Secrets of the Empire - Fun, But Not As “Must Do” As I Thought
In December 2017, Star Wars Secrets of the Empire opened in Orlando. The VR experience was praised as ground breaking and a Star Wars fan’s dream. It was near impossible to get in and the buzz was strong. A mere 18 months later, I was able to walk right up and get in with no wait or reservation.
When you start the Disney World VR Experience at the Void in Disney Springs, you are treated to a great opening video of Cassian Andor giving you a mission to infiltrate a secret Imperial base. I didn’t realize I wanted the Cassian-centric Disney+ show until that moment. Seeing him and reconnecting with K2 were reminders of what I loved about Rougue One and honestly not what I expected ... but it was a perfect entry point.
After the opening video describing your mission, you are led by some local kid who works in Disney Springs to the next room where you gear up. I’m being nitpicky, but it wouldn’t have killed the budget to have these guys dressed as Rebels instead of logo polo shirts and shorts. I know I know... but come on, it would be cool.
Once in the next area, your are shown how to put on the haptic vest and headset. The vest was surprisingly not uncomfortable and the fact that it was a little heavy made it feel like you were putting on a suit of armor. I did feel like the IT department was helping when they could have made it a little more Star Wars-y. Again, a missed opportunity for immersion.
If you’ve used PSVR or Oculus equipment, it’s pretty easy to get used to. What is totally new and amazing is interacting with the world around you. Unlike a home VR experience you do get to walk through rooms, bump into fellow trooopers and touch R2 units. You get your blasters a few rooms into the experience and the tracking of reaching out and picking up the real world laser tag gun while seeing it as your stormtrooper armored arm grabbing an Imperial issue rifle was your first step into total immersion. Of course I squeezed the trigger in the weapon room and K2 scolded me with “that was subtle.“ I love that droid.
I won’t go into the story as it’s a relatively short experience (15 minutes?) but I will say the vest is the thing that makes it drastically different than my Oculus Quest and Vader Immortal. When things explode, you feel wind. When you get close to lava, you feel heat. When you get hit by a blaster bolt, you feel a tingle.
Overall it was a cool experience, but I think because VR at home now exists, it lost a little of the OMG factor. The $30 price tag is fair but I would highly recommend doing it with 3 other Star Wars fan friends. I went in as a single and was paired with two young ladies and a fellow nerd. If I was with friends, I feel like we would have worked together in the battles instead of been on our own soaking in the surroundings.
Now that there is no wait time, I highly recommend the experience to any Star Wars fan. If you have Vader Immortal, don’t go out of your way to do this, but if you are in Orlando, Uber over to Disney Springs (like I did) and give it a go. You won’t be disappointed, but I do think you’ll want/expect more.