What It Is: A hyper-reality experience (think VR laser tag) that takes you deep into the Star Wars universe as rebels infiltrating an Imperial base for valuable information. What makes it even better? You’re posing as a stormtrooper.
Who Tried It: Alexia Fernandez, PEOPLE writer-reporter and Star Wars geek.
Why We Tried It: If you’ve seen a Star Wars film (and I hope you’ve seen all of them — yes, all of them), then you’ve probably also caught yourself daydreaming about coming toe-to-toe with stormtroopers or flying on an X-Wing. When the opportunity arose to try out Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire, a hyper-reality experience created by ILMxLAB and The Void, I jumped at it just to see whether I really was strong with the Force. It just so happened that I also got to walk through an Imperial base with the fate of the entire Rebel Alliance on my shoulders. Talk about pressure.
Level of Difficulty: 3/10 (This definitely doesn’t require intense movement, but for someone who rarely ventures into a gym there is some intense blaster shooting that made me think I was covered for “arm day.”)
Hours before the experience opened to the public, I traveled to Downtown Disney in Anaheim, California, early Friday to see for myself what Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire was about. Groups of up to four people can team up to venture into the experience together, and it’s definitely more fun that way, too. As rebel recruits, my team was led into a room where a video of Diego Luna’s Cassian Andor and the droid K-S20 from Rogue One gave us a stealth mission to infiltrate an Imperial base on the volcanic planet of Mustafar. Our goal? To retrieve important information crucial to the Rebel Alliance’s existence. (Star Wars diehards will recognize Mustafar as the birthplace of Darth Vader from Episode III.) Not only were we on a mission to find information, we got to choose the stormtrooper colors we’d be dressed in for our experience.
Next up: the gear. Fellow “rebels” led my team into a darkly lit room where we were outfitted with heavy vests designed to fit securely, as well as headsets installed with microphones and visors to easily hear each other throughout the mission and to fully immerse ourselves into the world of Star Wars. The moment I was waiting for arrived when we were led into a different, and much smaller, room and told to flip down our visors. I was instantly looking at my white-gloved hands and, when I looked up at my teammates, I could only see stormtroopers staring back at me.
When the experience began, we were in a shuttle transporting us onto Mustafar, which the experience gorgeously details with vivid hues of red and orange. My other senses were also ignited when I felt the heat of the lava crawling up my arms. Several Easter eggs abounded during the experience, such as R2-D2 and a possible appearance from the greatest Sith Lord of them all. A particularly tricky puzzle schematic kept us in a tight space for a little too long, but with K-S20’s dry sense of humor (the kind Star Wars is known for), we quickly moved along to find ourselves faced with a seemingly infinite amount of stormtroopers shooting at us from ramparts. Eek! Luckily, we were all armed with blasters at this point, which helped us defend ourselves. I don’t have great aim so I kept feeling tingles all over my chest, arms and legs as the experience’s stormtroopers shot at me. I couldn’t help but wonder if I could die there, but the logical part of my brain kept me from second-guessing too much. I did have a mission to complete, after all.
Once we thought we were done with one enemy, we quickly faced another in the form of a lava monster that didn’t seem to die until it was almost on top of us. And as soon as I was getting the hang of my blaster (and seeing my stormtrooper hands every time I shot it), the experience was over. Mission complete, “May the Force be with you,” along with a chirpy commendation from R2-D2!
Verdict: The experience was delightful and my dream come true in terms of putting me in the middle of the Star Wars action. Not only did I get the opportunity to feel involved, I actually was — by appearing in costume (at least in my eyes), by carrying a blaster, but also by experiencing first-hand a Star Wars story. If you’ve ever wanted to know what Daniel Craig or Princes William and Harry felt when they dressed as stormtroopers, then this is definitely something to try out. Tickets to the experience don’t come with a Disneyland or Disney World park pass, but they are available for $30 at thevoid.com. The experience lasts a total of about 30 minutes, which includes gearing up and learning mission details.
Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire is now open at Downtown Disney in Anaheim, California, and at Disney Springs at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida.