Lenovo and Disney recently partnered to deliver a unique experience based on a franchise that only people living under rocks haven’t heard of. Called Star Wars: Jedi Challenges, it mixes a familiar George Lucas experience with recent technologies, namely augmented reality and the presence of being inside a headset to interact with content. You simply download an app to your phone (Android or iOS), pop your device inside the headset, and connect a Lightsaber. Sounds cool, right?
In a nutshell, the Jedi Challenges AR experience is one of the coolest experiences you’ll ever have with technology in this day and age. The only problem is how long it’ll take you to adopt it. Let me explain.
Let’s start with what you get in the box. There’s the headset itself, a Lightsaber controller, a tracking beacon that sits on the floor and takes AA batteries, three different cables for connecting your specific type of phone with the headset itself (USB-C, microUSB, and Lightning), and a microUSB charger for charging both the headset and Lightsaber. There’s a tray within the headset you place your phone in and slide back into the viewer which then uses half-mirrors to reflect your device’s screen into a viewer that’s one-way transparent. With this unique way of projecting images, it literally looks like holograms are out in front of you, as if you’re battling Droids in the real world.
There are points before every battle that you need to fire up your Lightsaber. Pressing what the game calls your Activation Matrix on the Lightsaber illuminates the controller on the game and makes you feel like Luke Skywalker. Tracking your Lightsaber’s movement works okay, although when you swinging the controller around a lot trying to slice up your opponents, the actual light part of the saber can require resyncing.
The entire experience within the game, without a doubt, is fantastic. After getting all of your equipment set up, you walk through a tutorial that helps you get to know your Lightsaber and how to face off in combat. There’s three modes present in the experience: you can battle Stormtroopers, Battle Droids, and Sith Lords in one, play Holochess in another, and defend a designated territory in the last one. All three experiences use the tracking beacon you place on the floor to make it look like holograms illuminate from the magenta bubble on the ground. It’s really quite awesome.
It’s worth noting that after a while, your phone will get really warm from having its screen on and being housed inside a headset. Your battery will also deplete faster than you may like, so be sure to have your charger handy for when you’re finished. Also, the headset and Lightsaber should last you a good while before you have to recharge them. I experience around 5 hours of play time from each accessory which was enough for a fun time.
As if there wasn’t a more perfect setting to try this kit during, I set up Jedi Challenges for my family over the Chrismas holiday and let them all take a swing at battling some Droids. Unsurprisingly, all of them loved it. I have to say, I think my mother had the most fun playing the game. Her only gripe with it was that the headset (which is quite comfortable and isn’t too heavy, by the way) would mess up her hair. Other than that, she had no complaints.
Unfortunately, I have more complains than she does about this experience. While actually playing the games on Jedi Challenges is super fun and feels futuristic, there’s too much work that goes into setting this experience up.
—– AND NOW, A STORY —–
Take Christmas Eve for example. On Christmas Eve, I planned to set up the game for my family at about 2:30 in the afternoon. I had pulled out my headset, Lightsaber, and tracking beam from their box and loaded up the app on the Moto Z2 Force Lenovo loaned me. I had previously used the phone with the headset on the day I received the product, so I didn’t think I would have any problems with it.
I loaded up the app, got the correct cable and plugged it into both my phone and headset, slid the tray in, hit a button on the Lightsaber, and – nothing. Absolutely nothing happened next. The phone told me it was searching for a connection between it and the headset and to make sure the headset had power. Since the experience worked before with the same phone, I figured the headset must’ve died. So I plugged it in for a couple of hours to see what would happen.
After it sat for a couple of hours (now 4:30 in the afternoon), I decided to plug my phone back into the headset and load up the app again. After hitting a button on the Lightsaber, I was greeted by the same message that the phone was searching for a headset signal. I couldn’t pinpoint exactly what was wrong here. I thought maybe it was the cable or something, but it indeed wasn’t as you’ll learn at the end of this story.
It’s now about 5 PM and all I want to do is have a good time with my family. I fell to desperate attempts to try and get the experience back up and running so I erased the app from my Z2 Force and tried reinstalling it. I once again walked through the experience of setting my display’s brightness, turning up my volume, connecting the Lightsaber over Bluetooth, finding the right cable, connecting it to my phone and headset, sliding my phone into the tray and back into the headset, and aligning the screen to work properly with the mirrors. That’s a mouthful in itself, so to be greeted by the same “Searching for signal…” message again was discouraging.
At this point, I figured I’d just give up. But then it hit me. During my first time setting up the experience a few weeks ago, I remembered I had to enable some type of USB devices setting within Android. A prompt had originally asked me if I wanted to enable it which, yes, you have to in order for the headset to talk to your phone. For some reason, it wasn’t popping up anymore on my phone, and after the various times I tried resetting the app, I couldn’t get it to appear anymore.
Finally, after must frustration and hitting the 5:30 PM mark on Christmas Eve, I decided to download the same Jedi Challenges app to my Pixel 2 XL to see what would happen. I followed the same setup routine to get everything working, and low and behold, the USB devices prompt popped up on my screen. I graciously accepted, plugged my phone in, slid it into the headset’s tray, and presto, everything worked.
At this point, it was nearing 6 PM and got difficult to convince everyone again to play. Luckily, my family loves me so they all went along with it. But whereas I was hoping to at least enjoy around two hours of use with everyone, we only played for about 25 minutes because dinner was ready.
Now look. I realize not everyone is gonna have this experience with the Jedi Challenges AR kit. in fact, it could be the complete opposite of what I just wrote. You could have nothing but fun both setting it up and actually playing it. I have to admit, I agree with the latter point since when everything does work, the experience can’t be beaten because it feels so cool and futuristic. But if you even have one small problem while trying to get everything to work, it’ll probably snowball into something worse that could take hours to resolve.
I’m not saying don’t buy the Jedi Challenges kit because I had a bad experience. I’m just saying that if you do drop the $200 on the headset, Lightsaber, and all, prepare to potentially have some struggles in getting it up and running.
Regardless, if you’ve ever wanted to battle the bad guys in Star Wars in real life, this is the closest you’ll ever get.