For Star Wars fans, two things have always been true. It’s a world we all dream of visiting but will never actually be able to. Star Wars is a movie, of course. Fiction. The sets and places only exist in far off studios for a few months at a time, or as ones and zeroes on the servers of visual effects companies. None of it exists. It isn’t real. That is, until now.
Last week, io9 was among a select group of press to visit Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disneyland in Anaheim, California. The largest land expansion in Disney history is still months away from opening (summer 2019 in Anaheim and fall 2019 in Orlando is all the company is officially saying for the moment) and is still an active construction site, with upwards of 1,000 people working on it 24 hours a day, seven days a week at its peak. Everything is muddy. There’s scaffolding everywhere. You have to avoid large pipes and walk on thin two by fours across huge holes. This is not remotely close to what fans will experience when the doors open later this year and yet, it’s already one of the most exhilarating places I’ve ever been.
You get to actually stand next to the Millennium Falcon, for crying out loud!
One of the centerpieces of Galaxy’s Edge is a full size, 1:1 scale Millennium Falcon. It’s over 100 feet long, probably 25 feet high and is covered with all the little tubes and pipes you see in the films. Everything. There it is. Right in front of you. The fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy is real and words simply can’t do justice to describe what it’s like to stand beneath it, especially for a massive Star Wars fan like myself. It’s as if your wildest fantasies have finally been brought to life.
“Magnificent” isn’t strong enough. “Awe-inspiring” doesn’t come close. It’s just…perfect.
The Falcon is there to mark one of the two main attractions fans will find in Galaxy’s Edge. First is Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run, which allows guests to fly the Millennium Falcon, and second is Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, which is a multi-faceted experience that has guests becoming part of the Resistance, being captured by the First Order, and then escaping a Star Destroyer in one of the biggest, most elaborate, and longest rides in the history of Disney.
Neither ride was up and running when I visited last week, but we walked through each and learned how they will work, their stories, and got a hint at how spectacular each aims to be. Before I get into that, though, it’s important to explain that Galaxy’s Edge is unlike any other part of the famous theme park. Places like Fantasyland or Tomorrowland are just areas of the park that have similar themes. Galaxy’s Edge is designed to be more than that. It’s designed to actually be another world.
When you walk into Galaxy’s Edge, you are walking out of Disneyland and into the Black Spire Outpost on the remote planet of Batuu, a former hotspot of activity that time has long forgotten thanks to hyperspace routes. Now it’s a relatively quiet planet (in theory; Disney crowds might have something to say about that). A place where smugglers and outlaws go to quickly make a few extra credits. A place where the Resistance has embedded themselves to hide out and the First Order has just arrived in pursuit, each faction inhabiting one edge of the 14-acre space.
At Black Spire Outpost you can’t buy a Black Spire Outpost t-shirt. None of the merchandise overtly says “Disneyland” or “Star Wars” on it. There’s a chance you might not even be able to get an Earth drink, like Coke, there (or, if you can, it will somehow be twisted to fit the theme; that’s still being decided on). That’s because the creators don’t want you to feel like you’re at Disneyland anymore, but at Black Spire Outpost on Batuu. The goal is for everything there to make you feel like it’s a real place.
Everything is part of the story. Every cast member not only chooses their own outfits but develops their own characters with their own opinions and allegiances in this world. Every piece of food has a specific reason for being the way it is, whether that means coming from a specific animal, or prepared in a decidedly Star Wars way (more on that soon). Disney actually figured out what Star Wars’ most famous drink, Blue Milk, would taste like and will serve it here. There’s a full-on cantina with music being spun by DJ R-3X, the pilot of the original Star Tours (and once again voiced by Paul Reubens). Even the writing on the walls, literally, was created not just to give the land historical context, but much of it is part of a larger interactive game you can participate in. Guests can download the Play Disney Parks app (which is already available), and, eventually, use a Star Wars function that opens Black Spire to a ton of new possibilities. (More on that from us soon as well.)
One of the coolest examples of this is Savi’s Workshop (seen above in concept form), a place where fans can build their own custom lightsabers. If you know Star Wars, though, you know lightsabers aren’t weapons to be used lightly. Only certain people can create them. So how do you balance that context but also have a stand like this in the park? With a story, of course.
Savi is a scrapper who has been collecting little pieces of lightsabers throughout the galaxy for years in hopes that one day, a true hero would come to his shop with the ability to actually put them together. Spoiler alert, that hero is you (and 13 other people who can do the experience at the same time).
Even the layout of the land has a story. Black Spire Outpost is one cohesive area but, in reality, it’s divided into three sections. On the west side is a large wooded area, which is where the Resistance is hiding. It’s here fans can check out Rise of the Resistance, buy Resistance gear, or take their photo next to a 1:1 scale X-Wing or A-Wing. The center section is a large, bustling marketplace, filled with food and merchandise stands, and all kinds of weird oddities. This is where guests will find Ohnaka Transport Solutions, the location of the Millennium Falcon as well as Smugglers Run. Then, on the east side, is the First Order encampment, which is where a never-before-seen TIE fighter called the TIE Echelon has landed and stores are filled with First Order gear.
And while there’s something new, exciting, and “Star Wars” happening in every nook and cranny of Black Spire Outpost, really, the things most people are going to focus on are the rides. It is Disneyland after all. And though we were not able to ride them, we were given a detailed walkthrough, and hot damn do they seem awesome.
Some of these details have previously leaked, but now, they’re official. The story behind Smugglers Run is that Hondo Ohnaka, the devious pirate seen on Clone Wars and Rebels, needs some help. He’s bargained with Chewbacca to use the Millennium Falcon to smuggle goods but he needs a flight crew. Guess who they’ll be?
The line takes guests through the maintenance hangars of Ohnaka Transport Solutions which are designed to give guests constant views of the massive Falcon parked outside. (How exactly the Falcon got there is detailed in the book Pirate’s Price by Lou Anders, but that’s just a fun aside). Hondo himself is in there too, the first time the character has been given a three-dimensional, talking form. He’s the second most complex animatronic character ever created by Disney (behind the Na’vi shaman in Pandora), and he explains the whole story to you from inside his shop. Once you get to the front of the line, you’re split into groups of six, given boarding passes, and invited to spend a few minutes in a waiting area. This “waiting area” just happens to be the main section of the Millennium Falcon, expertly crafted like it was in the movies. Dejarik table, computers, all of it is there for fans to interact with and explore as they wait for their chance to fly the Falcon. Finally, your boarding group is called and everyone goes into the cockpit.
There are several amazing things about this cockpit. One is that it feels like it’s the only cockpit. (Obviously, it’s not. If it was, it would be a very long wait.) We think there’s some kind of mechanism inside rotating the rooms from one hallway entry point but how Disney achieved that effect, they specifically would not say. Either way, it’s cool.
The other amazing thing about the cockpit is that being inside it is damn near a religious experience.
Every button and switch works. The handle you pull down for lightspeed has a nice weight to it. You’ll probably have to divert power to specific deflector shields. It’s glorious. But, like I said, there are six of you, and the way the ride works is two people are pilots, two people are gunners and two people are engineers. Pilots fly, gunners shoot, and engineers repair. And while it may seem like you’d really only want to be a pilot, working together ensures a more exciting ride and the ride’s designers assured us all three stations are equally fun and rewarding. (Then again, just touching the controls as a pilot gave me chills up and down my arms.)
The trip will take fans off Batuu and through a lot of action, none of which was really detailed for us. We did, however, see some concept art of a massive creature much like the one the Falcon dealt with in Solo: A Star Wars Story. When the ride is over, Hondo will assess your group and give you your cut of the earnings. A cut that can, somehow, be used in other parts of the larger story.
On the other side of the park is Rise of the Resistance—and if you thought Smuggler’s Run was cool, it almost feels secondary when compared to this experience.
Much like Smugglers Run, there’s a massive, massive line area to walk through which is populated with cool little knick-knacks throughout, such as a locker full of Resistance outfits. When you finally get to the front, an animatronic BB-8 will greet you along with a hologram of Rey, who is played by actress Daisy Ridley. She’ll welcome you to the Resistance and ask you to go on a top secret mission against the First Order.
Now, here’s where you’d expect to just get on the ride. But not on Rise of the Resistance. When you leave Rey’s room, you’ll find yourself back outside, in a section of the park that’s not visible from anywhere else. It’s a live flight deck complete with bustling communications and Poe Dameron’s full-sized X-Wing, spooling up and ready to go into space. You’ll be rushed across the area onto a transport, which will take you into space and onto your mission. And yes, Oscar Isaac reprises his role as Poe here as well.
Once you get on the transport, Nien Nunb (voiced by original actor Kipsang Rotich) is there to fly you away, but suddenly several Star Destroyers join the party. You’re trapped. Poe flies away to get help as your transport is sucked into the Star Destroyer’s tractor beam. And here’s where things get really, really cool.
The doors to your transport open and you are no longer on Batuu. You are no longer out in space. You are inside a Star Destroyer. You walk into a massive, room (about the size of a high school gymnasium) that, even fully lit with almost none of the effects or props in place yet, brought tears to my eyes. It’s all-encompassing and completely overwhelming.
In this area, there will be a bunch of action taking place on a 100-foot screen. Fifty Stormtroopers, mostly stationary but a few animatronic, will greet you, as well a full-size First Order TIE on the wall, docked and ready to go. Think Rose and Finn’s capture in The Last Jedi, only it’s you and your friends. (That’s concept art of the moment above.)
After being greeted by the First Order, you’re ushered down several more expertly detailed hallways and broken up into groups of 16 to be fit in detention cells. Each group is then visited by some representation of Kylo Ren, who, yes, is voiced by Adam Driver. What he says or what happens next was not explained in detail but we know it involves a high speed chase through the Star Destroyer in an ultra-advanced trackless car, special effects the likes of which Disney has never done before (such as laser blasts actually flying through the air), and sets that include full-size AT-ATs inside the ride. You and your friends will somehow escape the Star Destroyer (with the help of Finn, played by John Boyega) and win the day.
Now, if you’re like me, you hear all this and say “I can’t wait, when can I go and how long will it take?” That’s one area, unfortunately, I don’t have much information on. Disney is famously secretive about behind the scenes logistics and we were told constantly through the trip that details about entry into Galaxy’s Edge, if there would be any special tickets, plans for extra long lines, and more, were all still in the works. But, we were promised those answers would be coming and would be very clear once they arrived.
No matter how it all works, though, there’s no doubt Galaxy’s Edge is going to be special. Throughout the three-day event, it was constantly described as the world’s largest Star Wars playset with the sole purpose of letting you live out your Star Wars dreams. And, even in this rough stage of construction, it’s already living up to that promise.
As a Star Wars fan, did you ever dream you were captured by the bad guys and made a daring escape? You can do that here. Did you dream of flying the Millennium Falcon? You can do that here. Of building your own special lightsaber, or visiting a cantina, or making your own droid? You can do all of that and more. Black Spire Outpost on the planet of Batuu may be a remote spot in the Star Wars universe, but it’s that universe we know and love, and it’s going to make a lot of us very, very happy.
Folks, that’s just the tip of the Star Destroyer. We learned about Galaxy’s Edge for three full days and tomorrow we’ll bring you more about its story, development, food, merchandise, app integration, and much, much more.
Update: Here’s Part 2.
Correction: A few minor edits, about construction and the correct spelling of R-3X’s name, were changed after publication.
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