Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire (VR Review)

Join the Rebel Alliance! Infiltrate the Empire! Find the Mysterious MacGuffin! Shoot dozens of Storm Troopers!

That sums up Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire, probably the most exuberant of The Void's innovative virtual reality attractions. The story is straight-forward, but the execution is fast-paced and exciting, with free-roaming VR, physical sets, and atmospheric effects combining to create a convincing multi-sensory simulation of the Star Wars universe.

The story is presented as a prequel to Rogue One, with Diego Luna and Alan Tudyk returning as Cassian Andor and K-2SO, respectively. The Rebels have information about a powerful object obtained by the Empire. Your job is to disguise yourself as a Storm Trooper and find out what the object is. You fly through space; you enter an Empire facility situated over volcanic terrain (you feel the heat - literally!); and soon your cover is compromised, turning the stealth mission into a full-fledged shootout, until the Dark Lord of the Sith shows up to prove that a blaster is no match for the Power of the Force.

The attraction's sly joke is that you go in unarmed because the Empire is suspicious and ready to blast you at the first sign of trouble. You're thinking, "I paid thirty bucks for this, and I'm not going to shoot anything?" But as soon as the mission goes south and you find yourself trapped in a corridor, under fire, there are some convenient weapons for you to grab, which you will use not only against Storm Troopers but also against lava monsters spitting fireballs at you.

The Storm Troopers in Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire seem to have better aim than those in the feature films. We recommend attending with three friends to form a team of four, so there will be enough of you to take out your opponents as quickly as possible; otherwise, you will be shot repeatedly - and feel the impact, thanks to the vibrating vests worn along with the VR headsets (of course, that is part of the fun, too).

One nice thing about The Void's franchise-based attractions is that, instead of simply tossing players into a virtual shooting gallery, they provide a narrative that immerses participants in the world of their favorite films. Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire follows the template of The Void's Ghostbusters: Dimension but does an even better job of exploiting a beloved fantasy franchise. Once again, a link to the feature films is provided by having a cast member or members reprise their roles. The characters brief participants on their mission, then provide guidance through the earphones on the VR headsets, so that what to do and where to go is always clear. Puzzle-solving is at a minimum: at one point, K-2SO flashes a sequence of lights that you must recreate in order to open a locked door; otherwise, emphasis is on action.

Our only slight quibble is that the exciting finale sidelines you as a helpless observer, watching a light sabre duel from a distance. Additionally, after giving the briefing, Cassian is replaced on the mission by a new character - you needn't be Sherlock Holmes to figure out that this is not someone who must survive to appear in Rogue One.

Although the ending would have been improved by more participation and less predictability, don't let this nitpick fool you into thinking the experience is anything less than great. Like Ghostbusters: Dimension, Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire came loaded with expectations virtually impossible to meet, but the half-hour VR attraction is more fun than The Last Jedi and Solo combined.

Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire Ratings
  • Virtual Entironment
  • Interactivity
  • Game Play & Story
5

Bottom Line

This convincing multi-sensory simulation of the Star Wars universe is more fun than The Last Jedi and Solo combined.

Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire is currently at The Void’s locations in Glendale, Santa Monica, and Anaheim. The addresses are:

  • Glendale Galleria: 100 W Broadway, Glendale, CA 91210
  • Third Street Promenade: 1220 Third Street, Santa Monica, CA 90401
  • Downtown Disney District: 1580 S Disneyland Dr, Anaheim, CA 92802

Advance tickets are recommended. With checking in, wait times, and suiting up, the experience can take up to one hour. For more information, visit TheVoid.com.

Steve Biodrowski, Administrator

A graduate of USC film school, Steve Biodrowski has worked as a film critic, journalist, and editor at Movieline, Premiere, Le Cinephage, The Dark Side., Cinefantastique magazine, Fandom.com, and Cinescape Online. He is currently Managing Editor of Cinefantastique Online and owner-operator of Hollywood Gothique.