'Star Wars' VR Story Lets Players Train Under Yoda
Star Wars fans have even more reason to be excited about next month’s launch of Star Wars: Tales from the Galaxy’s Edge than they knew. The first VR story in the anthology series centered around the Batuu cantina belonging to Seezelslak will also be the first chance the public will have to visit The High Republic, the new era of Star Wars publishing that launches early next year.
In the first installment of the VR series, Temple of Darkness, players will be transported hundreds of years before events in the Star Wars movies to see the Jedi in their prime, and become a padawan of none other than Yoda himself, as the two investigate a mysterious temple overrun by… something.
Heat Vision breakdown
"It's thrilling to see the era of the High Republic expand beyond the printed page, especially with regard to Master Yoda,” Lucasfilm Publishing creative director Michael Siglain told The Hollywood Reporter. “Whether you're experiencing Tales from the Galaxy's Edge or reading about his exploits in [IDW Publishing’s upcoming comic book series] The High Republic Adventures — as well as some of our other books and comics in this era — fans will experience Yoda doing what he does best: teaching Padawans as only Yoda can."
Two pages from IDW's The High Republic Adventures make their exclusive debut below, showing the young Yoda in action.
Temple of Darkness is just the beginning for both Tales from the Galaxy’s Edge and The High Republic, with both continuing through 2021 and beyond; Tales from the Galaxy’s Edge will continue to allow fans the opportunity the visit multiple locations — and eras — in Star Wars history with new VR installments, while The High Republic begins its ambitious publishing program in January with the release of Charles Soule’s novel Light of the Jedi.
Frank Oz, the Star Wars legend behind Yoda, gave the team his input on the character, with his tips helping them rethink the way they were portraying him.
THR talked to Lucasfilm franchise content & strategy VP James Waugh and Tales from Galaxy’s Edge director, ILMxLAB’s Jose Perez III, about Temple of Darkness, bringing the VR and publishing worlds together.
James, I want to start with you. I mean, Tales from the Galaxy's Edge as a whole is a really exciting thing — I know that everyone in Star Wars fandom is really excited about it — but doing something with The High Republic attached feels even more so. When did this idea to bring both of these together come up, and how did it get started?
James Waugh: Early on, Kathy [Kennedy, Lucasfilm president] was always pushing us to look at things differently. Right now we do a lot of publishing connected to movies — you know, we do the Rogue One movie, and then there's the Rogue One novelization, and the prequel, and these definitely have an effect, and they're powerful in the sense that they connect dots and go deeper [into the mythology]. We were talking a lot about, could we explore a whole new space in publishing? Could we craft characters in publishing that could permeate other spaces in the future?
So we, we ended up going to the ranch, which is where all good things start (Laughs) and we got an amazing group of writers together. We spent like almost a full week just talking about what we would like to see in Star Wars. What are we missing in the franchise right now? What type of adventures do we want? We kept coming back to the phrase from Obi-Wan from the original Star Wars: "For over a thousand generations, the Jedi Knights were the guardians of peace and justice in the Old Republic. Before the dark times, before the Empire."
That was the moment where we realized, we've seen the Clone Wars, when they are at the end of that, and we've seen all these other spaces where, you know, the myth of the Jedi is there, but we've never actually seen that era where the Jedi are who we've always heard they were. So we wanted to really dig into that — that's really where The High Republic started.
As far as like how it connected to Tales From the Galaxy's Edge, it was really early conversations with Jose and the xLAB team. We thought this could be an amazing opportunity — that it is a time that could do new things and give these developers a lot of space that was fascinating, new, and exciting. It was a really fluid process of, we're developing the publishing, and at the same time, we're developing the xLAB experience, and these things inevitably inform each other. Jose, you want to add to that?
Jose Perez: Coming off of Vader Immortal, and playing with the lightsaber there, we knew we wanted to expand on it [in future VR releases]. At first, we were kind of skirting around the idea of maybe some Clone Wars stuff, but you just, there's so many stories that have kind of been told there.
When James and Matt Martin and those guys started talking about The High Republic and opening that up, it was just crazy exciting for all the things that he's saying right now — the freedom to tell a story about the Jedi when they're at their peak, and what are the struggles that they're still dealing with, even when they were the guardians for all that time?
I want to delve into that, because Tales from the Galaxy's Edge is, as is obvious from the High Republic setting of this particular tale, set at different points across the Star Wars timeline, contained within this one particular anthology framework. What was the conversation around that idea, especially following up on Vader Immortal, which told one linear narrative?
Perez: The genesis of the idea for Tales was that we wanted to build a story structure that would allow us to explore all the different eras of Star Wars. At the point when we started it, we talked about, you know, we've got the original trilogy, we've got sequel trilogy, we've got the prequel trilogy. We already knew that we would have this bartender working at a cantina on the outskirts of Black Spire Outpost, we knew that he could tell stories and, when he tells those stories, we can go back in time and and experience the stories firsthand.
When we brought that concept up, people got really excited because, all of a sudden we weren't restricted to just one era. We're all huge Star Wars fans, right? We love all the different eras; there's something so exciting about each one of them. Where we're going with xLAB, we want to experiment, we want to try new things, and this concept gave us a structure to do that. It allows us to go back a couple hundred years before the Clone Wars even. So it just dovetailed really nicely together: they had a new era that was being worked on, we wanted to tell stories across multiple eras. It just made a ton of sense. It was actually really natural.
Once you have the idea that you're going to be telling a High Republic story in VR, how do you build that out? What is the process? Is it an entirely different process from building the publishing side of things?
Perez: We always start with the story. We try to figure out, what's the best way to get the story across? What are we trying to say? I think the biggest thing is that we're not just doing something to say, "oh, cool, you get a lightsaber, and you jump around!" People like that. We have a responsibility as storytellers, specifically with an IP like Star Wars, to make sure that there's some meaning behind it, and that we're trying to give people something to look at and reflect off of in their own lives, and then take that forward. That's where everything starts, and then after that, it's all the crazy parts of making sure the technology works, and where to look and everything.
Waugh: You know, the truth is, I actually think it is the same process in many ways, regardless of medium. It is still fundamentally finding the heart and soul of a story, and how it kind of reflects on your own life and your own human experience. I think each medium, each platform, gets to do that in a different way.
I think what is cool about this, is that, as a virtual reality experience, you're getting to look at the galaxy through a different lens, but when we work together, we're crafting the world in the same way. We have fundamental rules around what The High Republic is; we've done a lot of world building and intra-team meetings around, "What does it look like? What does it feel like? What are the values of this era? What type of storytelling belongs in this era?" That's not to say we're limited or anything, it's just that we want it to feel a specific way, regardless of medium.
Jose, this is following up on Vader Immortal, as well as other experiments in VR — what has the experience and feedback from those earlier projects done to shape Tales from Galaxy's Edge? What's different about this?
Perez: I think we were really proud of the work that we did on Vader Immortal. We were really excited about the cinematic quality that we brought to it, but one of the things that we kept hearing was, when you're in VR, you want a little bit more freedom to be able to walk over there and do a thing while this person is talking and stuff here. Some of those conversations were coming up.
When we have looked at where VR is now, what we've learned is that a bunch of people are more familiar with the medium and how to interact with it, so we decided to open it up a bit more. We're still very much story-focused, but we give you a lot more freedom to explore the environment that you're in. This is kind of a, story-living versus storytelling thing. You can hang out in the cantina and play repulsor darts and listen to the jukebox all day if you want — it's totally fine, we're not going to kick you out. When you're ready to go out into the wilds of Batuu, and you're seeking that, the adventure is there for you. It's up to you to opt-in.
It's really, in a lot of ways similar to how the Disneyland parks and the Disneyworld parks work — when when you go there, it's not like, "Hey, you're here for five minutes, you got to get on the moon." You know, it's like, "Hey, you're here to get some blue milk, maybe let your kids use the restroom first, and when you're ready to come out here, we've got a whole adventure for you."
Waugh: I think Jose and his team take it even a step further. In the publishing space, you can read about Yoda in The High Republic, you can see him, but in this space, you can look over to your left and literally see Yoda in that same sort of way that, when you looked up at Vader the first time in Vader Immortal, you really got a sense of scale and how intimidating that is. It's a visceral experience, and finding ways to listen to those visceral responses, I think, is really the part that I enjoy seeing.
Perez: To that point, when you meet Vader, it's like, he's large and intimidating, it's kind of scary. When you meet Yoda, it's so awesome, because it's the complete opposite where he's a small little guy (Laughs.), but there's still like a power and a wisdom there.
Waugh: We were fortunate enough to record Frank Oz for this, and the conversation with Frank Oz, and his perspective on who Yoda was, as a character, fundamentally made us rethink how we are approacing the character in publishing. That kind of reaction wouldn't happen if there wasn't that sort of porous intersection between these two media types.
Perez: That whole thing was the most surreal experience. You know, you're talking to the Jedi Master, right? I couldn't even believe I was there. You're talking to Yoda, Miss Piggy and Fozzie Bear all at once. We start talking about Yoda, and he's like, "around the room, everybody, tell me one word that you think means Yoda." I said "wisdom," we heard "old age," you know, we heard "powerful," and all of that stuff.
He's like, "those are all okay, but I don't think you guys are getting it." The word that he came to, and this is what I think kind of changed where publishing was going, was "struggle." When you think about Yoda, and everything that he does in the way he walks to how he moves, the world that he's been in, it's all been this really massive struggle. What is beautiful about Yoda's struggle is that that struggle is to maintain, and to try to keep, good in the world. That can be hard, and it weighs you down. He was really adamant that Yoda is not out there just being a badass and fighting and everything's super cool, like he's this rad ninja guy. It's like, this is a strong, little guy, he's worked extra hard, because he's a little guy, to do this.
When we looked at Yoda through that lens, even just some of the images that we're working for publishing didn't make sense anymore. He looked too mad, or too strong. It's like, no, this is somebody that is struggling to maintain balance, and to try to bring good back to the world.
Waugh: Because we are doing this at the same time — and that's the beauty of it — we [in publishing] are working on, who is Yoda during High Republic? This is Yoda you know, 200, 300 years before The Phantom Menace. Do those years matter? We were thinking like, "lighten him up a little bit more! Make him a little more spry, a little bit more adventurous!" The more we started thinking of that, we realized what a tonal shift that would be to his character and how wrong it would be. The truth is that Frank's right — Yoda has always been fighting the struggle, and it does weigh on him. Ultimately, we rethought how we're writing the character, and then that impacted all the authors in a really positive way.
So talk a little bit more about what role Yoda plays in the game. What can you tell me about that game itself?
Perez: The majority of this story to start is about the droid repair technician — that's you embodying this character in the Star Wars world that's working for Mubo — Mubo owns the droid depot in Galaxy's Edge —and there's some shenanigans that happen with pirates, and you're going out into the wild to deal with that. Along the way, you stop at this cantina, and when you're there, and the cantina worker is telling you these stories. Those stories will, without giving away too much, have themes that runs through them that will relate back to the main thread repair technician's story.
When you're in those tales — in the case of Temple of Darkness, when you're playing alongside of Yoda — they have a very specific story, but at the core of it, Yoda is the Jedi master, and you're Ady Sun'Zee, his padawan. I'm trying to give away too much, but your character is a little stubborn and has had something very traumatic happened at the beginning of the experience, and Yoda is going to help her kind of deal with the darkness and get through some stuff.
Waugh: When we were breaking the story, a big part of it is, what is that fundamental question of being a Jedi, that balance of light and dark. It's essentially the struggle we're referring to with Yoda, and you're in VR, embodying that and feeling that viscerally, exactly the experience we've seen so many times in so many other spaces. It is actually the core Star Wars story; it's all about using selflessness over being selfish. That is the core; it's just done differently here.
Star Wars: Tales from the Galaxy’s Edge will be released Nov. 19 on the Quest family of VR headsets.
by Ryan Parker
by Cathy Whitlock