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You won't 'fly casual' with these dogfighting Star Wars Battle Drones

It’s nearly Christmas, and that means another Star Wars movie is about to take the theater by storm, which also means a massive amount of new Star Wars merchandise will be in stores over the next few weeks. You can probably pass most of it by, but you won’t want to miss these: Star Wars Battling Drones. Officially licensed and the work of drone experts Propel, these beautiful quadcopter drones aren’t just for a bit of flying fun. They’re equipped for full-on dogfights in the sky.

The drones are modeled after the classic X-wing fighter, Darth Vader’s TIE Advanced fighter, and the Speeder Bike, complete with a Scout Biker riding it. Each has four rotors mounted underneath the hand-painted body, powering it to a top speed of 40mph, with 35mph coming up in under three seconds. They’re no larger than your hand, but are obviously made with care, just like you’d expect from a Disney-approved product.

Get your drone up into the air, and it can battle it out with up to 12 other drones, each firing lasers — that in the right environment can be seen, and it looks awesome — at the enemy. Games can be created to destroy the enemy leader, you can work in teams, or just go it alone until everyone else has been destroyed. Each ship has its own “lives,” which are displayed on the controller, and when they run out, the ship is out of the fight and spirals (safely) down to the ground.

We got to see a dogfight first-hand, and it’s dizzying, fast, and exciting. Happily the rotors are almost invisible when the drone is in flight, even though they’re obvious when stationary. There’s no doubt you’re going to need plenty of skill to fly the drones well, but get it right and you’ll be in Star Wars heaven. Especially when John Williams’ classic theme is blasting out, lasers are flashing, and a TIE Fighter takes a direct hit, sending it crashing into the ground.

Fans will love the details

Propel’s Battle Drones are already cool, but Star Wars fans are really going to love the attention to detail, and the wealth of movie-related clips, references, and Easter Eggs that have been built in. It starts with the box. Lift the lid, the drone is illuminated, and random audio clips from the movies play that tie in with the craft you’re seeing. The included screwdriver to open the battery compartment on the controller looks like a tiny light saber, and when it’s free, a custom audio message from a Star Wars character prompts you to put the batteries in. It really is fun.

It doesn’t stop there, either. Plug headphones into the controller and a Star Wars soundtrack plays, so you can listen while dogfighting, and a clever algorithm has made it possible for the drones to perform that signature barrel roll we all remember from the films. Even the boxes are impressive, and you’ll want to store the drone inside, and perhaps put it on display, when it’s not in use.

The drone technology is good, too. The Propel team wanted to provide an immersive flight experience, the battles to be exciting and engaging, and to make them easy for drone newcomers to fly. Each drone is aware of the other during a battle, and using Li-Fi technology, shares data through the laser blasts, ensuring the score and positioning is accurate and up to date. The controllers smartly understand the battle, and will even prompt you to attack the ship with the fewest lives left.

Training mode helps newbies learn to fly

To help drone newbies learn to fly, Propel has created an app that links up to the controller via Bluetooth, where you’re taught to “fly” a virtual drone in the app. It’s tailored to recreate the real-world physics of drone flight, without the fear of crashing and breaking your drone in the first minute. Even when you try out the drone for the first time, there’s something called T-Mode, where an artificial floor and ceiling is created, and the drone stays in flight regardless of your errors.

We saw the drones in action, but haven’t had the chance to try them out for ourselves, or use the training app. Early impressions are good, though. When will you be able to buy one? The Star Wars Battle Drones will be getting a limited release ahead of Christmas this year, and each drone sold will be a limited edition and come in a numbered box. They’ve been announced for a U.K. release on December 1 with a 230 British pounds price tag, that’s about $285 each. They will be sold through U.K. retail outlets including Currys, Hamleys, and Argos.

In 2017 the drones will get a wider release, and the Millennium Falcon will be along to join the battle. We’re checking into a U.S. release, and will update here with more details when we get them.

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