Headset lets you become a Jedi, wield a lightsaber in augmented reality

Putting an honest-to-goodness lightsaber in your hands and making interactive characters from a galaxy far, far away appear in your lounge room as holograms, Lenovo's Star Wars: Jedi challenges headset is great way to pass the time while you wait for the new movie later this year.

These headsets were originally released almost two years ago, but they now represent a much better value for Star Wars fans (and especially kids). Not only have they shed $300 off the price, currently coming in at $99 each, but the app powering the experience has seen some substantial content updates.

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The first thing you'll notice about the package is that the included lightsaber is very cool. It's heavier and more authentically detailed than I expected, and if it wasn't for the light-up rubberised nubbin at the end (necessary for tracking in AR), you'd think it was a collectible to put on your shelf.

The visor itself is an ingeniously simple device, though I was a little nervous putting a $2000 phone into it. There's a stiff plastic case that you snap your device into, after you've set up the app, and then you attach a cable to the phone and put the whole drawer into the headset. Unlike phone-based VR you won't be face-to-face with your device's display, instead a mirror reflects images onto the visor so you see the blue-tinged holograms projected into your real-world surroundings.


Setup can take some time to work out, what with pairing the lightsaber by bluetooth and finding enough clear floor for it all to work, but once it's ready you get a legitimately magical moment. Holding the lightsaber up between yourself and the included beacon light that you set on the floor, you hit a button and the blade shoots out from the hilt with an electric krsshhhh straight from the films (sound comes from your phone's speakers, or earbuds).

I don't want to oversell what you're getting here. The graphics are simple, and so dull that you really need to play at night or with all the curtains drawn. But swinging a legit lightsaber around your house and having it look (and sound!) like you're hitting stuff is brilliant.

When fighting waves of droids you can reflect blaster bolts with an impressive degree of accuracy to take them out, or wait until they come close and slash. You'll also have to duel against other saber-users like Darth Maul, but you can't just swing away at them. Indicators appear to let you know when you need to block, dodge or strike, and it's a lot of fun even though it's essentially Simon Says with Sith Lords.

The main mode is filled with menus that are a bit clumsy to navigate, but it's essentially a series of scenarios of increasing difficulty, plus a second campaign added after launch that's themed after The Last Jedi. A Lenovo rep told me more content was on the cards going forward, but wouldn't confirm whether a Rise of Skywalker campaign was planned.

The most exciting update since the headsets launched is that you can now wield your lightsaber against a friend. Each player needs his or her own phone, lightsaber and beacon to play, and you need to be on the same Wi-Fi, but with that sorted it works great. The game choreographs the fights and lets each player know where they should be striking or how they should be blocking, and even though you're not physically hitting each other with anything the glow and clash of the two lightsabers can make the battles feel intense.

Outside of swordplay, there are two additional, slower-paced modes that you can play on the floor. The first is a strategy game that sees you commanding troops on the battlefield, while the second is an authentic (and complicated!) version of Dejarik; the holographic chess game that R2D2 plays against Chewie.

What's most impressive about the whole package is how true it is to all manner of Star Wars properties. There are characters from the original trilogy, prequels and latest films, as well as the Clone Wars and Rebels TV shows, and having them show up as enemies or allies is always a treat. Of course, even if you're not a Star Wars buff, jumping around your lounge room and swinging a laser sword at robots can still be very satisfying.