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Back at Star Wars Celebration earlier this spring, I got the chance to demo Vader Immortal, a VR game developed by ILMxLAB and Oculus set in the world of Star Wars. The game was promised to put you (almost literally) face-to-face with the most iconic onscreen villain of all time (try and debate me).
It was early stages back then, but also very special: you could hold a lightsaber in your hand and saw it light up, just as it would if you were in that world. It was a different experience from the VOID's Secrets of the Empire, which is also incredible, but Vader Immortal proves to be more tactile and more personal. In it, you play a smuggler hijacked and placed on the volcanic planet of Mustafar, where Darth Vader has constructed his imposing castle in the events following Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, and must discover truths about yourself and the planet in order to defeat your enemy.
Intense, I know. So you can understand how thrilled I was to jump back into that world and play Vader Immortal: Episode III, the cap to this series of VR games and a thrilling conclusion to the saga.
And what a time to be a Star Wars fan, across any medium, really Vader Immortal: Episode III is being released this week on Oculus platforms alongside the third episode (or "chapter") of Disney+'s new live-action original series The Mandalorian and a week after the home console game Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. Then there's the Skywalker Saga-concluding Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker just a few weeks down the line, as well as the opening of the Rise of the Resistance attraction at Walt Disney World's Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge themed land. In other words: everything's coming up Star Wars.
In Episode III, you have the ultimate showdown with Vader while also getting to practice using your lightsaber, Force abilities, and blaster skills on unsuspecting Stormtroopers and the like. This time around, Vader is attempting to use a very powerful weapon for his own reasons, which actually gives the character some surprising emotional shading and brings everything full circle. Also, you get to spend a lot of time with your faithful droid companion ZO-E3, energetically voiced by the wonderful Maya Rudolph.
As it turns out, making a trilogy of gaming installments wasn't an accident.
"That came right from the start when we sat down with David Goyer and started talking about doing a story about someone in the Star Wars universe," Mark Miller, the executive creative producer of Vader Immortal, told SYFY WIRE. "And in those conversations, he really led us to a three-part structure and I think it is an homage to the Star Wars structure."
And while the VOID experience is quite different, Vader Immortal director Ben Snow did confirm the connection (beyond Batman Begins screenwriter David S. Goyer's involvement), saying that both are "set on Mustafar and feature a certain villain, but the main thing is the idea that Vader is collecting ancient artifacts for some reason."
Snow also confirmed that Vader Immortal is technically Star Wars canon (and not part of the more nebulous "Legends" distinction, made up of much of the extended universe content released throughout the years) and that the team had a lot of input from the fabled Story Group at Lucasfilm, the consortium of creative executives that oversees all aspects of the Star Wars galaxy, from animated series to theme park experiences.
"They were terrific to work with all the way through," Snow says. "They don't act as policemen, they just try to keep you consistent. And things we came up with found their way into comic books and other things." Miller adds, "They were happy to jump into a part of Mustafar history that had never been explored."
The team behind Vader Immortal was initially inspired by the appearance of Vader's castle in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, although ideas for Vader's castle date back as far as October 1977, when George Lucas and legendary concept artist Ralph McQuarrie were spitballing ideas for Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back.
The team was also inspired by something that didn't make it into Rogue One but featured heavily in the marketing materials. At a pivotal moment in Vader Immortal: Episode III, you face off against a TIE Fighter in a manner suspiciously similar to that infamous shot from the Rogue One trailer. Even while playing it, I got the tingles of actually experiencing that moment that we didn't get to in the movie. "We were big fans of that shot in the trailer and thought, 'Wow, this would be great in VR,'" Snow explains. And spoiler alert: It is really great in VR.
Much like Rise of Skywalker, this installment of Vader Immortal threatens to be the final chapter of this particular adventure. Although, in true Lucasfilm fashion, the door is still open.
"Really this was viewed as this contained series of three episodes, but we like the idea of you and ZOE3 headed off to other adventures," Snow teases.
Sounds like you could be returning to a galaxy far, far away. Just don't forget your Oculus helmet...
You can get Vader Immortal: Episode III now and if you buy an Oculus Quest from now until the end of the year, you'll get all three episodes of this experience for free. Time to make an addendum to that Christmas list.