A Star Wars Nerd’s Review of Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire
Disclaimer: This was written largely in part by my husband
On our last trip, I took part in finding the “Secrets of the Empire” at the Void in Disney Springs. I did this with my two oldest sons (12 and “10”) who are bigger Star Wars nerds than I. I will not divulge any details about the experience so you can have that pleasure on your own.
A Void employee, Nathan, asked me if the experience was better, as good as, or below my expectations. I told him it met my expectations and I could tell that took the wind out of his sails. That wasn’t a bad thing. I had high expectations going in and it did not disappoint. I’ve been a first-hand witness to the latest technology and the capabilities of Virtual Reality (VR)/Mixed Reality (MR)/Augmented Reality(AR). Again, I really enjoyed this experience and, after talking with Nathan, would do it again if I had an opportunity to. Let’s now get into the breakdown of the experience.
Any person who understands the intricacies of booking a trip to Disney World would understand you need to book your itinerary well in advance. With this said, I’m not that responsible soooo my wife ordered our tickets in November for our January trip. At that time, all the documentation you could find within the FAQ and everywhere else about this experience had a RECOMMENDED age of 10 but not a
requirement. The recommendation came because of the amount of gear you have to wear. My 2nd oldest son is pretty big for his age, seriously good justification, so we thought that it shouldn’t be an issue. Registering for this experience is extremely easy and is done via Atom tickets. The gripe I have is that, once you register with Atom tickets, they are relentless in sending you email after email. I got to a point where I audibly stated, “THAT’S ENOUGH” and hit the unsubscribe button. *Editor’s Note: The Void is now selling tickets directly on their website for visits May 1st, 2018 and after, for visits prior to then you will use Atom tickets as described above.
Checking in was a bit awkward. They funnel you into the main area and ask if you have reservations. If you do, then they move you to the kiosks along the walls of the main area. If you don’t, they work with those individuals within the queue. While the staff was amazing and nice, it can make those that are working on getting reservations feel like a nuisance. You have a line behind you all waiting on you to get your reservations done. Since we had reservations we went to the kiosk and went through the liability waivers. I had a very good time reading through it. I’m that odd person who reads through all the fine print before I sign my name. Too quickly do people just accept terms without really knowing what they are agreeing to. The CYAs in these things are amazing so if you get the time to just skim through some of them, you could find some fun things. The terms are the standard stuff but the last little part of the waiver states something to the affect that “we are not liable for anything else not solely stated within the terms.” That’s one hell of a blanket statement. Why not just have the one liner liability waiver stating just that?! *Editor’s Note: I assume all terms and conditions contain this, yet I still sign with reckless abandon. You probably shouldn’t be like me. During check in, I found that my second oldest son may or may not have been too young to partake. I was pretty upset about this because we were thorough in our research. When I say we, I mean my wife. She’s like a bloodhound who found the scent. Just relentless when it comes to planning all things Disney. The age recommendation became a requirement and was not disseminated to those that already purchased tickets. They have since changed their website and now this requirement is all over the place. I did what any good dad would do, I said he was 10. I’ve already signed away all of the other liabilities anyways. Also, you need to be 48 inches tall to
ride … well to experience this thing. This was not an issue, even our 4 year old could handle that part.
They have a little waiting area, more like a containment area, where you’re held with a bunch of other people until it’s your turn to go in for the mission briefing, eight people at a time. The mission briefing area is separated from the containment area by a black curtain. This is important to note for the next part.
I had a pretty big issue with the mission briefing. The story was fantastic but, remember in the last section where the mission briefing and waiting area is separated by a curtain? Yea, that really kills the immersive experience. While you’re trying to listen to what they want you to do, you can hear the loud teenagers talking like….teenagers. The bigger disappointment is the lack of a surround sound system during the mission briefing. Again, this killed the immersive experience. This would be really exciting….if I could hear what Cassian Andor was actually trying to say. Wait, I’ve said too much. After the briefing and when you are ready to start the experience, you get to choose your individual color. As you select the color of your avatar, it’s possible for teammates to select the same color. Nathan, the Void employee, told us if you do that, it’s going to lead to confusion. Well that seems like a well thought out engineering choice. A simple fix is to block out color choices as they are being selected. Lastly, after you have selected your color, your name is scrolled with your avatar in English and, as my son called it, Star Wars language. Nathan educated us all and stated that the language was Aurebesh. My kids really got a kick out of that.
The area that is used to suit you up is a fun looking area but lacks any sort of theming which, again, kills that immersive type of experience. The suits are, essentially, hung on a hoist. You get clipped and strapped in to a vest/backpack gear. The gear looks more daunting when hung up than when you put it on. As a father of five kids, I tend to be the pack mule when going ANYWHERE so I’m used to carrying awkward and heavy loads wherever we go. Once you are all strapped in and you have your headset on, they lower the hoist and pack to where you are now supporting the unit. The vest/backpack, I found, really comfortable. At no point did I feel stress in any area or a crazy weight distribution problem. Obviously the backpack is going to be a bit more cumbersome but overall, it wasn’t crazy. Both of my kids said that it wasn’t “heavy at all” and never did they show signs of a struggle. Maybe it’s because they still have to carry an obscene amount of gear to school in their backpacks or maybe they were just showboating. Either way, neither of them had any issues with the gear. One last note to mention about the suiting up process, since you wear a helmet with headphones, it’s really hard to hear the Void employees getting you ready and giving you instructions. Wish they had a communication (comm) system that would plug into the team’s comms when giving instructions. More than once, I had to flip my thumb under my headphone to hear what they had to say. I am getting into the elderly ages so that may be a part of the problem.
Now here is where the rubber meets the road. Once you’ve suited up, you get into the “starting” area where everything is calibrated and where you really start to step into the mixed reality experience. During calibration, you get to see yourselves as the Rebel spies, or as a Storm Trooper. Now, I am not going to get into the story, at all, but I had to mention this part because, as you can see in the picture (below) of me with my boys, my “10” year old is a bit shorter than my 12 year old and myself. I state this because, I guess all Storm Troopers are about the same height. So when we looked at the younger son as a Storm Trooper, he was awkwardly squatting the entire time. Now if this doesn’t scream abnormal to the Imperials, then I suppose neither would a ridiculous vulnerability to the Death Star. Ohhh wait. Again, without getting into the story, you really get to experience so many different things. A climate changes and you feel it. Something opens and you feel it. There are buttons to push and things to touch. When you get shot, which happens a lot when you have a trigger happy “10” year old, you feel it in your chest. There is so much to see and so little time. I often lost myself from focusing on the mission at hand to take it all in. This is my biggest recommendation, by the way. Don’t rush through. The mission has governors in it to keep moving you along but look around, play around, do things you are not supposed to do. I saw so much that-based on the discussion I later had with Nathan-is not common. I definitely did not see it all. Nathan asked me a few questions that led me wanting to do it again to see what he was asking about.
End of Mission/Leaving
After the end of your mission, they take you back to get your gear off. Before you do, they snap a couple of pictures of you. This is what you see above. Once you are out of your gear, you find yourself back into the main lobby where you have the opportunity to purchase the picture they took. This is where I have some pretty MAJOR issues. First, the experience is not cheap to start off with because, duh, it’s Disney. I’m ok with paying that cost, but I also would like to take a moment with my kids and take a quick picture with the gear on so we can look back and remember what we did. Well, like I said above, you are not able to take pictures anywhere after the containment area. I understand why. They are protecting their IP. The problem I have is that they then require you to purchase a picture for $15 if you want to keep that souvenir. Look, I understand why they do it. Pictures cost next to nothing and can be a serious boost to their overall income. You don’t HAVE to pay it, but you can if you really want to. My suggestion would be to allow one free digital version to be sent to your registered
email. If you want it printed or you want the other poses as well, then charge them. Even if it could link to your Memory Maker it would be better. Give the customer a little more bang for their buck. Leave them wanting more. Not leaving upset. The second issue I had is that I was told that I would have had an opportunity to get the digital versions sent to my email. Well guess what, that never happened. At the end, I have a hard copy that I had to carry around with me in the Orlando rain. Look, you may have issues with my gripes, but I’m an all digital person. I hate papers clogging up my house. All my kids’ art that they so passionately love, I take pictures of or scan. I love the creativity they do, but I don’t need to keep every piece of paper. When I told the employee at the checkout that I did not have an opportunity to enter my email address, he said it was going to be sent to the email I registered with. Cool, but here we are three months later and no pictures. If you tell me I get something, then you should make sure they get it. The third, and final issue I had is that there is only one kiosk to purchase pictures. If you have an elderly couple who love to just spend 10-15 minutes looking at every picture multiple times and talking in line,
then it screws it all up for everyone else. There were people in line that ended up simply leaving because they were tired of waiting. They should have multiple checkout picture kiosks and they should have an employee stationed there to help move them along. Instead, they have one employee managing the register for customers making reservations and they are also handling the picture kiosk. What you get is an overworked employee and an bad final experience for the customer.
The experience was so much fun. My kids left pumped up and wanting to do it again immediately. Nathan asked me if I would do it again. Initially I said if there were things that would change the experience I would, but for the price I had a hard time justifying another go through for the same thing. However, he gave me some things to consider, and if I was to choose to do it again, would give me things to look forward to.
If you are in the area, I would definitely recommend giving it a shot. When you first get into the experience, things are going to seem awkward. It will take you 10-15 minutes to get acclimated if you are not accustomed to this type of experience. At that point, you are already half-way through. They do try to let you get acclimated in the initial starting area but it’s still not enough to really get you familiar with what you are about to experience.
Lastly, I have to talk about the staff. I am a huge customer service person and I take great lengths to express my frustrations, but to also express my praise. The staff here is pretty awesome. The greeters are smiling and kind. The only issue I had is with the check out staff which you read already. There was one employee who went above and beyond and that was Nathan. He spoke with a lot of customers before he spoke with me and I happened to ask him a lot of questions some of which he was able to answer, others he smiled and wouldn’t go into *for proprietary reasons. He generated hype and excitement and made me more inquisitive about what actually was happening. To you Nathan, I say DILLY DILLY. Wait, to my editor, is that allowed here? If not, then Nathan I say to you, WILLY NILLY and replace the W and N with Ds. Ok, this is getting out of hand. I’m done. *Editor’s Note: whilst I will not personally be Dilly-Dillying about, this ain’t the Masters – do you.