The experience of playing Star Wars: Tales from the Galaxy’s Edge is as simple as slipping on an Oculus Quest headset, and opening your eyes to discover you’ve been transported into your own story on the remote planet Batuu. But creating that kind of seamless, immersive world is anything but simple, requiring the collaborative efforts of dozens of ILMxLAB animators, creative directors, engineers, story specialists, performers, and virtual reality experts.
In this three-part series, we’ll take a look at the creation of ILMxLAB’s latest project. Featuring interviews with numerous members of the creative and production team, these are the tales behind Tales.
Using Seezelslak’s cantina as a hub in Star Wars: Tales from the Galaxy’s Edge was not only about providing a central location for players to hang out, play some Repulsor Darts, or check out the view of Black Spire Outpost. It was also about devising a platform for anthological stories, set anytime and anywhere in the Star Wars galaxy.
With Seezelslak’s Tales, players are able to get on the bartender’s good side, and when he spins one of his yarns they’ll step into the role of the protagonist and live out the story themselves. Early on, the team decided that the very first story would be the legend of a corrupted Jedi Temple and a Jedi Padawan named Ady Sun’Zee: Temple of Darkness.
As ILMxLAB worked closely with the Lucasfilm Story Group, the development of Ady Sun’zee was shaped by the fact that her story would be set during The High Republic. A previously unexplored era of Star Wars storytelling, The High Republic takes place hundreds of years before the events of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, at a time when the Galactic Republic and Jedi Order were at their zenith. “That informed a lot of who she would be,” says Lucasfilm creative executive Matt Martin.
Writer Ross Beeley felt the weight of introducing a character into a brand new era of Star Wars storytelling. “She could be scared, but also had to show resolve,” he says of the new Padawan. “She could give in to anger a little, but also had to learn the power of peace. But it’s in how she handles these challenges where we really found her voice.”
Ady also needed to be a problem solver. “She’s not being driven by arrogance, a need to prove herself, or anger at the situation,” says Martin. “It was really important that we maintained The High Republic tone of the Jedi as truly selfless heroes. Even though Ady experiences a dark situation, we wanted to make sure that she would rise above all that and be able to continue on.”
The extraordinary in the ordinary
With the lead character of Temple of Darkness in place, the team looked to the character that players would inhabit in the main storyline of the experience. In ILMxLAB’s award-winning Vader Immortal: A Star Wars VR Series, players stepped into the role of a smuggler with latent Force abilities who discovers they’re part of a legendary lineage. For Tales from the Galaxy’s Edge, the team explored using similar archetypes, before realizing that Star Wars is often the story of ordinary people being swept up into extraordinary events.
Taking that as a thematic touchstone, the creative team crafted a story around a seemingly ordinary character: a former resident of Batuu that was finally able to get off-world, and now works as a droid repair technician. As players find out, however, the technician’s day becomes anything but ordinary as Guavian Death Gang pirates attack, eager to find cargo that is being hunted by the First Order.
Tools of the trade
Along with fitting with the larger themes of the project, using a droid repair technician as the lead character also gave the team the opportunity to design the many tools that someone in that position might use. Whether it’s a multi-purpose tool called an All-Kit, the wrist-mounted DataGrip that payers use to scan items and receive transmission, or the remote droids that can repaired in the heat of battle, the devices give the player an even more intimate idea of what it would be like to live day-to-day in Star Wars.
“In virtual reality, even seemingly mundane tasks like picking up parts around a cargo ship are interesting,” says lead experience designer John Nguyen. Along with fellow lead experience designer Ian Bowie, Nguyen focuses on creating fun and engaging mechanics that players use throughout their adventures, playing a critical role in crafting the player’s experience.
Within the narrative of the story, the technician character works for Mubo, the Utai owner of Black Spire Outpost’s Droid Depot at Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. Incorporating the character seemed like a natural fit because he was already embedded into the lore of Batuu, giving players a reference point that easily linked the VR experience with the parks themselves.
Mubo is voiced by Matthew Wood, who reprised his role from Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, while also serving as voice-over director on the project, bringing his decades of experience and enthusiasm to Tales. “Wood’s energy is infectious,” says Nguyen.
That energy endeared Mubo to the creative team. Animation lead Jen Cha enjoyed working on Mubo more than any other character in the experience. “We created ‘working’ activities for him to do while he waits for you to purchase items in the Depot,” says Cha. “It was a highlight to think up goofy interactions which set the mood of the environment, and also further defines his fun personality.”
“Mubo and his droid companion R00-8Y fit into Star Wars in the best way,” explains production manager Sarah Barrick. “Even though he is supposed to be your boss, you just want to be his best friend.”
There are great adventures to be had with Mubo on Batuu. But the best part about bringing this story to virtual reality, according to the team, is the ability to revisit Black Spire Outpost in person in the future.
“Being friends and helping these characters compliments and brings a new depth to your park-going experience,” says Bowie. “Now when I go to the Droid Depot, having made friends with Mubo, it’s like visiting my friend’s shop. I have a personal context and story at the parks in a whole new way”
Working with icons
As the project evolved, two Star Wars legends also joined the cast. Anthony Daniels, reprising his role at C-3PO, and Frank Oz, as Jedi Master Yoda, became key creative collaborators in the process.
“Anthony Daniels really elevated our project with his deep-rooted understanding of C-3PO, and his fun-loving attitude and kindness,” says director Jose Perez III. “Having the real Threepio made all the difference.”
Working with Oz to bring Yoda to virtual reality during an entirely new era provided its own unique insights, as the team dug into the subtext of each of the Jedi Master’s lines during recording.
“Yoda’s character has a lot of weight and history. We needed to make sure we’re staying as true to that as possible, and Frank was there to make sure that was happening,” says Perez. In conversations with Oz, the ILMxLAB team learned that he felt that Yoda’s character was about one word — struggle. The struggle of being old, the struggle of being wary, and the struggle of living through generations of battles, constantly pushing for the right thing.
“There’s something really beautiful about this idea that it’s not always easy to do the right thing,” says Perez. “That manifests in Yoda, in the way he walks and talks because that’s something he’s always doing: striving to do the right thing.”