Review: Lenovo Star Wars: Jedi Challenges

I don't think it matters which Star Wars film you love the most, but I can be relatively sure that the first time you saw a lightsaber, you wanted one.

I've spent my life jonesing, play acting with credible recreations and bits of cardboard alike. Some of the prop replicas and toys you can buy are truly impressive, packing animated LEDs and even tiny speakers so you don't have to make your own whooshing sounds. But, it's still just a stick that lights up. You can't duel people unless you pony up for a custom-made combat saber and the blade only retracts if you detach it manually.

That's why I came away impressed by Disney and Lenovo's Star Wars: Jedi Challenges set. Using augmented reality technology, this toy provides a very fun lightsaber-wielding experience, especially considering its $200 price. The only catch? The brains of the system are powered by a smartphone, so you'll need to have a recent device to make it work.

These Are Your First Steps

Opening the box, I found myself thinking about when Rey found the legendary Skywalker lightsaber in Maz Kanata's basement. While I didn't transcend time and space in a Force-fueled flashback montage, pulling the Lenovo saber from the box still feels like you've uncovered an elegant weapon for a more civilized age.

The hilt is so, so well detailed. It's modeled closely off the actual prop used in the Star Wars saga. Nerds like me will know that the original saber was based on a Graflex camera flash, and this Bluetooth-connected controller is the spitting image. Granted, it feels a little plasticky and lacks heft but I think that probably makes it a more comfortable experience when swinging the hilt for longer bouts. Save for a little light-up rubber bit on the top of the saber, if you saw this hanging from a cosplayer's belt, you'd think nothing of it. It's so cool to hold and play with.

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The WIRED Guide to Star Wars

The headset is a more generic tech-y style—I can't quite imagine Yoda handing this grey plastic blob off to a padawan learner. It has outward-facing cameras and a pellicle mirror setup—one for each eye. I found the headset was comfortable enough, but swinging it around I could never get it to feel quite stable. It was either just a little too tight, but solid, or less constrictive but precariously loose. I got used to it after a while but it was still occasionally concerning when I whipped my neck around to defend against a new combatant or to see a part of the battlefield that was just out of sight.

That stuff aside, the worst aspect of this product is easily the tray system it uses to slide your phone into place. The plastic shell you snap your phone into is flimsy, and I found it difficult to get bigger phones—like Lenovo's own Motorola Moto Z2 Force—to line up just right with the hole the screen shines through. Worse than that, the Moto Z2 had its single speaker completely covered, muffling and diminishing the aural experience. I get that the tray system needed to support Android and iPhones of various shapes and sizes but, at least in my experience, the system works a lot better with an iPhone.

Sith Lords Are Our Speciality

Thankfully, the software, no matter which platform you prefer, is identical. Lenovo and Disney have done a terrific job at updating it, too, tweaking performance and adding new content. There have been updates to include levels and characters based on The Last Jedi but today, there's another update that'll add two-player mode. Using two Jedi Challenges sets and local Wi-Fi, you'll be able to school your friends…virtually, and without the loss of limbs.

Generally the lightsaber combat is good, but there's room for improvement. The sensors within the hilt detect minute gestures so you can deflect a stray blaster bolt fired your way. Defending yourself against opponents based on "force premonitions" (on-screen guidance telling you where to block) is intense at times, especially when you unlock tougher villains to fight. But, at times, the alignment between the hilt and the virtual blade gets all out of whack, and sometimes it comes right when you need to hit a target precisely. There's a button on the lightsaber that'll let you quickly reset the tracking, but it's a real bummer that this is a manual process.

For me, the lightsaber combat was enough that I didn't spend a whole lot of time in the app's other games, one a recreation of the famous Star Wars holochess game (known as dejarik to inhabitants of a galaxy far, far away) and a ground warfare/castle defense game. The software takes the entire saga into account, giving prequel, original, and sequel trilogy enthusiasts something that they'll love. You can even unlock different blade colors, which also changes the small nub of blade on the hilt with an RGB LED—so you'll be able to ignite a green or purple laser sword once you've advanced far enough.

Even taking its flaws into account, the Lenovo Jedi Challenges set would make an excellent gift for the budding Jedi in your life, assuming you have a compatible phone that's ready and compatible. Assuming the free software updates continue a bit longer, this is a product that'll only get better over time, making its $200 price a that much easier to justify. With full VR headsets like the Oculus Go hitting around the same price, this limited platform might not be for everyone, but AR has its advantages and the experiences Disney and Lenovo have come up with all use the tech wisely.

The first time your heart rate spikes when facing a tough-to-beat opponent in lightsaber combat, you might start to believe Han Solo's words from The Force Awakens—"The crazy thing is…it's true. The Force. The Jedi. All of it…it's all true."

Read more: https://www.wired.com/review/review-lenovo-star-wars-jedi-challenges/

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