Inside Disney World’s Star Wars hotel lightsaber training experience
Polygon was invited to visit Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser, the new Disney World Resorts concept hotel in Florida, during a press conference last week. One of the items that really got fans interested in the object in 2019 was the lightsaber training experience, which promised to evoke the earliest scenes of Luke Skywalker brandishing a lightsaber back in 1977. During my visit, I tried it and found it, technologically speaking, a bit tame. But like most of the entertainment aboard the Halcyon, it has more to do with the atmosphere than anything else. One of the first major demonstrations of the lightsaber training experience. appeared on YouTube only three months ago. It clearly shows how the system works. The contestants stick a special lightsaber into a beam of light, and if they time it correctly, the light flashes and the sword starts to vibrate. Shields also play a role in the experience by adding more tactile engagement, helping to keep fingers and hands from being hit when backswinging.
To be honest, it doesn’t really look like it does in the movies. It doesn’t even look like early concept art. The reason for this is, I hope, clear enough.
“This is the ultimate, epic challenge,” Thacher told Polygon. “When we started the project, [we noted] there are many, many amazing VR lightsaber experiences. It’s great, but it’s very difficult to share them with people you care about, to be together, to experience the same things together.”
As Thacher describes it, the lightsaber training experience finally realized aboard the Galactic Battlestar is something of a compromise. It focuses on safety as everyone is looking ahead and the participants are not sparring with each other. The technology works; I can personally confirm this, and she said that thanks in no small part to legendary Disney designer Lanny Smoot who developed the concept almost ten years ago – before the Galactic Starcruiser even appeared on the drawing board. But it’s more like team building than a special effects extravaganza.
Your guide during your lightsaber training will be Saja, an actor portraying one of the descendants of the Will Guardians featured in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Stories. In fact, they are Force-sensitive refugees who have found a home aboard the Halcyon. Their message during lightsaber training is simple but powerful: It is our duty to protect each other, and together we are stronger than we are alone. Saja gives the experience its core and helps connect it to the larger storyline of the two-day immersive experience as a whole.
“Actors are so important,” Thacher said. “From the earliest game tests, they have all been with the actor. We are constantly working on this, because what you notice and how you feel about it depends a lot on what the technology of the room and the game part of the room tell you, [and] it’s about what that person is saying to you and how they direct your attention, change your experience. So this scenario and how they interact with you is so integral. We found that we couldn’t test them individually.”
From this point of view, learning how to use a lightsaber is only part of the whole. Saja leading you into this room seems as real as any other passenger on the ship. These are the ones you can talk to and play with during your stay. While these actors are backstage, the Play Disney Parks app takes over, allowing guests to use the Data Pad to reinforce lessons learned during training. The app can even help guests unlock unique stories, including additional Force training and even a visit Jedi Master Yoda himself.
However, for Star Wars fans burnt out by the uneven prequel trilogy or jaded at the prospect that they may never be able to afford the hotel’s roughly $5,000 price tag, this may seem like another disappointment.