This article contains major spoilers for the VR experience Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire and for the film Rogue One. If you have any interest in trying the VR experience out for yourself, I would recommend coming back to this at a later date. The story, and its surprises, are certainly worth experiencing fresh.
Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire is a VR-based experience that recently opened in Anaheim, Orlando, and London. The experience is powered by The Void, a company that blends virtual reality headsets with haptic feedback suits, body tracking, and physical environments to create unique, immersive storytelling. For Secrets, The Void partnered with ILMxLAB, a division of Lucasfilm that works with experimental technology. Additionally, the story told through the experience was created with the involvement of the Lucasfilm Story Group, and according to them, it’s canon.
Granted, it’s a softer sort of canon, as with other interactive stories such as video games, but the broader strokes of it are considered to be official entries into the Star Wars timeline. Lucasfilm has even teased that the story will have far-reaching implications in the larger Star Wars galaxy. Read on for what Secrets of the Empire has revealed, and how the experience fits into the Star Wars universe as we know it.
Secrets of the Empire opens not long before the events of Rogue One. Participants step into the role of rebel operatives contacted by intelligence officer Cassian Andor. Cassian has been tracking an Imperial shipment of extreme interest: a ship carrying a crate rumored to contain some kind of powerful weapon. Cassian is unable to intercept the ship himself, however, after the Rebel base he is at is discovered by Imperial forces. In his stead, he assigns five Rebel operatives, accompanied by K-2SO, to go undercover as Stormtroopers and track the shipment down.
The hunt leads to an Imperial facility on Mustafar, and the disguised Rebel operatives infiltrate the base. After they’re discovered, they’re forced to fight their way through the base to reach the objective. At the climax of the encounter, the crate’s contents are revealed: a lightsaber unlike any that we’ve seen before. The weapon has a blue blade, but in contrast to a traditional lightsaber’s more rounded blade, this one appears to have a sharper, pointed end, and a hilt more similar to a medieval broadsword.
Unfortunately, the Rebels are unable to obtain the weapon, just barely escaping with their lives. However, they do manage to extract valuable data about it, which they return to the Rebel Alliance for further analysis.
The most interesting link we can draw to the rest of the Star Wars canon is arguably in Rogue One, the film in which Cassian and K-2SO originally appeared.
At a certain point in that story, Cassian and Jyn Erso are searching through the Imperial archives on Scarif. During this sequence, Jyn rattles off several project code names. Three of these (Stellar Sphere, Mark Omega, and Pax Aurora) were later confirmed to be technology related to the Death Star. Three more however (War Mantle, Cluster Prism, Black Saber), have yet to be explored.
The latter is of particular interest where swords are concerned, and is also very likely related to an important relic in the Clone Wars and Rebels animated series: the Darksaber.
The Darksaber is a unique lightsaber that first appeared in the Clone Wars episode “The Mandalore Plot.” The weapon has a distinct, unusually shaped black blade surrounded by a white glow. It was created by a Jedi named Tarre Vizsla several millennia before the Prequel era of the Star Wars timeline, during the age of the Old Republic. This legendary Jedi was the first Mandalorian (a group that includes characters such as Jango Fett and Sabine Wren) to ever be inducted into the order.
After the fall of the Old Republic however, the weapon came into the possession of a Mandalorian faction called House Vizsla, who wielded it as a symbol of their power. Generations later during the Clone Wars, the Darksaber was held by a House Vizsla descendant named Pre Vizsla, who at one point used it to duel Obi-Wan Kenobi. However, the Darksaber changed hands again when Pre Vizsla was killed by Darth Maul, and it eventually made its way to the planet Dathomir.
In the animated series Rebels, the Darksaber reemerges, and is eventually wielded by Sabine Wren. She in turn passes it on to the Mandalorian leader of that era, Bo-Katan Kryze, who is the last known owner of the sword.
However, the weapon seen in Secrets of the Empire is definitely not the Darksaber. While the blades’ shapes share some similarities, this new lightsaber has a bluish color to it rather than the Darksaber’s black. The Darksaber’s distinctive white aura is also noticeably absent.
From here we veer into speculation territory. It’s possible that the weapon seen in Secrets of the Empire was based on Darksaber or lightsaber technology, but was an Imperial creation. Similar to the iconic piece of Ralph McQuarrie concept art from the early days of A New Hope’s production, perhaps some element of the Imperial leadership hoped to one day arm Stormtroopers with lightsaber-like weapons.
Clearly, this plan did not come to fruition during the Galactic Civil War; but it’s certainly worth noting that by the era of The Force Awakens, the First Order is utilizing several varieties of close-range weapons able to stand up to a lightsaber. In our brief glimpse of the Knights of Ren, they also appear to be holding an assortment of non-lightsaber weapons.
This idea has precedent. In Rogue One, Jyn also stumbles across an Imperial research file on “hyperspace tracking,” a technology that finally comes to fruition decades later during the events of The Last Jedi.
It’s possible that “Black Saber” was likewise an Imperial project that was finally completed by the First Order; perhaps it was research into lightsabers, and how to combat them should a Jedi threat arise again. And perhaps we will soon see them on the big or small screen.