The fake lightsaber fight is an art form that many a child will have partaken in since 1977. Be it a bedroom duel with a sibling, using leftover cardboard tubes from wrapping paper, or a more imaginative use of badminton rackets when bored on a summer’s day, almost all of us will have imagined what it’s really like to be a Jedi at some point in our lives.
In some respects, realising these dreams has been a goal that the technology industry has been racing towards over the past few years. When Nintendo introduced the Wii, millions of voices suddenly cried out in hope of a faithful Star Wars videogame in which you could wield the iconic blade, though it never came to fruition. The same is true of Microsoft’s Kinect, which offered an embarrassing attempt to bring Jedi combat to motion controls.
But virtual reality (VR) could succeed where others have so dismally failed.
At last week’s 2016 Game Developers Conference (GDC), Industrial Light & Magic’s Experience Lab (ILMxLAB) revealed a short Star Wars VR experience for the HTC Vive. It was called Star Wars: Trials on Tatoonie and consisted of a short few minutes in which players would fix the Millennium Falcon, meet R2-D2 and talk with Han Solo. VRFocus was less than impressed with the demo overall, but it has to be said that there was one moment that will likely stay with anyone that tried it for a long time.
After five minutes of puzzlingly mundane tasks, Imperial soldiers touch down on the sand planet’s surface. As an apprentice of Luke Skywalker himself, you just so happen to be handy with a lightsaber, and R2-D2 has one ready. The legendary hilt appears from one of his compartments and you grab it. The classic Star Wars theme starts to rumble. This has all the makings of a perfect moment.
And it is. You press a button, and the saber springs to life, emitting its brilliant blue glow. It’s easy to get hypnotised in this moment, as you realise that technology has finally got us there; you finally feel like this is a real lightsaber in your hands, and it makes you feel just as powerful and, for lack of a better term, cool as you’d always imagined. That said, you probably appear as anything but these things to the attendant that’s helping guide you through the experience in real life.
But that doesn’t matter. Who cares how silly you look in real life? You’re a Jedi in this reality. The HTC Vive’s position tracked controllers are perfect for this experience, with their hands appearing like that of a lightsaber itself and not possessing any top-heavy weight. They’re also extremely accurate and the blade itself will draw sparks from anything it comes into contact with. It’s just a shame that the ensuing Stormtrooper fight is so dumbed down, even if it is to make it more accommodating for new players.
This is still a great starting point for Star Wars’ VR journey, however. We’re excited to see how PlayStation VR’s Star Wars: Battlefront VR experience will play out and what else ILMxLAB has up its sleeve.