We’re still a few months out from the December 15th premiere of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.” But the hype begins now.
On Friday, September 1, Disney held “Force Friday II,” the official kickoff for the wave of “The Last Jedi” merchandise and marketing that will carry us through the holiday season. The original “Force Friday,” held for 2015’s “The Force Awakens,” was just one day; this second go-around lasted from September 1-3.
First off, Disney is doing some very nifty things with augmented reality — the technology for combining digital imagery with the real world — to bring the “Star Wars” universe to life all over the world.
Second, prepare for a deluge of new “Star Wars” action figures, droids, drones, and other goodies. That includes a $US199 augmented reality headset, developed by Disney and Lenovo, that serves as an amazing example of what Apple thinks could be the next big thing in computing.
But enough talk. You want to hear more about “Star Wars.” Here we go.
Disney kicked off 'Force Friday II' by officially marking the beginning of the hype cycle for 'Star Wars: The Last Jedi.' To celebrate, you'll be able to use the 'Star Wars' app to see Imperial Star Destroyers hovering over world-famous landmarks. Check it out.
I'm just gonna start with my favourite thing. This is 'Jedi Challenges,' a $US199 headset that Disney developed in conjunction with Lenovo. It projects the world of 'Star Wars' all around you, using what Silicon Valley types call 'augmented reality.'
In the demo I tried, it let you challenge Kylo Ren to a lightsaber duel, using the controller to block his blade and strike back. The battle is projected over the real world, giving the illusion that Kylo is in the room with you. It's neat, and it works well, apart from a few glitches where the system lost track of where I was holding my saber.
Beyond lightsaber battling, 'Jedi Challenges' offers a tactical mode that casts you as a Resistance general, ordering troops into battle against the evil First Order. Better yet, it also includes the Holochess game made famous in 'Star Wars: A New Hope.'
You need an Android or iPhone to make it work. Slide your phone into the headset, place the purple glowing beacon on the ground in front of you, pick up the lightsaber, and you're officially a Jedi, like your father before you. The headset will be available by the holiday shopping season.
Sphero, the makers of 2015's hit BB-8 app-controlled droid, is back at it again with the $US149 BB-9E -- marking the debut of a new, evil droid in the 'Star Wars' universe.
Sphero is also launching a $US179 R2-D2, also controlled with your phone. It can emote, too, including a cute little routine where it shakes and falls over like a Jawa shocked it.
Away from the smartphone, Hasbro is preparing its usual lineup of 'Star Wars: The Last Jedi' action figures for launch later in the US fall. Fortunately, the women of the 'Star Wars' universe are well-represented, with our hero Rey joined by new characters Rose and Paige.
These toys have a high-tech twist, too. Hasbro is selling the 'Force Link,' a $US25 child-sized armband. If you hold any of the new 'Last Jedi' action figures, vehicles, or playsets, they make appropriate noises. So Rey makes lightsaber sounds...
And speaking of spaceships. Drone company Propel is releasing these neat, palm-sized 'Star Wars' combat drones for $US179 each, starting later this year.
What makes them combat drones? Well, they can fly around and shoot at each other with (harmless) laser beams. If you shoot the other ship (or ships) a few times, they float to a landing for a few seconds. A smartphone app keeps score. And sorry about the motion blur, but these suckers can move: Each one hits a top speed of about 21km/h.
These drones come in a variety of styles, from the legendary X-Wing to TIE Fighters and Imperial speeder bikes.
And then there's littleBits, a Disney-backed startup that makes Lego-like kits that make it easy for kids to get started with basic robotics. LittleBits is now selling a $US99 'Droid Inventor Kit,' which lets kids build their own, functional R2-D2...
...and then encourages them to customise it with parts they can find around the home. It can follow pre-set patrol paths, spin the 'drill' on its chest, or make a ruckus when it detects an intruder (or a sibling).
And while you're at the store to pick this stuff up, Disney has another augmented reality surprise up its sleeve. Retailers including Best Buy and Target have special posters you can scan with the 'Star Wars' app, and then use to take selfies with virtual versions of the classic characters.
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