Even Google's 'Star Wars' Virtual Reality Couldn't Make Verizon Stores Cool

Is watching the Millennium Falcon in 360 really worth the pain that is dealing with distraught smartphone shoppers? The crowd says no.

Ben Guarino

Star Wars is the entertainment brand of the month — and arguably the millennia — so the Google partnership was always inevitable — the Verizon partnership, not so much. But Verizon has an arrangement with Samsung, which manufactures Android smartphones so, this morning, Google’s The Force Awakens hybrid Cardboard headset arrived in stores bearing neon red Zs. The headsets, which will presumably sell one day on eBay for an amount of money, were free. No one showed.

Well, I showed, but I was alone.

At a not-terribly-local Verizon store in the trendiest corner of SoHo, the tension was palpable walking through the door just after 10 a.m. It hit with all the weight of sub-one customer to employee ratio. And, no, the people not being paid to be there hadn’t come to get their Star Wars on. The employees, however, had — to some degree anyway. It’s not like Verizon just told its retail workers to go have a good time. That clearly did not happen.

An initial query about the headsets prompted the crossing of the threshold. “Are you a Verizon customer?” A phone procured from deep within a pair of Levis, the flourished reveal befitting an ancient weapon from a more civilized era, dispatched any notions about sinister, light-fingered AT&T subscribers.

A second, tougher trial crushed the momentary spurt of cockiness. “You want the robot, stormtrooper, or dark stormtrooper?” a salesperson asked. I didn’t correct him, c’mon: The Dark Stormtrooper was Kylo Ren. It was the clear choice. This shit isn’t that complicated. The cardboard had been given a black, glossy finish, ideal for collecting forehead grease. It was mine.

Screenshot of "Jakku Spy" 360-degree video.

If the Star Wars headsets were flying off the shelves — “They’re flying off the shelves,” the Verizon employee said — they were flying in the slow manner of mackerel-sated puffins. The fans that did come in would linger for a minute or two in the store, marinating in the gaze of six sets of eyeballs above six sets of red polos then flash their phones and take their prizes. The joy of Star Wars plus the clinical listlessness of Verizon stores equals a sort of pleasant malaise (think: economy class to Jacksonville).

Back in the office Brooklyn, nose behind Kylo Ren’s mask, I had a private viewing. The Star Wars app was as galactically chill as a minute-long, 360-degree promotional Star Wars video could be. It felt like virtual reality, but the reality on offer wasn’t the planet Jakku, just a pretty decent planetarium. If anything undercuts the experience, it’s the effort of downloading the Cardboard app, downloading the Star Wars app, trying to create a Star Wars account, being told it’s the same one as your ESPN account, trying to remember your ESPN password, resetting your ESPN password, and finally downloading the “Jakku Spy” file.

Playing with fake lightsabers is way more fun.

But each of those 12 seconds of the Millennium Falcon zooming overhead, guns blazing? Glorious. Worth it.

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