Ever since 1977, we’ve only watched Star Wars, read Star Wars, or played Star Wars. Now, we can step inside it.
Jakku Spy, a Google Cardboard experience presented by Verizon, is available now on the official Star Wars app, and it’s a new form of Star Wars entertainment. Developed by Lucasfilm’s ILMxLAB studio in conjunction with Google and Verizon, Jakku Spy thrusts you into the role of a Resistance secret agent on Jakku (the desert world from Star Wars: The Force Awakens), envelopes you in stunning virtual reality, and unfolds in a series of story-driven installments. It all leads into Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and there’s never been Star Wars storytelling quite like it.
“ILMxLAB’s whole foundation and mission is about creating immersive entertainment, and that includes virtual reality,” Rob Bredow, Lucasfilm’s head of New Media/VP, Advanced Development Group, tells StarWars.com in an exclusive interview. “We think a lot of people are going to get to experience virtual reality in Google Cardboard for the first time with Jakku Spy. It’s a great opportunity because there’s this familiar content — characters and vehicles that you’ve seen in trailers — but you’re seeing it in a completely new way.”
How new? A Jakku Spy experience goes something like this: Up in the distance is wreckage from a starship; turn around and there’s a speeder blazing past, engines roaring; turn back around and a certain soccer-ball-looking droid is quickly approaching, bleeping and blooping to get your attention. Jakku and Star Wars, visually and aurally, are all around you. It’s truly a completely new way of seeing. “When we pitched this idea,” adds Bredow, “it was really about, ‘Can we not only tell people a story that’s legitimately connected to the film, but can we also make them feel like they’re in Star Wars?’”
Integral to Jakku Spy is the Google Cardboard viewer, a retro-fun, fold-and-assemble frame for smartphones that enables virtual reality immersion. Holding the viewer to your eyes, the outside world fades away. There’s only the Jakku skies, sands, and the curious things happening in the surrounding 360 degrees. In celebration of Jakku Spy, four limited edition Star Wars: The Force Awakens-themed viewers, including BB-8, Kylo Ren, First Order stormtrooper, and R2-D2, will be available exclusively at Verizon stores. Get a first look in the video below.
As the events of Jakku Spy tie into Star Wars: The Force Awakens, accuracy and authenticity were essential. ILMxLAB had unprecedented access and collaboration in order to make that happen. “The great thing about these kinds of experiences and the great thing about working on these projects within ILMxLAB is, we’re actually working on them with the exact same people who are making the movie at the same time,” says Bredow. “So those are the real characters from the film, those are the real sets from the film. In some cases they’re digital sets, in some cases they’re photography — just like the way we make the movie, with a mix of different techniques. We’re able to use all those same techniques in virtual reality and put you inside those sets. You’ll even recognize moments and pieces that we’re able to use literally from the trailer and the film. So in that way, it’s very authentic.” In addition to the authenticity of what you see in Jakku Spy is the authenticity of the people who helped create it: the Lucasfilm Story Group was part of the ILMxLAB team that pitched the concept to Star Wars: The Force Awakens director J.J. Abrams and, in turn, Abrams advised on the project throughout development.
Jakku Spy includes a series of experiences in which you receive messages from the Resistance, each unlocking in the march toward December 18 — the theatrical release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. That creative choice allowed for two key developments: a kind of serialized story to make for something deeper, and for Jakku Spy’s creators to play with this new technology and storytelling technique. “The nice thing about getting to do a series of messages with this VR experience is, we got to actually experiment with lots of different kinds of vignettes,” says Bredow. “You’ll notice that there’s some nice varieties in here. A lot of those ideas were things that [creative director] Jeff White, working in consultation with J.J. and the team, added to the experience as we went along to make sure we were really taking advantage of the format.”
Ultimately, Jakku Spy is the first step into a larger (virtual reality) world for Lucasfilm and Star Wars. And that’s something to be truly excited about. “I hope that people really feel like they’re immersed in this new location in a way they couldn’t even imagine,” says Bredow. “Getting to experience it in a first-person way, right up close, is fun. For sure.”
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