BLACK SPIRE OUTPOST, BATUU — The Outer Rim is about to open for business. Earthling visitors should prepare for a wild ride.
The largest expansion in the history of Disney Parks, the 14-acre Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, opens to the public in Anaheim Friday. (A Florida version hits the docking bay in Orlando on August 29.) We got to take a look around, and we can report that the sense of being entirely transported to another planet — the goal Disney’s Imagineers said repeatedly that they were going for during the park’s five-year development — has been achieved.
Almost nothing breaks the illusion that you are in the Galaxy Far Far Away, sometime after the events of The Last Jedi. You take part in the struggle between the First Order and the Resistance on a frontier planet that, while it is new to the Star Wars universe, feels hundreds of years old — and has been visited by the most familiar hunk of junk in the galaxy, the Millennium Falcon. Specifically, the first full-size, 100-percent complete Falcon built anywhere, even including film sets.
Here’s what we saw during a day at the park.
1. Serious attention to detail
“The trick to Star Wars is, 85 percent of it is real,” says Doug Chiang, the veteran Star Wars designer at Lucasfilm who was behind the look and feel of the park. “You anchor it in a real place.”
The First Order-controlled smuggler’s haven known as Black Spire Outpost was designed as a blend of Marrakesh and Istanbul, down to the labyrinthine marketplace. The land surrounding Black Spire Outpost, the forested zone that contains a “secret” Resistance base (honestly, the full-size blue X-Wing sitting right outside kind of gives the game away) was based on Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona.
Chiang invited us to inspect the park for every realistic detail imaginable, such as where all the wires and pipes go. “Look around a corner, peer under a table — it all makes sense,” he said. While the chaotic nature of preview day made it hard to peer under all tables, every corner we looked around seemed appropriately alien and run-down and beat-up and Star Wars-y — from the automatic doors to the Falcon to the futuristic stall doors in the bathrooms. Look closely in the concrete and you will see droid tracks from the original 1977 R2-D2.
2. No logos
One thing about the Star Wars universe — you never see the words “Star Wars” anywhere in it. Mouse ears would ruin the illusion too. All the branding you might expect in a Disney Park experience is not here. The amount of English language signage is minimal; instead, the place mostly employs the Star Wars written language known as Aurebesh.
If Coca-Cola has to push its products in the park, and apparently they do, at least they’ve put the sugar water in thermal detonator cans with Aurebesh logos. The official in-world explanation for the soda is that this is a mysterious and dubious shipment from off-world, in contrast to the “locally sourced” blue and green milk.
3. Terrifyingly desirable merch
Keeping with its immersive theme, the park only sells stuff you can imagine buying on a Star Wars planet — and that spells trouble. It’s not just that you’re probably in danger of drinking too many Bloody Rancors or Fuzzy Tauntauns at the alcoholic/non-alcoholic “family friendly” Oga’s Cantina. It’s that the park sells some 700 in-universe items in nine retail locations.
Most of them — save for the cheap plasticky droid parts in the Droid Depot — are of a pretty high quality, with a price tag to match. We’re talking hundred-dollar-plus: heavy duty movie replica lightsabers; Jedi and Sith robes and a pretty fancy Princess Leia dress; other lightsabers you build yourself, utilizing your personally-chosen Kyber crystal; a whole “Den of Antiquities” where you can pick up a data storage device known as a Holocron, which also unlock and offer specific secret information when you put a crystal in them, and … you can see how this might get very expensive very quickly.
4. An intriguing app
Mercifully, Galaxy’s Edge offers activities that don’t drain your wallet or involve standing in line for the Millennium Falcon ride. For example, you can run around as members of the First Order or Resistance hacking into data panels in walls. It’s an easy version of augmented reality games like Pokémon Go or Ingress. The app will also help you translate all that Aurebesh signage, or listen in on Stormtrooper chatter on the scanner.
5. A pretty wild ride
Yes, it’s a full-size Millennium Falcon. Yes, it looks like you imagined it. Yes, you get to wind your way through its innards in the line for the ride, and make fun photo stops at highly Instagrammable locations such as the Dejarik table. (That’s holographic chess.) Yes, you get to fly it (or be its gunners or engineers) in the most realistic cockpit imaginable.
Yes, you get to “punch it.”
The ride, which is relatively short, involves six people running the ship. The individual activities are very limited. One pilot controls the horizontal, another the vertical. One gunner simply mashes the button. But it is true that how much damage you cause to the ship will affect the number of credits you receive for the mission. Do badly and you go into debt, which might make life harder for you in the local Cantina. (Galaxy’s Edge tracks your in-universe reputation.)
6. No Resistance
While you’ll certainly run into the First Order with Stormtroopers around town, the Resistance is less in evidence. That’s because the “Rise of the Resistance” ride, an ambitious affair that Disney Imagineer Scott Trowbridge described as being filled with “everything that makes Star Wars Star Wars,” isn’t ready yet. Disney wasn’t able to offer us any timing on its launch beyond some time in 2019.
We’ll continue our look around the park tomorrow, so check back soon for more insight into Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.