Dolby's Star Wars exhibit showed me the best way to see 'Rise of Skywalker'
I am a Dolby Atmos convert.
As someone who’s worn glasses for 80 percent of my life, I’ve always avoided the uncomfortably robust cinematic experiences that require 3D glasses and/or paying a lot more for my movie ticket, but a new immersive Star Wars exhibition from Dolby has me convinced that Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos are the only way I want to see Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.
From December 6 through January 5, Dolby Soho in New York City is hosting an immersive exhibit to celebrate the release of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker that showcases the entire 9-film Skywalker Saga through interactive exhibits, movie props, memorabilia, and what you might as well call cinematic teases for what viewing Episode IX in a Dolby Cinema will be like.
There’s a DJ Lab where you can plop down on a bean bag chair and listen to John Williams’ iconic Star Wars score, a Hypno Pod that lets you wield a Black Series Force FX lightsaber in an environment of 360 degree circular mesh that feels totally epic, and many others — but the crown jewel of the experience is Dolby’s 26-seat screening room where you experience the Rise of Skywalker trailer in Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos.
Without any glasses, goggles, or a giant screen that wraps around your entire field of vision, Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos use subtle haptics (your seat rumbles) and pinpoint specific sound distribution to deliver a more immersive experience than most virtual reality headsets can muster. High dynamic range projection reveals a shade of true black that makes the usual greys we accept as cinematic black look like garbage.
For a cinematic experience where you want to see every detail in Kylo Ren’s outfit or where we spend a lot of time in the vacuum of space watching ships fly and fight, this specific distinction makes this science fiction look so real.
For an extended look at what the exhibit has to offer, keep scrolling:
In one of the exhibit’s earliest room, each of the four surrounding walls plays the final trailer for The Rise of Skywalker and a special Dolby trailer that includes scenes from all nine films. The two trailers play on a loop while the floor looks like outer space, making for a strange collision of a planetarium with a movie theater.
You feel tiny compared to the giant scope of what’s going on in every direction. Is it an emotional lump in your throat when C-3PO takes “one last look” at his friends, or just John Williams’ incredible music pulsing through the Dolby speakers as it kicks in during the trailer?
Stuart Bowling, the director of content and creative relations at Dolby Laboratories, tells Inverse that this was his favorite part of the whole exhibit.
“You get a 360-degree video, and visually it immerses you, coupled with the Dolby Atmos sound system,” Bowling says. “The fact that it’s the last trailer, the end of this generation of the story — for a Star Wars fan, that’s a little emotional. Everything ends. Standing there watching the trailer brings out a lot of emotions.”
The exhibit’s major interactive photo opportunity will wind up on a LOT of people’s Instagram accounts (my own included). The entire room is surrounded by a 360-degree transparent mesh, allowing for projection in every direction. A droid-looking camera mounted on a tablet will take a brief video of the person posing and then email the video directly. And because you’re wielding one of the Black Series Force FX lightsabers from Hasbro, it feels as close to the real thing as you’ll ever get.
The “ultimate Star Wars fan living room” has a wide variety of memorabilia in a cozy setting where Episode I through VII play on a loop, streaming from Disney+ with the extra oomph of Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos. It’ll make you wish you had this setup at home.
The lighting on this painting is almost as good as the painting itself.
Adjacent to a small cafe with limited refreshments is the Virtual Forest, where character posters are displayed on 18 large screens. that shuffle between the posters and various lightsaber battles from across all the previous Star Wars films. The Darth Maul versus Obi-Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn fight might be running, except every screen will be showing a different snapshot at a different point in time, all while Dolby sound hits you from above.
The experience of strolling through the “forest” is overwhelming and chaotic in the best way possible, making it sound like a flurry of lightsabers are flashing by you all the while.
The lower level of Dolby’s exhibit has an expansive gallery space with a mural, photography, and other pieces of art. Screens display video of concept art being drawn from across the entire series, including tie-in novels and comics.
There’s also a limited selection of props, including three life-sized Sith Troopers from The Rise of Skywalker. They look almost exactly like regular white stormtroopers, except they’re blood-red — and maybe have secret powers.
In Dolby’s pre-existing DJ Lab, the instantly recognizable John Williams scores from various Star Wars movies play over a Dolby Atmos speaker system while visitors recline on bean bag chairs. Large strings of LED beads help visualize the music as it plays.
Interspersed throughout the bottom level of the exhibit are different living room-style seating areas, but the main event is the Dolby screening room where every 20 minutes, visitors can get a taste of what Dolby tech is capable of in a movie theater.
*Dolby SoHo’s Star Wars exhibition will be active from December 6 through January 5.