Fanboy. There's perhaps no franchise more immediately connected with our mental conception of a fanboy than Star Wars. Then there's Xbox. A whole ‘nother world of chest-thumping, battle cries, and utter devotion. Those two worlds just smashed into each other at lightspeed. Meet the Star Wars Xbox 360.
The Jedi Council is a real thing. It's made up of humans, and it exists on our planet, in our plane of reality. They defend the galactic peace, in a manner of speaking: They approve every piece of officially licensed Star Wars merchandise ever created. And they have a list of rules.
I'm looking at a set of prototype boxes that'll cradle the new Xbox 360 modeled after R2-D2, which is the most customised Xbox ever created. At the very top is an onyx box. Grey lines start to emerge, cradling a gold Xbox controller: It's Darth Vader grasping the C-3PO controller. It's badass. But it breaks the rules. Vader "can't hold a modern piece of anything, because he's not in our world," explains senior industrial designer Rich Hanks. Lucasfilm has other ideas, like putting sand in the box with the console and controller, so it's just like you're pulling them out of the capsule when they land on Tatooine. (Don't worry, there won't be any sand in the package you'll be buying.)
Well, what about a Darth Vader Xbox? "Doing something like a Darth Vader didn't make sense," explains Xbox's principal industrial designer, Carl Ledbetter. Nor did something like an AT-AT walker. "It would look cool, but it wouldn't make sense for the game." The goal was to create something from the Star Wars universe that was... universal. C3PO and R2-D2 were so much the obvious choice — to both Microsoft and and Lucasfilm — that basically none of the other dozen concepts made it out of the first meeting in January.
Fingerprints. It's the first thing I think when a pick up the C-3PO controller, a bleached out, ultra-shiny gold that seems ripped straight out of the late 1970s (or C-3PO's body). I smear the oil from the end of my thumb across it. Yep. Fingerprints. But it doesn't matter. It's utterly striking in its shininess. None of the other cast-off shells to my right — a sunny rainbow of dead prototypes, ranging from pale gold to spray-on tan bronze — even come close. "It was the right tradeoff to make," Rich says. A brushed metal finish didn't feel like 3PO. This is C-3PO. The silver D-pad — one of the transformers — is a reference to his silver leg. The wires painted on below, to match his stomach, were insanely difficult to match, requiring layers and layers of paint.
One of the castoffs, a matte sunflower yellow, was plan B. "There's metal in the paint, so we weren't 100 percent confident it was going to pass the radio testing for the controllers," explains Rich. (Every component had to be re-tested and re-certified, just as if Microsoft was building a brand new Xbox 360 from the ground up, even though the guts inside are the exact same as the current Xbox 360 console.)
A sad, green 3PO figure is splayed out nearby, one of the dozens and dozens of toys the team looked at to figure out the right color. Because his canonical color changes throughout the series, starting as pale yellow in the original film, slowly getting oranger as the episodes progress. The team went with the former, entirely for sunny nostalgia. (The photo on the final packaging? It's the first re-shoot of that photo in around 25 years, so it's headed straight to the Lucas archives.)
The face of the R2 Xbox is kind of strange at first. Maybe unnerving, if you look too hard. It's R2-D2. But it's an Xbox. There's R2's eye. And there's the Xbox power button. There's his arm, next to the disc tray that reads "Xbox 360." When you open the tray, R2 talks — and there's an easter egg tucked inside. Inscribed on the tray is a tiny message reading, "Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi, you're my only hope." It's the first time Microsoft's printed anything there. Because every fanboy needs a hint of delusion of grandeur when they pop in games. (The other easter egg? Industrial Automaton is printed on the backside, near all the ports.)
It's the paints that are tricky. Microsoft spent a month working with the factory in China to figure out how to layer the metallic inks in order to create shadows and the sense of the depth. When you turn the R2-D2 Xbox from side to side, the sheen of metallic inks shifts, so there's an almost three-dimensional look to the faux vents that run up and down the side. And the top chrome is bead-blasted, to approximate the spun aluminium of the real R2's dome.
The Kinect, a special edition white model that vaguely calls to mind a Stormtrooper, is the only completely unadorned component. There was a Star Wars logo on it, originally. Lucas decided to pull it. (In fact, "Star Wars" appears just once on the entire set.) So now the white Kinect is kind of like a ghost, watching, maybe hunting for the droids in your possession — which'll happen this fall (think like November), also packed with Kinect: Star Wars and a beefier 320GB hard drive for $US450.
The last time I watched Star Wars, it was to show the original trilogy to somebody who'd never seen it before. (I dug up the laserdisc print, so it was the original original trilogy, even.) It was totally inconceivable to me that anybody on the planet had grown up after 1977 without watching Star Wars. I suppose that's the definition of a fanboy in some ways—to not even begin to imagine a reality in which the thing you love doesn't exist for everybody else. The truth is though, fewer and fewer people grow up watching Star Wars. That's the nature of the past, of nostalgia. It's more likely kids today'll grow up touching an Xbox and not watching Star Wars. They'll have no idea what this is. It's something for us. For the fanboys.
Video by Michael Werner, Editing by Woody Jang