(SO MANY SPOILERS FOR THE "SECRETS OF THE EMPIRE" STAR WARS EXPERIENCE. LIKE, BASICALLY A RECAP. BE WARNED.)
Objectively, I knew that I should’ve been listening to the details of the mission. Captain Andor-- the resident studmuffin of the Rebellion, if you ask me--was relying on us, and the whole thing seemed like it was going to be pretty dangerous. Mustafar was Vader’s planet, and no matter how convincing our Stormtrooper uniforms looked, a Sith Lord would be able to see through them immediately. We’d have to be quiet, quick, and careful to retrieve the weapon that the Empire had somehow gotten their hands on.
But as we sped through space towards the lava planet, I couldn’t help but momentarily forget about the mission ahead and look up at the security droid next to me. I grasped his hand tightly and leaned my head against the metal chassis of his chest.
“I love you, Kaytoo,” I told him.
He ignored me, as expected.
Moments later, when I stepped out of our transport and into the heat of Mustafar, I glanced back at my partner, Katie. The Rebellion had chosen to send quite possibly the SOFTEST rebels possible to complete Cassian’s mission. Hufflepuffs, the both of us. But we were still rebels (and loyal, as Hufflepuffs must always be), and we’d try our best.
But softness, as it turns out, sometimes wins. At least in virtual reality, anyway.
“Secrets of the Empire” is a new virtual-reality Star Wars adventure from The Void, a company that creates “hyper-reality” experiences around the world. The attraction has recently opened at both Disney parks in the United States and in London, and if I’m being honest? It was probably the main reason I took a trip down to Florida last week.
And MAN-OH-MAN, did it ever deliver.
From the pre-mission video with Cassian Andor (a.k.a. Precious Space Baby Number Two, a.k.a. Diego Luna, a.k.a. the biggest, most embarrassing celebrity crush I’ve had since I was, like, twelve) to the final battle, “Secrets of the Empire” is everything I wanted and needed as a Star Wars fan. You are IN Star Wars, shooting a blaster, fighting the Empire, and coming as close as current technology allows to actually BEING there. You can touch and grab most of the items you see. When you look down at yourself, you can see your hands and arms, but incased in Stormtrooper gear. You can feel the heat of the lava beneath you-- SMELL it, even. You feel the jolt of getting hit by a blaster beam. The doors that you have to figure out how to open are very real, as are the controls you have to manipulate and the walls you hide behind.
It is EXHILARATING, and I loved every minute of it.
I also got a bit too carried away.
As Katie and I made our way through the station on Mustafar, Kaytoo reminded us, via comm, that we were to keep a low profile. Unfortunately, once we stole our guns, we realized that it was impossible to quietly slice our way through the doors of the facility. It was taking too long, and neither of us were sure what we were doing.
So I shot the panel. Immediately, alarms started going off and Kaytoo snarked at us for blowing our cover. Nevertheless, Katie and I ran to an outside balcony and tried to take cover and defend our position from the Stormtroopers.
Then there was a giant lava bug monster.
I don’t know either.
But finally, we were able to get back inside and barricade ourselves in a small room where Katie would have to slice through the security system, with Kaytoo’s help, to get us out. I shot at the Stormtroopers that managed to get through one of the doors while she worked, taking cover behind an open doorway.
Once Katie successfully sliced her way through (which she was very excited about), we finally got another door open and found ourselves on a high platform in a large, central area of the facility. We shot down a container that held the weapon we had been searching for, and our Rebel commander (also disguised as a Stormtrooper) opened it.
It was this big, blue, lightsaber-y broadsword-looking thing. But before we could escape, it was yanked out of our comrade’s hand, flew across the area, and into a darkened hallway.
A red lightsaber appeared in the shadows.
I curled my hands tighter around my blaster and grinned, a little madly.
“OKAY ANAKIN, LET’S DO THIS,” I yelled.
(I can only imagine what the folks waiting in the lobby were thinking.)
I fired shot after shot at Vader as he calmly strode across a walkway towards us. Other Stormtroopers arrived and I ignored them completely, creeping out into the open to get a better shot. Our comms were blaring in our ears, telling us to abort the mission and get out of there, but I had been waiting for a showdown with Anakin for my ENTIRE LIFE. I was going kamikaze and taking him down with me.
As Darth Vader came closer, I continued shooting, stepping to the edge of our platform to meet him. He blocked every shot that came his way with a casual swipe of his lightsaber.
“You are no match for the power of the Dark Side,” he sneered at us (or something to that effect, anyway).
Then he was standing right in front of me, impervious to my every shot. And that’s when my grasp of ACTUAL reality left me completely: I raised my blaster high in the air, ready to bludgeon Vader to death with it.
And suddenly our ship crashed into the facility, with Kaytoo at the controls.
“Get in!” he commanded, and we obeyed (albeit reluctantly). As we sped away, we patted the astromech droid in the cabin with us. Cassian thanked us for our assistance via comm, and let us know that while we weren’t able to capture the weapon, we had been able to steal some data about it that would be of importance to the Rebellion. He was also apparently looking forward to hearing all about the mission when we met up with him.
But alas, that’s where our adventure ended. Katie and I pushed up our goggles, looked at each other, and positively SQUEALED in fangirl delight.
The whole thing, from the beginning of the pre-mission video to the end of the experience, took about 30 minutes. And sure: it’s not perfect. We ended up going back one more time before our vacation ended and both of us had some lag in our hand motion. Sometimes the aim of the blasters is a bit off. There are very few things that are not there when you reach out to touch them (some boxes, in Katie’s experience, and I actually reached out to PUSH Vader during our second try, since the employees at the attraction told me to absolutely NOT bludgeon him with my blaster because the guns aren’t cheap, and there was a wall instead of his stupid body).
But those issues are few and far-between.
It. Was. Everything. Especially as a fan of “Rogue One”.
Cassian and Kaytoo were alive again. I got to HELP Cassian, and he said “rebellions are built on hope” to ME (LIKE SPECIFICALLY TO ME OKAY SHUSH). Like, I GOT NEW FOOTAGE OF CASSIAN IN GENERAL! I got to cuddle Kaytoo and have get annoyed with me for disobeying orders. THESE ARE THINGS I NEVER DREAMED I COULD HAVE, let alone the fact that I was IN a Star Wars adventure for a little while.
Oh, and that blue lightsaber-broadsword? Apparently we’ll be seeing it again soon.
So if you have the chance, definitely experience “Secrets of the Empire”. It’s well worth the $30 price tag and a hell of a lot of fun.
(I’m still coming for you, Anakin.)