LINDON — Utah-based virtual reality company The Void is taking its novel, “hyper-reality” experience to a whole new level that is both Earth-bound and part of a galaxy far, far away thanks to a partnership with Disney that will bring interactive Star Wars-themed virtual reality exhibits to its parks this holiday season.
While unable to reveal any details, The Void’s co-founder and Chief Creative Officer Curtis Hickman said those who love the epic, 40-year-old science fiction franchise — which continues to generate new content, resonate with audiences and draw new fans — will not be dismayed by the virtual world and adventures that await them.
“What I can say is, fans won’t be disappointed,” Hickman said. “The beauty and workmanship and craftsmanship that’s gone into this on the art, the story and the technical side is really unmatched.”
Utah native and BYU graduate Hickman and the team from The Void seem uniquely well-matched to a collaboration that includes Disney, Lucasfilm (now a Disney subsidiary) and Industrial Light & Magic. Hickman worked for a decade as a professional magician and special effects consultant before joining the company, and The Void CEO Cliff Plumer has experience working on special effects on previous Star Wars films.
While the project partners revealed the name of the attraction — “Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire” — they are keeping the lid on any discussion of themes, characters or settings. That said, for those in the know, some information may be gleaned from both the title and an illustration released by the group depicting, presumably, a scene from the virtual game space.
Bryan Young is a StarWars.com contributing writer and the creator of Star Wars-centric podcast FullofSith.com. He made a few guesses about what areas of Star Wars’ expansive universe the new virtual reality exhibit may explore.
“Right off the bat, ‘Secrets of the Empire’ gives us an idea of where they’re going with this,” Young said. “The empire was only around for about 25 years, so this is likely a scene that falls between episodes three and six.”
Young also noted Darth Vader’s castle in the background, and a lava-covered planet which he says are clear evidence this is Mustafar, the setting for the epic battle between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker and also the place where captured Jedi were taken for interrogation and possible execution. Young guessed, based on other Star Wars storylines, that the virtual reality experience may have themes that follow some kind of infiltration and rescue mission. He also said he couldn’t wait to try it.
“There have been some other Star Wars VR (virtual reality) experiences developed by Industrial Light & Magic that were very cool,” Young said. “But, being able to play one that’s married to a story is pretty exciting.”
Disney plans to create the new exhibits at Downtown Disney in California and Disney Springs in Florida. These venues are owned and operated by Disney at its theme parks, but are on the public side of the gates to Disney World and Disneyland, though the “Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire” exhibits will likely require an admission fee.
Hickman said he and his partners at The Void could never have anticipated the opportunity to work with Disney, Lucasfilm and Industrial Light & Magic, a group of companies he described as having “some of the most talented and creative people in the world.”
“I can’t imagine a better place to be showing this experience, and being part of the ‘Happiest Place on Earth,’” Hickman said. “We are extremely excited and honored to be able to bring The Void to those locations and be a part of Disney’s Magic Kingdom.”
The Void’s initial interactive virtual reality experience, which is available to play at their Lindon headquarters as well as Madame Tussaud’s in New York City, riffed on characters, settings and themes from the Ghostbusters films. That first project, like the Star Wars exhibits, was borne of collaboration with the franchise’s creators including Ivan Reitman, who directed the first two films.
In The Void’s virtual reality version, participants play in a real-world space, built in a warehouse-sized venue, that coincides with the computer-generated virtual imagery that they see via goggles. Players wear goggles and a backpack and are armed with a proton gun. The experience includes a host of other sensory experiences, like feeling the wind in your face while hanging off the side of a virtual building, the rumble of a rickety elevator ride and even the smell of toasted marshmallows, if you’re successful at vanquishing the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.
Industrial Light & Magic xLab executive Vicki Dobbs Beck in a statement lauded the partnership with her company, The Void and Disney in creating the new, virtual Star Wars world.
“At ILMxLAB, we want people to step inside the worlds of our stories,” said Beck. “Through our collaboration with The Void, we can make this happen as guests become active participants in an unfolding Star Wars adventure. By combining Lucasfilm’s storytelling expertise with cutting-edge imagery, and immersive sound from the team at Skywalker Sound, while invoking all the senses, we hope to truly transport all those who experience ‘Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire’ to a galaxy far, far away.”