to say that this takes place in the Star Wars timeline between Revenge of the Sith and Rogue One. but the “Episode I” in the title should be a tip-off that this entire story is only the beginning: There will be a trilogy of Vader Immortal immersive tales.
You have much to learn about the power of the Dark Side — including the price of the game, which is still unannounced.