If I could spend a half-hour looking at an accurate representation of what entertainment is going to look like in, say, fifty years, I imagine I would walk away equally dazzled and confused.
There is little doubt we are heading towards immersive entertainment, created in technical ways that we are just now beginning to see established or even suggested, and that the dream of the Star Trek holodeck is not an impossible one. This year's Sundance Film Festival featured some remarkable demonstrations of what various companies and artists are up to, and it really does feel like new ground being broken. These demonstrations weren't on the traditional movie screens, though, and there's nothing about the examples I saw demonstrated that I would consider typical entertainment.
However, it sounds like all of that is going to change, and the ILM x Lab demos were part of a bigger push going on at Lucasfilm. /Film talked to Rob Bredow, John Gaeta, and Diana Williams about the future, and they brought up plans to use Star Wars as one of the major testing grounds for bringing in “big name filmmakers” to work on virtual reality experiences that will not just supplement the theatrical and TV versions of Star Wars, but that should be designed to work on their own as well. What they were showing at Sundance was part of what will eventually be an exhibit at Disneyland, but they're nowhere near ready to deploy the technology. Right now, you can only make this sort of thing work for a handful of people at a time, and Disney attractions have to be able to shuffle thousands of people per hour through an attraction if it's going to work for them.
This is interesting because it feels to me like Star Wars is pretty much the perfect thing to drive the development of VR experiences. First, working with new tech is not cheap, and it'll take some serious resources to make this a reality. Second, part of the ongoing generational appeal of Star Wars is that people want to exist in that world. Giving them a chance to feel like they can literally step into the films and be surrounded by characters and iconography that they love would be a huge commercial win for Lucasfilm and Disney.
The main reason I feel like this is one of the properties best suited to VR expansions is because of the sheer scale of what's already been created, and the room that exists for new creations within that.There is no storytelling reason that Star Wars ever has to stop growing and changing and evolving now, and if VR allows interesting voices to expand the definition of what Star Wars is or can be, then I say bring it on. Can't get here soon enough.
The obvious downside here is that we could just get something like some weird bastard hybrid of movies and video games that will simply be an excuse to peddle familiar IP to us wrapped in new packages. Here's hoping that all the big brains they have working on this will try to find new ways to think about these tools instead of using them to simply pick our wallets clean.
In the meantime, there's plenty of groovy Star Wars stuff to enjoy at Disneyland right now, and they're underway on the expansion that should turn the Happiest Place On Earth into the Happiest Place A Long Time Ago In A Galaxy Far Far Away as well.