The movies don’t really prepare you for how large Darth Vader is in person.
The first episode of the Vader Immortal VR series from ILMxLAB will be available when the Oculus Quest launches on May 21, and the experience will cost $9.99. I played through the experience yesterday afternoon, and yes, Darth Vader is an intense presence in person. Or at least virtually in person.
The story begins when my ship, flown by a droid played by Maya Rudolph, is pulled out of hyperspace during a routine smuggling mission. I find myself orbiting above the mining world of Mustafar, with a few Imperial TIE fighters “escorting” me and my ship down to an imposing-looking castle on the planet’s surface. It’s also made clear that this stop is not optional.
I don’t know why the Empire decided I was worth the attention, and the mystery deepens when Darth Vader himself shows up and asks me to perform a very simple task: I must open a puzzle box. This request is made in an interrogation room after I wake up in the presence of a torture droid. I guess that’s Vader’s way of saying “please.”
Doing so isn’t very difficult — although my heart thrills at the idea of a Star Wars / Hellraiser crossover — but it’s clear from the reactions of everyone else in the room that this means something. I’m the one that Vader has been searching for, in fact, due to my innate connection to the Force.
The box was just the beginning, Vader is trying to unlock the mysteries of something known as the Ghost Glass, and I’m somehow a part of the process. Another prisoner informs me that Vader is trying to bridge the gulf between the living and the dead, which is pretty much on-brand for the Sith Lord. Did you ever hear the tragedy of Darth Plagueis, the Wise?
I won’t discuss any more of the story, what little there is, although I will say I try to escape instead of waiting to see what Vader may ask me to do next. In the course of doing so I encounter a lone lightsaber in what seems to be Vader’s training room. It comes in handy, although I have to experience a taste of Vader’s training routine before I’m able to take it.
This brief narrative arc, in which I learn I may have an aptitude for the Jedi or Sith arts by stumbling over these artifacts from an ancient time, presents a fun bit of tension: Vader senses the potential in me, but all I want to do is get out. But the only path I find involves that lightsaber and combat, which gives Vader even more evidence that I’m someone who was meant to be by his side.
What’s important about Vader Immortal is that it takes advantage of what VR can bring to a narrative so that I’m able to look at aspects of the Star Wars setting in new ways, both figuratively and literally.
Which is how I know that Darth Vader is so physically imposing. You can see it in the movies, sure, but it’s a very different thing when he’s looming directly over me. Star Wars often goes out of its way to illustrate the size difference between standard spaceships and Imperial Star Destroyers, but that difference in scale feels very different when I’m inside a tiny smuggling ship and look up to see the vastness of a Star Destroyer taking over the sky above me.
It’s fascinating to see Vader away from the demands of the Emperor, and it seems like whatever he needs my help to do is a bit of an extracurricular project. I don’t become his apprentice as much as it feels like I’m lending a hand during one of his rare days off. But this is only the first episode of the series, and I’m looking forward to learning more about the nature of his project.
And Vader Immortal goes hard on all the stuff you expect from a Star Wars experience. Someone has a bad feeling about something. There is a mouthy droid that provides comic relief. Escaping from capture means “hacking” consoles in simple ways. Imperial, or maybe it’s Sith, security doesn’t seem very secure, in general. The trick is that I get to actually do these things in VR instead of just watching them happen in front of me.
This isn’t a game, and nothing I’m asked to do is very difficult, but it’s active enough that I also don’t feel like a passive observer. The package even includes a lightsaber dojo in case I want to brush up on my combat skills by deflecting blaster bolts from training drones. It’s satisfying as a self-contained Star Wars experience, and shows what VR can bring to fictional settings we already think we know.
Is it worth buying an Oculus Quest to play? Not particularly. But Vader Immortal is one of the more interesting movie tie-in experiences I’ve tried in VR to date.