Let's review Walt Disney World's new Star Wars VR experience

January 17, 2018, 11:53 AM · If you’ve dreamed of joining the Rebellion against the Empire, then Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire by the VOID at Walt Disney World's Disney Springs (and Disneyland's Downtown Disney) can make your dream come true. The attraction was created by ILMxLAB and The VOID and is located in Disney Springs in the Marketplace where the former middle room of Once Upon a Toy once stood. Branded as a “cutting-edge hyper-reality experience,” it combines a virtual world with multiple sensory effects and an original storyline to immerse guests in the Star Wars Universe.

My journey began by purchasing my tickets through the official website or Atom Tickets (online or through their app) and selecting my arrival time. It’s important to arrive at the selected time, as when I visited towards the end of December, employees were asking guests who arrived early to wait to enter as they were running at full capacity.

Once it was time to check in, I entered the lobby and used a tablet to locate my ticket and sign a liability waiver. Guests must be at least 10 years old and 48 inches tall to experience the attraction, and those under 16 need a parent or guardian present to sign the waiver. Inside the lobby, they play a brief video on a loop highlighting the experience, and there is also a counter to purchase T-shirts and walk-up tickets, if they are offering them at the time. On the day I visited, they were turning away guests without a reservation, so it is a good idea to purchase tickets in advance.

I checked in and received a wristband with a unique QR code that I had to wear throughout my visit. I waited about 45 minutes in line before entering the briefing room. Employees bring up to eight guests at a time into the next room and divide them into two teams of four. Each guest is assigned a spot on which to stand and teams are greeted by Cassian Andor from Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, who briefs them on their mission to go undercover and infiltrate an enemy base to retrieve an important artifact.

We were then directed to scan our wristbands on the tablet in front of us to customize our avatars. We assumed the role of a Rebel spies posing as Stormtroopers, and could choose from several colors to help us identify each other during our mission. I experienced some technical issues getting the tablet to read my QR code, so I didn’t have much time to select my avatar’s uniform color.

After the computer created our avatars, Cassian returned to the screen and provided details on our mission. Another staff member then led us to the next room where we received our gear and suited up. Our gear consisted of a vest that reminded me of my laser tag days; and, I found it comfortable once making some adjustments. My headset fit over my glasses, and although it was a bit snug with the chin strap, a few twists and turns of the attached knobs helped. The combined gear weighed around ten pounds, which is one of the reasons for the aforementioned age and height requirements. This was also one of the few times I was allowed to take pictures, and the staff on hand offered to help us capture the moment. They then scanned our wristbands again to register us with the computer and then it was time to lower our visors and line up at the entrance to the arena.

Geared up for Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire

When I lowered my visor, I saw the entrance to our shuttle, and the computers powering the attraction did a superb job of creating the virtual world we entered; although there were several times when my avatar’s hands disappeared. We could also see, and communicate with, each other through the headset. When the “real” doors in front of us opened we stepped into our shuttle’s hangar and took a seat. Yes, we really did sit down on a bench, as the creative team physically engineered every object with which we interacted, including doors, buttons, and droids. [Here's the teaser trailer:]

Our guide, K-2SO (voiced by Alan Tudyk and just as snarky as in Rogue One), informed us we were about to land on Mustafar where our objective was waiting inside a heavily guarded Imperial base. All of a sudden, our shuttle was intercepted by the Empire, and we were directed to land and prepare to be escorted into the facility. We exited our shuttle and walked across a narrow bridge onto another transport. Although I knew my feet were firmly planted on the ground, the combination of the heat and smell of the virtual lava flowing several hundred feet below made me step cautiously onto the waiting platform.

Our host led us into the facility and directed us to wait in a locked room until receiving further instructions. I pulled a handle next to me and found a closet with blasters which I distributed to my team. My curiosity got the best of me, and I decided to test it by blasting a hole in the wall which caused the alarm to sound - so much for being discreet.

We found ourselves fighting off a steady stream of Stormtroopers, whose aim was much more accurate than their movie counterparts, and I could feel each shot hitting me. Fortunately, there are no “lives” in the game, so there aren’t any consequences for not stepping out of the way of incoming fire. After all, when paying $29.95 plus tax to play, getting eliminated early on would be disappointing. This was one of the few times that the attraction felt repetitive; however, the monotony was soon broken up by a fight with the game’s first boss.

We emerged victorious and made our way further into the complex fighting off several dozen more Stormtroopers along the way. We soon found ourselves trapped in a locked room and took turns solving a Simon-like puzzle, coached by K-2SO, while the rest of us provided cover fire. After several attempts, we successfully unlocked the door and located our objective. The attraction came to a climax as we faced the final boss, whose identity I will leave a surprise, and we successfully retrieved the object we were seeking and escaped on our shuttle.

We exited the arena and found ourselves in the room where we received our gear, which the staff helped us remove, and were asked to complete a brief survey about our experience. I didn’t have time to do so; however, I would have given it high marks.

Overall, I highly recommend making Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire part of your visit to Walt Disney World. I’m not sure if they can modify the attraction as the physical sets are tied to the virtual experience, which somewhat limits the replay value. That aside, I very much enjoyed my visit and think others will as well. May the Force be with you!

Replies (2)

January 17, 2018 at 12:13 PM · My son and I took part in this the morning it opened in Orlando and had a ton of fun. He's eight and they were initially going to be sticklers about the age requirement until I pointed out their documentation said the recommended age was 10, not the required age.

He was fine with the visuals, although his height at 51 inches made his Stormtrooper look like he was walking around with broken legs at times. He said the Star Wars VR experience and Rip Ride Rocket (his first time being tall enough to ride) were his favorite parts of our trip to Orlando.

EDIT: I went back and looked at VOID's updated FAQ and they edited it to say guests have to be 10 now. Interesting that was changed since its debut in mid-December.

January 17, 2018 at 2:00 PM · This sounds pretty cool, but 45 minutes of waiting just to be briefed? Then you have to go through all of the instruction and gearing up?? I'm sure they were probably still working out the kinks to get people through the experience, but that's a long wait for an attraction that is individually priced with timed reservations, and appears to be in the premium tier ($30 for less than 30 minutes of actual immersion).

This definitely sounds like something that would be better enjoyed with a group of people that you know instead of strangers (like an escape room), so I'm curious what the flexibility is to allow groups to go in together, or for singles to select people that they enter the experience with. It sounds like a few bad apples could spoil the whole experience for others, so I would hope that VOID allows guests to group themselves if they didn't already enter the experience with a pre-registered group.

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