• Joel Ryan

"Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge" Brings a Galaxy Far Far Way a Little Closer to Home

Photo via HDPhotography

This week, childhood dreams came true for Star Wars fans across the galaxy as Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge, Disneyland's newest expansion, opened to the public, bringing a galaxy once far, far away a little closer to home.

Like many Star Wars fans, I have eagerly awaited the opening of Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge since it was first announced at D23 years ago.

Walt Disney Imagineering, in partnership with the story team at Lucasfilm, went back a long time ago to a galaxy far, far away to create a wholly immersive experience for guests and fans of all ages today, and in many ways, Galaxy’s Edge is exactly what we should expect from the creative marriage of Disney and Lucasfilm.

Disney has always been at the center of immersive storytelling, and Star Wars introduced us to worlds (and planets) we always wanted to visit. Now we can.

Not only have the Imagineers created something on par with their previous creations, they’ve raised the bar for themselves and their competitors in many ways.

This isn't to say that Galaxy's Edge is flawless. Like most things that first open at Disneyland, including Disneyland itself, it still has a ways to go.

There are still a lot of questions I have about the land moving forward as well as concerns about certain creative choices, which I’ll attempt to address in the following review.

However, as a lifelong Star Wars and Disneyland fan, I always thought Star Tours was the closest thing I would get to experiencing lightspeed, the Force, and the Star Wars universe in real time. I can’t imagine being a Star Wars kid today.

Most of what you will see when you visit Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge has already been written about in countless blogs feeds over the past month. I'll try not to just do more of the same. Instead, I wanted to take a look at the story behind Black Spire Outpost and how Disney has changed the game of immersive storytelling with its newest expansion in several big ways.

The Story of Black Spires Outpost

To start, the attention to detail in Galaxy's Edge, from the moment you pass the red rocks of Big Thunder Mountain and make your way into the land, does immerse you in a world where you are more than just a guest. Here are treated like actual citizen in the Star Wars galaxy.

With Galaxy’s Edge, travelers will enter the Black Spire Outpost on the planet of Batuu. For those of you wondering, no, we have not seen Batuu in any of the Star Wars films or TV shows. It did get a nod in Solo: A Star Wars Story and was a recently added as a destination in Tomorrowland's Star Tours, but as a whole, Batuu is a new planet for all of us, located somewhere in the Outer Rim on the edge of Wild Space.

According to Disney Imagineers, Batuu’s Black Spire Outpost was once a thriving fueling station and stopping off port for travelers throughout the galaxy. When the trading routes and hyperspace charts changed, however, the outpost lost most of its traffic and thus business, falling into disarray. Hmmm. So… basically it's the galaxy's own version of Radiator Springs. Got it. Seems a little derivative, but let’s move on.

Unlike Radiator Springs, Black Spire Outpost has become a haven for those not wanting to be found: smugglers, space pirates, bounty hunters, spies, Resistance fighters, and the occasional First Order stormtrooper on patrol.

When you arrive, the outpost feels like it’s been around for a LONG time. For a new land, Galaxy’s Edge is designed to feel old, and, to take a design cue from Thor: Ragnarok's Sakaar, it looks and feels a bit trashy.

On a side note, I'm not really sure why "trash planets" have become attractive in major franchises like Star Wars and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but again, I digress.

Everything, from the loading docks, marketplace, cantina, and den of antiquities, feels rundown, grimy, and highly trafficked, as you would expect from a spaceport that’s never had the resources to better itself. There's ship cargo and space litter all over the place.

Broken droid parts turned into lanterns, makeshift speeders parked in vacant hangars, and plenty of hidden passageways for shady deals and Galactic secrets to be shared.

Oh, and did I mention there's a full-scale X-Wing and A-Wing docked nearby.

Unlike Diagon Alley at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which, of course, theme park fans seemingly adore, this land takes us to place we’ve never seen before. However, the Imagineers use the Star Wars aesthetic and lore (droids, weapons, textiles, lettering and languages, sounds, blast doors, vehicle technology, creature design, etc.) and integrate them into a land that feels new yet oddly familiar. This is what Star Wars has always been about.

It’s not science fiction. It’s science fantasy, and everything from the character archetypes to story themes and John Williams’s iconic music have given us a world that feels ancient.

Star Wars is a shared mythology of the modern age.

In line with the themes of the recent films, in Galaxy's Edge, the youngest Jedi can explore and even create the next chapter of the Star Wars story for themselves, rather than just compare it to what they've seen before in the films.

Some may criticize that decision, and I completely understand the disappointment of those who’ve longed to see recreations of their favorite worlds, meet original characters, or reenact story sequences from the original trilogy.

The choice to ground Galaxy’s Edge in the timeline of the new trilogy is understandable, given Disney’s investment in those films. It’s also worth noting that the Imagineers were already committed to the development of Galaxy’s Edge well before The Force Awakens was released.

Again, the success of that decision is open to debate, given the newest trilogy’s mostly lackluster reception.

I personally would have preferred a land set in the era of the Clone Wars (the prequels) or Galactic Civil War (the original trilogy), but again, that’s because I enjoyed those films more.

Part of the attraction of Batuu is it is a bit of a blank slate, inviting guests to tell their own stories and "create their own adventures," a growing trend made possible through new technology, augmented reality, and open-world gaming.

One of the things I've loved about the story behind the original Star Tours is that you felt like you were traveling through an intergalactic terminal. Every detail of the queue created the ambiance of a Star Wars equivalent of an airport. Strange travelers coming and going, planetary weather updates every minute, security droids performing routine bag checks throughout the terminal. This was the kind of theming that made Star Tours such a favorite and the wonder of my childhood.

However, Star Tours, while unique in its theme park story, took us to familiar set pieces from the Star Wars saga. If it wasn’t the Death Star trench run from A New Hope, it was the Boonta Eve Classic podracing sequence from The Phantom Menace or Battle of Hoth from The Empire Strikes Back.

Galaxy's Edge takes a different approach, giving us new scenes and allowing us to explore a new world for the first time.

The Characters

Batuu is a planet populated by space travelers who are either on their way in or quickly trying to find their way out. To create this feeling for the inhabitants of Galaxy’s Edge, the creative team had to let the Disney Cast Members approach their job like actual citizens of this world, embracing its culture and creating their own stories.

The costumes worn by the indigenous traders, merchants, and contracted dock workers are patched together using multiple garments chosen by the individual. This is a bit of a first for Disneyland Costuming, which has given its Cast Members a costuming pallet to choose from to create their own signature look.

The inhabitants of Batuu may not all be characters with a fully scripted backstory, but they each have a story and a reason for being there, and the immersion team of Galaxy’s Edge has done their best to give their cast, though not trained actors, enough to inhabit this world rather than simply clock in.

Just be ready to hear the words “Bright Suns” about as much as you’d hear “My Pleasure” at a Chik Fil A drive thru as you walk through the outpost on Batuu.

As far as familiar characters go, one of my favorite parts of the day was getting to watch our favorite Wookie try to repair a full-scale X-Wing docked in the Resistance inhabited zone of the planet. As he went about his work, Chewbacca began showing his frustration with his assistant for not getting him the right tools when he needed it. I half expected him to throw her across the landing pad, which would have been great to see! Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t have wanted this poor girl to get hurt, but you have to know by now: let the Wookie win!

The Look and the Lore

It’s important to note that Black Spire Outpost is one hundred percent Star Wars. This wasn't something I was really prepared for going in. What I mean is that there is a unique separation from Disneyland when in Galaxy's Edge.

You do get lost in another world entirely, which makes it easy to forget that, oh yeah, you're technically still in Disneyland. You won’t find Mickey Mouse dressed like a Jedi or Stormtrooper armor on Stitch anywhere. When you walk through the marketplace, every shop feels authentic to that culture, led by those who inhabit it.

Resistance Supply sells garb and gear appropriate for a guerilla-style band of rebels. We're talking mission patches, flight jackets, and other pins and flags encouraging citizens of the Galaxy to support the Resistance!

The toys at Toydarian Toymaker’s look like they’ve been hand-stitched or carved by local artisans.

The creatures at the Creature Stall are authentically ugly.

Dok-Ondar’s Den of Antiquities is the perfect place to buy yourself a Jedi or Sith holocron or any other artifact of the Force your heart might desire. I’m sure that in some shared universe, this would be the museum Indiana Jones would have sold his best acquisitions to.

The Droid Depot is the Build-a-Bear I wish I had when I was a kid. Just get ready to drop a hundred bucks if you want to assemble your own custom BB or R2 unit.

And then there’s Savi’s Workshop, where you can build your own custom lightsaber. This is more than just a shop with people clamoring over each other for parts. It is an experience, with show elements and a final presentation that will make any real Star Wars fan lose their mind.

The Food

The food of Batuu is themed, as we’ve come to expect from Disney. Yes, you can order the famous Blue Milk, first seen in A New Hope, and there's Green Milk as well, which I stayed away from. Sorry. Any dairy product that comes in a shade of green just doesn't do it for me. Believe it or not, though, the Blue Milk was actually pretty good and not too sweet either, which was nice. I’m also pretty sure it’s not dairy at all. It’s more of a plant-based blend of coconut and rice milk. My lactose intolerant friends will be happy.

For lunch, I ordered a Ronto Roaster, and judging from the alien meat roasting on a spit over an old engine turbine, I’m not entirely sure what I was actually eating, nor do I care. It was a perfect lunch and easy to eat on-the-go. Docking Bay 7 Food and Cargo was your typical Disneyland Quick Service Restaurant, with more vegetarian options.

Oga’s Cantina, however, was the star attraction of the day and probably the most popular part of the entire land. In the cantina, you can order themed libations, such as a Bespin Fizz, Jedi Mind Trick, or Fuzzy Tauntaun, as well as a few beers on tap, including Gamorrean Ale and Bad Motivator IPA. If I had the time, and they allowed me to stay, this is the sort of place I'd love to just find a quiet booth in the corner, kick back. and write all day. Just keep the Tarine Tea coming.

Unfortunately, Oga’s Cantina really more of a quick stop with signature drinks that people will buy because they're Star Wars. An actual table service restaurant would have been nice, but... the Cantina is still a must-experience.

If you’re lucky enough to make it inside the cantina, you’ll also be treated to the Galactic playlist of the bar's in house DJ that fans of the original Star Tours might recognize. It seems that when Star Tours recently upgraded their star speeders and piloting droids, their original models were retired. At some point, lovable loser RX-24 (Captain Rex) from the original Star Tours crashed on Batuu and was later reprogrammed at the Droid Depot as R-3X to serve as the DJ in Oga’s Cantina. Add to it the fact that his new lines are recorded by original voice actor Paul Reubens.

But if alcohol isn’t your thing (which I'm not sure why it would be at Disneyland), don't worry. The cantina serves non-alcoholic drinks and food offerings. Or you can be sure to enjoy other themed drinks around the market. Just be careful about drinking water at the local fountains. There might be a few dianogas lurking in the tanks.

My only hope is that one day, Oga's decided to invest in live entertainment. I've heard Cantina bands around the Outer Rim are all the rage, and I'm sure Batuu could recruit the services of several of Disney's talented musicians and singers, human or otherwise.

Millenium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run.

Now we get to the star attraction of the land (for now), Millenium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run.

The best way I can describe this attraction is a merging of Star Tours and EPCOT’s Mission: Space that gives you, the actual pilot, way more motion control over the fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy.

Fans of Rebels and The Clone Wars will enjoy the animatronic presence of the galaxy’s most notorious Weequay pirate, Hondo Ohnaka, who has a special smuggling assignment that requires the Millenium Falcon and your unique skills.

Contracted by Ohnaka Industries, you and your crew will need to fly the Millenium Falcon, on loan from Chewbacca, as transport for a shipment of valuable coaxium. Of course, before you can transport the coaxium, you have to steal it. Thankfully you have the fastest ship in the galaxy for that.

It’s a mission worthy of the best smugglers and ship that made the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs.

Now when they said I would get to pilot the Falcon, I thought this just was clever creative marketing. You actually get to control the lateral and vertical flight motion of the Falcon.

The iconic cockpit seats six, and each person on board has a role to play in the smuggler’s run. Two pilots control the motion of the ship as well as the boosters, pitch, and hyperdrive. Behind them, gunner’s ward off any threats using the ship’s cannons and lasers. And lastly, the ship’s engineers work to repair damage to the ship caused by idiot pilots who can’t fly.

Depending on well you work together, your crew will complete or fail the mission and determine how much credit you earn when all is said and done.

Having ridden twice, I can tell you that your actions do impact the ride path, which means every experience will be different.

The Millenium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run doesn’t have as much motion sensation as Star Tours or Flight of Passage, but it’s a LOT of fun and an experience kids especially should love!

Artwork via Joel Ryan

What’s Next…

To the disappointment of many early vistors (myself among them), the opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is happening in two key stages. There is more coming to Batuu later this year, namely the attraction to end all attractions, Rise of the Resistance, which is scheduled to open sometime the Fall. From what I’ve been hearing from those working on it, Rise of the Resistance is the Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye of this generation. We shall see.

And so, after exploring Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, I can definitely say that where once this sort of experience was only accessible in our wildest imaginations, guests will get now get to do more than imagine. They will finally get to participate.

Immersive storytelling has reached new heights thanks to advances in technology, but in keeping with Disney tradition, magic is created when technology exists to serve story. Without the Star Wars mythology, vivid worlds, and beloved characters, Galaxy’s Edge wouldn’t be the experience that’s going to captivate young audiences and reward loyal fans.

I know people are already asking: is Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge really for kids, or is it just for those of us who grew up with Star Wars and now have money to spend?

The answer to this question is simple: the creative team behind Galaxy’s Edge have created an experience for the kid and the Star Wars kid in all of us.

Yes, it's a little pricier than I think it should be for families already forking out major money to bring their kids to the park, but there's still enough to enjoy even if you didn't recently cash in at the casinos of Canto Bight.

Growing up, I had Star Tours to fuel my imagination. Today’s kids will have Smuggler’s Run. And we will all have Rise of the Resistance in a few months. Who knows what the future holds for Disney theme parks and immersive storytelling with this level of inspiration now in play.

I’m excited to find out. You should be too.

So get ready, humans, because a galaxy once far, far away just got a whole lot closer to home.

*all photo credits belong to HD Photography