Industrial Light & Magic’s immersive entertainment division is looking to some major Hollywood talent to create its next Star Wars virtual reality experience, and the lead character is as big as it gets. During a Star Wars Celebration panel, writer David S. Goyer (Batman Begins, Man of Steel) joined ILM’x xLab team to announce that he’s working on an original narrative VR experience that will let viewers join in and be part of the story — and the lead character is none other than Darth Vader.
Goyer has been a major creative force in genre films and TV for years, working on everything from Christopher Nolan’s Batman films to shows like FlashForward andConstantine, but working on something with xLab is clearly a different kind of challenge altogether. The project is an entirely original story set within the Star Wars universe, written in conjunction with the same brain trust that is overseeing the new live-action films. The untitled Vader project will be so tightly integrated with the overall universe that Lucasfilm creative executive Pablo Hidalgo said its storyline will actually be considered series canon, alongside the new movies, novels, and comic books. But it won’t be the kind of passive experience audiences have when they watch a TV show, or even take on a traditional gaming experience.
“You are the visitor in this story that is happening in and around you, and to a certain extent you might even have some effect on [the narrative],” Goyer said. “You can pick up things, you can open things. You can push things, you can walk. You can touch characters.” The experience will take place in a “persistent” world, one that cycles through day and night, has evolving weather conditions, and continues to go on even after the “visitor” has gone through the story for the first time.
If that sounds like the xLab team is inching toward OASIS or The Matrix, it’s because in alot of ways they are. When we first talked to the team last year, it was clear their focus wasn’t simply on the kind of promotional tie-ins or gaming experiences that have been VR’s baby steps. Instead, they were looking at the potential that virtual, augmented, and mixed reality have to create new storytelling mediums altogether — with the world and characters of Star Wars serving as their creative palette. While xLab has since turned out several experimental projects (and announced that its lightsaber game Trials on Tatooinewould be getting a public release), the untitled Vader project seems to be the first attempt to truly realize that grander vision.
“The difference between cinema and television and VR — particularly with the fidelity that [the xLab] team is working on — is that you really feel like you’re there. The sense of presence isn’t just a buzzword,” Goyer said. And while strapping on goggles may not seem like the best way to become emotionally involved in a story, Goyer said his experience has actually been the opposite. “It can make you sad, and make you lean in, and make you feel for a character in a way you haven’t before. In a way that you can’t really do in any other medium. And it can scare you.”
Of course, teasing is one thing; actually completing and distributing the finished project is something else. But while it may sound like the Vader VR movie is the stuff of science fiction, it may be here sooner than people think. “I’m really, really excited for a year or two [from now] — whenever it happens — and you guys get to experience what we’re working on,” Goyer told the crowd. “It’s pretty mind-blowing.”
By Bryan Bishop