Most people hold their breath when they see his shadow fall over them.
His breath you can hear clearly.
A new trailer for the virtual reality experience Vader Immortal places users face-to-mask with the most terrifying figure in the galaxy as creators ILMxLAB unveiled details of the story at Star Wars Celebration in Chicago.
The immersive story is being created for the Oculus Quest headset due this spring, and in this first part of the trilogy, players are captured by Darth Vader and ordered to undertake a quest for an ancient Force artifact — or else.
Maya Rudolph will add a dose of light to the darkness as the floating droid ZOE3, who helps guide users through the story.
Writer David S. Goyer (The Dark Knight) and director Ben Snow (VFX supervisor on Iron Man and King Kong) gave EW a preview of what happens when Vader Immortal surrounds you from all sides.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I just tried the demonstration, using a lightsaber against small droids in the training dojo. Then when Vader entered the holding cell and stepped up to me … I wasn’t sure whether to grab him!
DAVID S. GOYER: Most people’s inclination is to reach out and touch Vader, but we decided that it would be inappropriate. Of all the characters in the Star Wars universe, you probably shouldn’t be able to touch Vader. [Laughs]
It is an ominous feeling seeing him walk up, and get right in your face.
GOYER: It’s scary! It’s one thing see him in a movie, it’s another thing to have him just get up close in your personal space. Inevitably, everyone tries to back up a little.
I first heard about this three years ago at Star Wars Celebration in London. How has the project evolved?
GOYER: It was almost like a virtual reality version of interactive theater, where you were like a fly on the wall.
BEN SNOW: It was like a movie that you were in.
GOYER: After a year or so we were like, no, you’ve gotta be part of the story.
SNOW: It was cool to have Vader walk up and stand next to you, but he didn’t acknowledge that you existed.
So you were like the Ghost of Christmas past?
GOYER: Yeah, you kind of were. We were like, “This isn’t working.” So we took a right turn and said, as a fan of Star Wars, we have to be part of the story. We have to have a personal relationship with Vader, so …
SNOW: So we were trying all sorts of things.
Did you find yourself having to add a gaming component to engage with the story, like clashing with the lightsaber-swinging droid test-bots?
GOYER: It’s sort of a hybrid form. I mean I’ve done film and television and comic books and video games. It’s definitely a narrative and it definitely adds to Star Wars lore and we sort of peel back some of the layers of Vader, especially what he was doing in that period around the time of Rogue One.
SNOW: We wanted give you a little bit of an inside, secret Vader and some potentially private moments.
This is just the first chapter. How did the project split up into three parts?
GOYER: I think the ambition was always that, to tell a series.
The story plays for roughly 45 minutes to an hour, how did you decide on that runtime?
SNOW: When we started out we were not sure how much people could take, and it was like, “Oh gosh, you can’t do more than 10 minutes in VR.” That was the accepted wisdom.
People would start to trip out or something?
SNOW: And then we arrived at something that was probably a little bit long, but we found it satisfying.
GOYER: It’s so immersive that you just, you could easily be overwhelmed by the richness of the world, but we’ve done a lot of play testing.
So who are we? Who is the observer playing?
GOYER: It’s gender and age neutral, but whoever the user is, they have a history. They’re the captain of a smuggling ship called the Windfall. They’ve got a right-hand droid who’s being voiced by Maya Rudolph, a plucky assistant who thinks she probably can captain the ship better than you. You guys have been through a lot of scrapes together.
What did you like about Maya? Her comedy background?
GOYER: We knew that we wanted a female droid and we wanted somebody who had an ability to improvise and …
SNOW: Be a collaborator.
GOYER: We always intended her dialogue as kind of a guide. We’ve done three or four sessions with her already and it’s been a blast. We just did one last week.
Am I hearing James Earl Jones as Vader?
SNOW: Actually, Scott Lawrence did the voice of Vader. [Lawrence voices Vader in many of the Star Wars video games, and plays Jarek Yeager on the animated Star Wars: Resistance.]
GOYER: They’re shockingly alike and similar.
SNOW: We had [Oscar-winning sound designer] Gary Rydstrom with us in our voice sessions, and he was great at guiding and working with Scott, just getting the intonations to make it Vader. Also, we see another side of Vader in this, so I think Scott did a great job of bringing a little bit of…
GOYER: Well, part of the promise of VR is that some people have said it works as an “empathy machine.” It’s Vader, we’re in a spooky place, we can scare people, we can intimidate people, but the stretch-goal that we all had was: Can you also make us feel for him a little? Hopefully we’ve accomplished that in this story.
What can you tell us about the next two installments in the Vader Immortal experience?
GOYER: Episode I is very much about wielding a lightsaber and getting to engage in that sort of fantasy experience. Episode II is very much about in virtual reality, learning how to experience and manipulate the Force.
Any other favorite moments in part one?
GOYER: In the teaser, there’s a moment where this sort of door opens up and you can see that you’re out at an elevated height high above Mustufar, and you have to go out on this ledge. It’s scary, it’s really scary.
SNOW: One of the great things about ILMxLAB is letting us have the chance to play with this and experiment. If you can feel like, “oh wow, I feel like I’ve been in Star Wars” then that’s absolutely something we’re trying to do.