I’ve got a good feeling about this: Secrets of the Empire virtual experience

The Imperials know we’re coming, somehow. Or at least they suspect something is amiss. We cannot bring our weapons and we’re ordered to head straight for an inspection.

I’m not used to wearing a stormtrooper armour, and I can tell neither of my teammates is either. As the ship’s doors open, we can feel the heat of the lava and smell the smoke that permeates the air of Mustafar.

I take a first, hesitant step onto the skiff that will carry me over the lava and into the uncertainty. “I have a bad feeling about this,” I say quietly to my companions, because well, somebody has to. I know the rules of the universe, after all.

We’re in a Star War.

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To be exact, this is Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire, created by Lucasfilm, ILMxLAB, and The VOID, and immersive virtual reality experience which has you play a part of a rebel operative infiltrating an Imperial base on Mustafar in search of an ominous cargo.

Set sometime before Rogue One and A New Hope, the story is grounded by the presence of familiar faces, like Captain Cassian Andor of Rebel Intelligence, who sends you on the mission, accompanied by his trusty droid, K2SO. There are hints at a larger story and another amazing (and terrifying) appearance from a well-known character, and the mission itself *feels* like Star Wars, which is the highest compliment you can give, honestly.

I’m not a great fan of virtual reality experiences in general. The visors and the whole technical set-up usually pulls me right out of the narrative, and the images give me vertigo. This time however, there were no negative effects whatsoever, and the clever concept of the story means that the helmet and the vest you’re wearing enhance your immersion – you are, after all, moving around in a Stormtrooper’s heavy armour, it’s supposed to feel unfamiliar and strange and restrictive.

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The whole experience is incredibly tactile. As you move room to room, you encounter puzzles and elements of the base you are supposed to interact with, and there’s an indescribable joy in everything, even pulling a simple lever to make an elevator go. Solving a very simple memory game grows into a whole experience when K2 insults you every time you make a mistake (I flubbed at least three times on purpose, because he was hilarious. Apologies to my teammates, who were watching my back and shooting troopers to buy me time to solve it. It was worth it though.)

The whole experience takes about twenty minutes (well, more like thirty if you’re accidentally-on-purpose bad at solving the codes, I suppose), but feels much longer, feels like a whole action film package. It also feels like not nearly long enough, but you can always go through it again – I have, four times, and it was damn thrilling on every repeat.

There’s a sequence near the end – SPOILERS for those who want to experience it yourselves, skip this paragraph – there’s a sequence that’s going to make you not only feel like you’re living Star Wars, it’s gonna make you think you’re gonna die in Star Wars, too. Once you get to the cargo, the item you were after suddenly jumps into the air on its own and floats into a darkened corridor. And you know what’s coming, you knew damn well since you stepped onto the skiff on Mustafar, and you’ve seen this scene play out in Rogue One, the hapless rebels taken out one by one. And now you’re a hapless rebel, armed with a blaster against the power of the Dark Side, and you can practically feel the buzzing heat of the lighstaber get closer… That alone was worth the thirty quid for the ticket and the plane trip it took to get to London. It doesn’t get more Star Wars than that.

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Secrets of the Empire will probably appeal to anyone who’s a fan of video games, who’s interested in virtual reality, or who just likes fun new experiences. But if you’ve been in this fight since you were six years old, if you’ve played X-wing pilots on the playground, and made astromechs out of trashcans, this is going to be the thrill ride of your life.

I cannot quite get over how we get to live in the future, basically, where the technology allows you to experience Star Wars in visceral, tangible ways. I mean sure, I’ve been dressing like I’m a smuggler-turned-rebel-intelligence for years now (if that sounds oddly specific, it damn right is – her name was Noelia Gin, she was my first Mary Sue, and if the Galaxy’s Edge allows you to pick your own name for the whole LARPing experience, I’m making my ten-year-old self proud) but now I can own a droid who responds to gestures and voice commands, I can practice the ways of the Force with a replica lightsaber, and I can apparently inflitrate an Imperial base and smell the lava.

My ten-year-old self is freaking out.

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Geek fashion postscript: I wore Musterbrand’s Cassian Andor’s jacket the first day and Her Universe’s Leia’s Hoth vest the second, and both were definitely clocked by people in the queue. Special shout out to the girl wearing the Rey jacket ahead of me and the girl showing off her Loungefly R2 bag. Fandom fashion definitely brings people together 😀

Road to Celebration – vlog edition

For the past few weeks I have been preparing for (and panicking about) Star Wars Celebration. While it’s not the first Celebration I will be going to – I did go to London last year – it is definitely my first big US convention and a Transatlantic trip is a little more complicated than just a two-hour journey to the UK.

You can watch me flail about the journey and the preparations for it over on YouTube, and I will be chronicling the whole trip both on the channel and across social media, if you want to follow along the trip.

Also, if you are going to Celebration, please find me and say hi.

 

In which I overthink cosplay:

 

Some lessons I’ve learned in London and some tips I gathered from others:

 

Before Celebration, I’m visiting Disney World for the first time ever:

A year in the life

Summarizing 2016 is more or less a string of four-letter words at this point, but one of the positive aspects of this year, for me, was discovering and enjoying geeky fashion.

Part of it, for me, was gaining access, through travel and increased resources, to what is out there. Part of it was the veritable explosion in the recent times of well made, cute, and mostly affordable geeky fashion for women and girls.

Just a couple years ago geek apparel were “unisex” shirts, which let’s face it, meant men’s shirts, and a handful of things on etsy. Her Universe was a first breakthrough in that regard, but still not at all helpful to those outside of the US – shipping was unavailable or horrendously priced when done through shipping companies.

(Shipping and geographical licenses are still a pain in the ass and I’m yearning for some of the stuff from the Disney Store, alas, there’s an improvement.)

Personally, the three geeky fashion milestones for me were: the premiere of The Force Awakens (for the first time in a really long while I really wanted to cosplay), the New York trip (with my first visit to a thinkgeek retail store and a haul of jewellery, including the Love and Madness crawl bracelet I fell in love with so hard), and Star Wars Celebration Europe.

After that, there was no return, pretty much.

So, here are my highlights of the year, in no particular order, illustrated by this year’s instagram memories.

 

  1. Discovering Cosplay and DIY, first inspired by Rey, and then including various small projects. Definitely something I need to continue in 2017.

 

 

 

2. Elhoffer Design – I have already written about my obsession with Catherine’s designs, but it’s worth repeating, even though I think everyone with interest in geeky fashion is already well aware. Every time I get the blue package in the mail it’s a cause for celebration. It started with the dresses, including her Galactic collection, and continued with super fashionable and cute cardigans, and comfy sweaters. I saw some of the things he has planned for 2017 and I am seriously considering just telling my work to send her the majority of my paycheck, because holy hell.

 

 

3. Jordandene – comfortable, geeky, and understated unless people are in the know, these tops are some of my fave items purchased this year, and I have my eye on a couple more in the upcoming days. Seriously, so cute and so comfy.

 

 

4. Bags, omg. My approach to bags used to be: find a comfortable large one that fits my laptop and all the tons of electronics I haul every day, couple of books, and everyday necessities, and then carry it around until it wears out or something in it breaks. Thanks to geeky fashion purses from Loungefly and Bioworld, not to mention a collection of Bags of Holding from thinkgeek, now I actually match the bag to the outfit.

I know, groundbreaking!

(by the way, PLEASE start shipping internationally, Loungefly)

 

5. Speaking of my constant struggle for shipping internationally: EMP. If you’re in Europe and bemoan shipping costs daily, check them out. They carry a lot of stuff, including Hot Topic merch and recently some Musterbrand items, and the shipping doesn’t cost you an arm and a leg. Also, the customer service department (the Polish side, at least), has been nothing short of a dream to deal with, 11/10 recommend those guys.

 

6. Jewellery, with special mention to The Love and Madness, who not only contributed to starting me off on this spiral, but also produced one of my all time favourite items ever, the opening crawl wrap bracelet. I own it in gold and steel now, and can’t wait for the ESB edition.

 

 

7. I’ve mentioned Musterbrand before, and they’re one of my definite faves this year: perfect for everyday wear, really stylish, well made, undeniably geeky, and moreover: Europe based, with really affordable shipping.

 

 

8. Irregular Choice shoes – another one of the brands probably everyone knows by now, but which was a revelation to me, with truly unique shoes. I pine after the Disney shoes, but the Star Wars ones were a simple must have, I even went hunting on e-bay for the now sold out Han&Leia flats, they’re probably in the top ten of things I’ve ever owned.

 

 

9. Figuring out my selfie angle 😉 – A really fortunate side effect of documenting my outfits, I have figured out how to hold my phone while taking photos, at long last.

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(featuring Elhoffer design’s Dark Galactic Scavenger dress and Her Universe Christmas Ahsoka pin, light of my life.)

 

10. Last, but definitely not least, the community on instagram, twitter, and everywhere around the web of extremely creative, amazing women, who share their love for geeky fashion and fandoms. I will inevitably forget someone amazing, but apart from the amazing women behind the brands mentioned before, shoutouts to Galactic Fashion podcast, The Kessel Runway, Fashionably Nerdy, The Dorky Diva, Courtoon, Creatively Lori, Anakin and His Angel, and The Stylish Geek. You all leave me in awe.

 

 

It suits you

Star Wars has always been a treasure trove of iconic outfits, and coming out of The Force Awakens I was pretty sure the Poe/Finn/Rey travelling sisterhood jacket was going to be an instant classic. I also knew I wanted one.

Since I have no breaks and I *really* like the jacket, I now have three.

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The first one is a replica jacket from fjackets.com – it’s only in men’s sizes, and I ordered an M purposefully, so it’d be a bit bigger and I could wear it as a part of my Rey costume, for those couple of minutes she wore the jacket.

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It’s a little lighter than it looks in the website photo, and a bit heavy and stiff, but definitely looks like a real deal and is made in high quality.

Soon after, Her Universe and Hot Topic made their everyday inspired-by version, similar to a lot of other pieces they make: not a cosplay or replica in any way, but more of an everyday cosplay thing.

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I love this piece so much – I wore it for months everywhere, until it got way too cold for it (and maybe a little bit after that too). The red pieces and the sleeves are the most indentifying marks, but there is a clear connection to SW added by the giant red rebel logo on the back. I keep going back and forth on the logo, on one hand I love the logo and everything rebellion, but on the other hand this makes it into more of a our-world-merch than inside-universe clothing, if you know what I mean.

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That said, it’s quite probably one of my absolute top items of clothing I own and I definitely recommend it 300%.

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And then there’s the Welovefine jacket, a replica that you can definitely wear everyday. So far it’s offered in men’s sizes only, but when did that ever stop me.

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I got a size S and it fits perfectly. This one combines the best of the other two: it’s more of a screen replica, but also is comfortable and I definitely would wear it as an everyday item and not just a cosplay thing. it also has large, comfortable pockets capable of fitting my phone. With this one I think I came close enough to the original jacket, but all of these have their purpose and I love all of them.

 

(Photose from Fjackets, Hot Topic, and Welovefine, cover photo by Karina Graj)

 

 

Rogue One, standing by

Rogue Friday came and went and I am equally enthused and frustrated, which is the regular occurence for a Polish fangirl, apparently. (Or indeed probably most non-US based fans.)

Because as much as I love the merch, and I did indeed splurge on all the funkos and most of the Elite series, a lot of fashion items are sadly, once again, not available internationally unless you resort to tactics like shipping companies or buy-for-me services.

The biggest disappointment is the Her Universe line, exclusive to Disney Parks. Some of the items are available through the Disney Parks shopping up or in the US Disney store, but not shipped internationally, so no luck there. It’s particularly disappointing considering that Her Universe is based on the idea of geek inclusivity, bringing geek clothing to those who have long been deprived of options – the company spearheaded the geek fashion movement a couple years back.

But not this time, unless you live in the country with a Disney Park and can afford the trip. I hold on to hope that the Death Star dress and other items might still be available when I’m in Orlando in April next year for the Celebration, but this might not be the case. And is also beside the point…

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Her Universe is also one of the very few companies that cater to women only, which makes the disappointment at the exlusivity even more acute. In companies like WeLoveFine or Fifth Sun, men’s designs vastly outnumber the women’s items. To be honest, I’m greatly curious about the actual sales reason behind it, as I see women online getting excited about every single shirt or dress design, retweeting madly… I get that the so-called unisex shirts probably sell well, since women buy them as well (so do I, though I usually upcycle them later to make the form better fitting), but seriously? The difference in numbers of men’s and women’s items is astounding.

On the brighter side, one of my favourite women’s lines for Rogue One are the Bioworld bags and accessories, featuring backpacks, dome bags, crossbody bags, purses, wallets and furry pom-poms. I have actually blindly ordered a number of items before the images were even revealed and I am so happy with my choices. The dome bag is my personal favourite, but I am generally in love with all of them, especially with the new rebellion color scheme: gone is the X-wing pilot orange (as much as I liked it, it was a bit loud for everyday wear), instead we get grays and navys and dark greens, all with the well known rebel logo. I love everything about them (and the tv and movie store ships internationally thank gods).

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The hero of my Rogue Friday turned out to be the EMP store. (link to the Polish site, but there’s a version for most European countries). They offer a wide range of Rogue One apparel, still skewed towards men’s items, but with enough of women’s clothing to satisfy me. While most shirts follow the simplest of designs and sadly won’t match HerUniverse for cuteness, some of the items, like the Deathtrooper shirt, are ace. I’m not usually one for the Imperial side, but I gave in and got one, it’s too great.

 

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All in all, the Rogue One shopping was a bit of a letdown. It was to be expected there’d be less merchandise available than for TFA Force Friday, but the international availability of items is laughable. I understand that a lot of it has to do with the licenses given, but I don’t get the reasoning for it – it’s not like there’s competition locally who possess the licenses for the franchise? So, what gives.

Dress to impress

A friend asked my recently, after perusing my instagram, if my wardrobe is now composed of only Star Wars items. The estimate is fair if not quite accurate: within the items I own, it’d be like 40%, items I wear on a daily basis, probably closer to 80%.

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But my absolute favourite pieces right now all come from Elhoffer Design – where Catherine Elhoffer designs masterpieces of geek fashion inspired by a variety of fandoms and characters. You can find some of her pieces on Etsy, including all three Star Wars dresses, or on Instagram, where she posts about her custom designs you can and should drool over.

The dresses run a bit high end and a cost of a custom made piece might be challenging (worth it), especially when including shipping and customs (damn customs) if you’re not in the US. But the incentive for the timing of this text is that Catherine just put her Hogwarts sweaters in the etsy store for pre-order, and they’re not only affordable but also the absolute cutest. Look at this damn little badger:

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(I am a Ravenclaw through and through but look how cute this Puff is! Look at it!)

There’s a number of great things about the dresses – apart from how cute they are.

First, most of them are everyday wearables, while at the same time clearly evoking the fandom of choice for those in the know. I might not be able to wear my Hamilton coat dress everyday to work (idk, I might yet try, because damn), but nobody blinks twice at the Rey dress except to compliment it.

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Second, high quality, incredibly comfortable materials. I’ve spent a hectic day at Star Wars Celebration Europe wearing the X-wing pilot dress, queueing the entire day, running around to get to panels on time, carrying a shitload of stuff, half sleeping on a concrete floor – nothing out of place, perfectly comfortable and soft, not a wrinkle either.

All the dresses also have pockets, which if you’re like me, is alone worth at least half the price (huge pockets, too, my small tablet-sized phone fits comfortably there).

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Also worth mentioning – Catherine is the coolest and the nicest, seriously, ordering the customised Hamilton dress was perfect and she’s just the best. (Don’t take me at my word, give her a follow on one of her social media accounts and you’ll see for yourself.)

Also, there’s a small devoted community around the dresses already – I’ve met a number of people at SWCE wearing her Star Wars designs and we all just geeked out over the dresses, it was the greatest. Even had an impromptu dinner with one of the girls who walked up to me to ask if I was wearing ‘an Elhoffer’.

There’s more and more fantastic geeky dresses around (Her Universe reminds a fave, if only they shipped to Poland! *shakes fist*), but for perfectly fitting, customised pieces definitely check out Elhoffer Design.

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Girl’s best friends

The best way to dress up an outfit is with the right accessories, and I have gone mad for geek jewellery. I started with a few pieces picked up on Etsy and a couple things bought at conventions, mostly at the hand-made stalls.

I got crafty, too, especially with earrings- I repurposed atwo Les Mis charm bracelets into a set, had a friend make me a couple of handpainted ones, and even tried my hand at a little DIY and made felt Batman earrings myself (I am terrible at arts and crafts).

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Choosing the right jewellery is the easiest way to make an everyday outfit fandom-specific. Choose the right colors for the clothes and add a necklace evoking your character of choice and it all comes together. And the jewellery options range from vaguely inspired to screen-identical replicas.

(One of my earliest pieces of geek jewellery and merchandise was the Arwen Evenstar necklace replica I paid with four months of my pocket money.)

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And while I still traverse Etsy, there are many other options – some of my jewellery comes from my monthly delivery of mystery boxes, from Loot For Her, through the Bookish Box, to the Owl Crate and occasional others.

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The biggest part of my collection is, unsurprisingly, Star Wars related. While I can’t quite find them in Poland and international companies either don’t ship here or charge an arm and a leg for the postage, I did go a bit crazy on my last US trip and bought out the thinkgeek store in New York and every jewellery piece they had at the Star Wars Costumes exhibit – I have no regrets, though my wallet still cries a bit at night.

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That trip yielded my absolute favourite piece, which is the Love and Madness opening crawl wrap bracelet. It’s a gorgeous piece containing the entire opening of A New Hope – it comes in three colour variants (mine is gold on black, though I’m lusting after the other two). You could feasibly wear it as a necklace or a belt as well, but it also pairs amazingly with my other fave piece: the ‘a long time ago’ ring.

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(As you can see on the photo, my bracelet has a little flaw: two of the word blocks are upside down, but I love it for its quirks too ;)).

One thing I definitely need more of are rings, but I’m wary of shopping for them online: the ring sizes confuse me something awful, and I have three different rings in the same size and they definitely don’t fit the same – if I can’t try it on, I’m probably not gonna buy it.

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(I would make an exception for this Millenium Falcon ring from Bioworld though, if I didn’t have it yet, because it’s just the best. I imagine this is what people call a statement piece, and also, I have a soft spot for a ring that looks like you could punch somebody’s lights out with. I feel like Han would approve.)

So, what are your favourite geek jewellery pieces? Did you make any yourself?

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