When you meet Darth Vader and he offers to train you in the Force, it’s an intense moment. The Dark Lord himself intends to send you on a journey deep within the winding catacombs of Mustafar, and it’s almost as if you can feel the heat from the molten lava surface and the ferocity of Vader’s presence in the room.
On Friday, fans at D23 Expo got their first look at the next chapter in the immersive virtual reality experience, Vader Immortal: A Star Wars VR Series, including new concept art featuring a frightening never-before-seen creature, the Darkghast, and the Corvax Fortress, where the monstrous beast lurks, during an exclusive panel from ILMxLAB. In the room, ILMxLAB revealed a few minutes of cinematic real-time footage — an intriguing preview of things to come when the next installment is released. In Episode II, you’ll get the chance to train in the ways of the Force with Darth Vader and practice in the lightsaber dojo, which will now include using the Force to lift objects and even throw an ignited lightsaber at an enemy.
Before taking the stage, director Ben Snow, supervisor of creative direction and experience design Jose Perez III, and Lucasfilm Story Group creative executive Matt Martin sat down with StarWars.com to share some of their insights on the bold new chapter in the hyper-realistic world of Vader Immortal.
Learning the Force from…Vader?
In Episode I, we were pulled out of hyperspace over Mustafar, engaging briefly with Vader, who had brought players to the lava planet for a quest to find an ancient object. As we enter Episode II, we’ll become even more immersed in the action, learning how to harness the power of the Force and navigating the dark tunnels beneath the Corvax Fortress. The goal: delivering the so-called Bright Star to the Dark Lord of the Sith.
The sacred Mustafarian artifact contains a powerful and mysterious energy. Like the kyber crystals used to power lightsabers, “in Episode II we discover that Mustafar has its own powerful crystals that powered their technology,” Snow says. “The Bright Star is one of those, but so exceptionally powerful that it was revered as a holy relic by the Mustafarian tribe we meet in Vader Immortal. Its power had attracted the attention of Lady Corvax, with disastrous results, and legend has it that she locked it away deep in the fortress.”
In some ways, Vader is the perfect teacher to prepare one for such a quest, although fans entering the realm should recognize that Vader isn’t a very patient tutor, more apt to lob objects at his students than to counsel them on the virtues of patience. “It’s funny to call Vader the ‘perfect teacher’ because it’s probably the last thing Vader wants to be doing,” Martin notes. “He needs you, so he’s sort of had to take you under his wing…or under his cape?” You can expect the same level of patience we’ve seen Vader exhibit on screen. “He’s not patient,” Martin confirms. “But you definitely don’t want to fail him.”
“As a part of the story, we have a connection with the history of the ancient fortress we’re exploring,” Snow adds. “This gives us special abilities that Vader needs, so it’s in his interest that we have some understanding of the Force.” It’s also probably why he decides to keep his new charge alive. “Vader is one of the most powerful practitioners of the Force. In some ways, who better to teach us? He’s approaching it from the dark side — the training is a little different than we would have gotten with Master Yoda.”
Once Vader is satisfied with your abilities, you’ll begin your journey to the Corvax Fortress. Deep under Mustafar’s fiery surface, directly below Vader’s own castle, the aliens who call the lava planet home have survived for years, a thriving culture that has its own history and ancient architecture. “The fortress contains what may be the key to something Vader has been searching for for almost two decades,” Martin says. “Something that his master, Palpatine, promised him but never delivered on.”
The story provides a glimpse at a previously unexplored era in Star Wars storytelling, on a planet that plays a pivotal role in the Skywalker saga. “Mustafar was once a verdant and green world, and this fortress harkens back to that time — thousands of years before the films we know,” Martin says. Fans inside the experience will learn more about the lore surrounding the Bright Star and its place in the planet’s history, but Martin hints that the object itself, once worshipped by the Mustafarian people, is to blame for the world’s current state. “The Bright Star is, in part, responsible for turning Mustafar from the lush green world of the ancient past into the fiery hellscape we first saw in Revenge of the Sith and later in Rogue One.”
As for the fortress, deep underground, “the castle belonged to Lady Corvax, a former ruler of Mustafar,” Snow adds. In this new chapter, “we learn a bit more about her story, run into some old friends from Episode I who have been searching for us, and encounter a mysterious character we’d seen talking to Vader in his private chambers whom we’ve nicknamed the Black Bishop.” You’ll have to explore for yourself to learn more.
Enter the Darkghast
Along the way, expect to be faced with perils including the ghastly Darkghast, a new creature that bears a striking resemblance to the ravenous rancor kept below Jabba the Hutt’s palace on Tatooine. “It is definitely related, and is certainly as dangerous,” Snow says. “It’s been lurking in the ruins, crawling around the fortress and surviving on other creatures. But food is scarce, and it’s hungry.”
“The design definitely harkens back to that classic Return of the Jedi look, but with a twist,” adds Martin. “This is the first time that we really get to experience a large-scale Star Wars creature in VR, so I think we all wanted it to have a familiar feel while still being unique to Vader Immortal.”
Unlike its desert-dwelling cousin, the Darkghast has extra limbs to help it agilely traverse the underground terrain. “Jung Yoon Choi, our lead modeler, gave the creature sections of hardened flesh, like the plating on a rhino, and added angry red markings like a black widow,” Snow says of the design process. “One of our play testers ripped her headset off when she first encountered it, and scolded us for not warning her it was coming.” Once you meet the beast, you may just spend the rest of the experience, and the day, looking over your shoulder. “Having that massive creature right in your face can be a pretty terrifying experience, and something you can only get while fully immersed in this way,” Martin agrees.
Snow says the creature is female, “and if you look carefully you’ll see some of her eggs as you explore.” And in an upcoming chapter, Episode III, Snow says designers are incorporating more of the creature’s own backstory. “You might even stumble across some graffiti that gives a little bit of the creature’s history if you choose to examine it.”
Beyond the immersive storytelling, the VR story also gives fans the deeply satisfying experience of wielding a lightsaber and, now, using the Force. Outside the regular gameplay, the Lightsaber Dojo gives fans the chance to work on their skills. In Episode I, that meant swinging a lightsaber. But now, new abilities bring new training into play.
“Lightsaber Dojo II is all about using the Force and a lightsaber at the same time,” Perez says. “Lightsaber Dojo I was just a glimpse at the possibilities of lightsaber combat training. In the second installment, you get to build off that training with your lightsaber and the Force in VR for the first time.”
Among the new abilities are a lightsaber toss, which allows users to hurl a fully ignited lightsaber at a training droid in the midst of attack, impaling larger droids and cleaving remotes in half.
The power of the Force is, after all, about more than lifting rocks. Activate traps to crush and electrocute enemies from afar. With Force stun, you can freeze your enemies in place. Force grip allows you to lift not only rocks but also droids and other creatures, lobbing whatever’s in your grip at your opponents. And with Force pull, enemies can be yanked even closer to execute a final, fatal attack, Perez says. “I cannot wait for people to get their hands on this part of the experience.”
For more on Vader Immortal: Episode II, see StarWars.com’s previous interview with director Ben Snow and reveals from San Diego Comic-Con 2019.
Associate Editor Kristin Baver is a writer and all-around sci-fi nerd who always has just one more question in an inexhaustible list of curiosities. Sometimes she blurts out “It’s a trap!” even when it’s not. Do you know a fan who’s most impressive? Hop on Twitter and tell @KristinBaver all about them.
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