Ever since the iconic villain first appeared on screen more than four decades ago, Star Wars fans have dreamed of coming face-to-face with Darth Vader. Now that fearsome encounter is at your fingertips with ILMxLAB’s new Virtual Reality adventure series Vader Immortal.
Scheduled for release on May 21, Vader Immortal: A Star Wars VR Series will fit canonically into the larger Star Wars saga between Episodes III and IV, dropping audiences into the role of a smuggler operating near the planet Mustafar, the volcanic world that serves as the home of Darth Vader’s castle.
Watch Star Wars: Vader Immortal New Story Trailer:
Today at Star Wars Celebration Chicago, ILMxLAB announced the addition of comic actress Maya Rudolph (Bridesmaids, Saturday Night Live) to the cast of Vader Immortal as the new droid character ZOE3, while also revealing the above new story trailer for the VR experience.
"Much in the way Alan Tudyk did with K-2SO, we needed somebody for this role that could create a unique character using their improvisation and performance skills,” said writer and executive producer David S. Goyer. “Maya truly was the first person we thought of, right from the very beginning, and her contributions and sense of humor have guided ZOE3 every step of the way."
During my time on the Celebration exhibit hall floor on Thursday, I was given the opportunity to step into a demo of Vader Immortal at the ILMxLAB / Oculus booth, and was very impressed by what I saw. The experience opened with me waking up in an Imperial base, being berated by an officer who preps me for my meeting with Vader himself.
While it took me a minute to get the hang of the grasping controls (I had a little trouble picking up something the Dark Lord tried to hand to me), once I did I found myself completely immersed in the story of Vader Immortal. The demo ended with an extended training sequence that pitted me against a series of sparring droids who attacked me with laser blasts and energy beams. I must say that this element was easily the best simulated lightsaber combat I have come across in a virtual reality setting.
During my visit to the ILMxLAB / Oculus booth, I also had a few moments to chat with Mohen Leo, Narrative Designer for Vader Immortal, who told me about the thought process and design decisions that went into creating the experience.
Mike Celestino, Laughing Place: You’ve been really careful in the marketing for this experience not to call it a game. And yet playing through the demo just now, I have to say elements of it felt very game-like. Can you tell me about striking the balance between a VR series that is story-driven and one that feels more like a traditional Star Wars video game?
Mohen Leo, ILMxLAB: VR is such a new medium, and in particular storytelling in VR is something that we’re just starting to explore. One of the things that was really important to us with Vader Immortal is that the character moments and the narrative moments are just as engaging as the interactive moments, the action and the fighting. We really consider this more of an interactive narrative that brings together some gameplay elements but also some very strong cinematic and storytelling elements. We’re trying to fulfill that fantasy of feeling like you’re really in a Star Wars story meeting Star Wars characters.
LP: The demo here at Star Wars Celebration is only part of one chapter of Vader Immortal. How long is each episode and what percentage of the first one did I just experience?
Leo: You just saw a tiny, tiny sliver. There’s going to be three episodes. It’s three-episode story arc. As with many interactive experiences, it’s elastic, I would say, in terms of how long it is, but it’s substantial. It’s much, much longer than what you experienced today. And because it’s an interactive experience, there are people who will take more or less time to explore the places that they’re in, [spending] different amounts of time in there.
LP: Finally, how did you go about ensuring the authenticity of the locations and character designs in Vader Immortal?
Leo: One of the unique things about ILMxLAB is that we’re part of Industrial Light and Magic, so we have the people that work on the movies under the same roof as the people that work on the interactive experiences. What that allows us to do often is to actually use the same artists. So some of the concepts for Vader Immortal were done by the same concept artists that did concepts for Rogue One or the other Star Wars movies. Same thing with sound, actually. We’re using Skywalker Sound, and that’s a huge part of both VR experiences [Vader Immortal and Project Porg] and what’s iconic about Star Wars. Everyone knows what these ships should sound like, what a lightsaber should sound like. That’s been a big part of trying to really fulfill that fantasy.
I think a lot of people, since they were children, have always imagined, ‘What would it be like if I could be in that world that’s on the other side of the screen?’ And we’re really trying to make sure that every part of this fulfills that fantasy.
Watch Star Wars: Vader Immortal Teaser Trailer:
“Vader Immortal lets you step inside a Star Wars story, so you’re not just observing what’s happening. You’re the lead character,” said director Ben Snow. “As a fan, I've always wanted to feel what it’s like to be close to Darth Vader. So to have him walk right up in VR — not only with his mechanical breathing, but talking to and addressing you directly — is something that I think is going to be meaningful for a lot of fans.”
Vader Immortal: A Star Wars VR Series will be released on Oculus Quest and Rift headsets on May 21.
Mike serves as Laughing Place’s lead Southern California reporter, Editorial Director for Star Wars content, and host of the weekly “Who’s the Bossk?” Star Wars podcast. He’s been fascinated by Disney theme parks and storytelling in general since a very young age and resides in Burbank, California with his beloved wife and cats.