Get a large group of people together at an event with even the faintest whiff of commercial underpinnings, and you're going to get some fascinating promotional events. Whether it's the Bates Motel at SXSW or the annual flood of tie-ins at Comic-Con, they're an opportunity for companies to hawk their wares by creating one-of-a-kind experiences that will get audiences talking.
But here's the dirty little secret: sometimes they're also pretty fun, and here at Star Wars Celebration, EA has a booth in place to promote its upcoming game Star Wars: Battlefront. In what they're calling "The X-Wing Experience," attendees wait in an insanely long line, after which they strap on X-Wing pilot gear and sit down into a cockpit mock-up, complete with working switches, lights, and a control stick. A screen in front of you plays through the dogfighting sequence from the new Battlefront trailer, and you can lean and move in time with the playback, creating the sense of being in the battle. There's also a camera mounted in the cockpit, so when you're done the footage is cut into an abbreviated version of the trailer itself — which the EA staff kindly asks you to share on your social networks with the appropriate hashtag, of course.
I had to try it immediately.
Did it feel like I was really piloting the X-Wing? Not really. The path was preset, the cockpit itself didn't move, and the sequence wasn't nearly long enough to create a feeling of true immersion. But it was an X-Wing, dammit. I was wearing that familiar helmet, and as the cockpit slid shut I couldn't help but feel like Oscar Isaac's Poe Dameron, Yahoo!-ing inside the fighter at the sheer thrill of it all.
The experience was almost over before I knew it, and when I received the trailer, I was a little disappointed to discover that my brief bit of improvisation — "R2, try and increase the power!" — didn't make the cut. But that didn't change the fact that for 20 seconds or so, I achieved the goals of my eight-year-old self.
I flew an X-Wing.