The Rides of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge
Two New Rides at Disney's Star Wars Expansion Push Theme Park Design to New HeightsAll images courtesy of Disney Travel Features Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge
This is part of a series of previews of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, a 14-acre immersive themed experience coming to Disneyland in Summer 2019 and Disney’s Hollywood Studios in late Fall 2019. You can find the rest of the series here, or by clicking the following links:
Also: here’s a big old spoiler warning, if you care about that kind of thing.
Let’s get this out of the way: I haven’t ridden either of the rides at Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge yet. I have visited both of them under construction in Disneyland, though, and been given detailed tours by some of the Imagineers making them. I have sat in a practically finished Millennium Falcon cockpit, and seen the dejarik table in the lounge. I’ve walked through a third of the other major ride, Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, and gotten a brief glimpse at its unparalleled size and scope. I haven’t ridden them, but I can tell you what I’ve seen, and what I’ve seen is legitimately awe-inspiring.
Let’s start with Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run, which puts you and a team of five partners in control of the fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy. And reminder, if you want to go into these rides fresh once Galaxy’s Edge is open, you should stop reading here.
Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run
The Millennium Falcon is real. It doesn’t actually fly or jump into hyperspace, but at Galaxy’s Edge there’s a life-size version of Han Solo’s ship, assuming it actually existed in real life, with every arcane bit of tech hanging from its frame recreated in extreme detail. Like, right in front of your face. You really can’t miss it—112 feet from stern to bow is a lot of feet. It’s as real as the Statue of Liberty, and probably says way more about who we are as a country, to boot.
Behind the Falcon is a massive building that serves two purposes. Within the story it houses the garage of Hondo Ohnaka, the infamous pirate who’s made multiple appearances throughout various Star Wars cartoons and books, and who is currently borrowing the Falcon from Chewbacca to run smuggling missions that benefit both himself and the Resistance. It’s also the show building for Smugglers Run, with a long queue that winds throughout Ohnaka’s garage, around ships in the middle of repairs, and eventually providing a great vantage point for every angle of the Falcon.
Inevitably that queue winds up in a pre-show room where a lifelike audio-animatronic of Ohnaka addresses you directly. Expect some comical banter from the blowhard conman and his unruly droid. From there the crowd is split into various six-person flight crews, and are finally ushered onto the Millennium Falcon itself. You’ll walk through a hallway that looks like it came straight from a movie set, and find yourself in that iconic Millennium Falcon lounge that Star Wars characters have been hanging out in since the first movie came out in 1977. The holographic chess table is right there, and you can take a seat at it while you’re waiting. Your flight team will kill some time in this room for a bit, giving you the chance to take all the photos you could ever hope for, before a cast member calls your number and leads you and your five partners into the heart of the ride. Yes, I’m talking about the cockpit.
You know all those buttons and switches and levers all over the walls and dashboard of the Falcon? You can touch, flip and pull them all. In fact, that’s what you have to do during the ride (which, again, I did not actually get to experience—this was just a recon mission). Your crew is split into three roles—two pilots, two gunners, two engineers—and work together to complete a mission inside a ride that is also essentially a giant immersive videogame. Disney even worked with Epic Games, the creators of Gears of War and Fortnite, and used their Unreal game engine to create a real-time interactive adventure, instead of the kind of film you’ll find at rides like Star Tours. The ride’s designers promise that teamwork is important, with pilots maneuvering the Falcon, gunners taking out TIE fighters and other enemy ships, and engineers repairing the always-damaged Falcon on the fly. The designers also stressed that there’s no “bad” ending, and that the performance of individual flight team members won’t negatively impact the experiences of anybody else on the team. This all connects to the larger role-playing elements that will be present throughout Galaxy’s Edge, which I go into more detail about here.
I try not to get too excited when I’m working a story. I don’t make a point of being cynical or skeptical, but it’s important to maintain some distance when I’m on the job. It’s unprofessional not too. So I was a little shocked at how thoroughly my reserve collapsed once I set foot on the Millennium Falcon. The portions of the ship that guests walk through on this ride—the hallway, the lounge, the cockpit—look like they’re right out of the movies. I expected to see a grizzled old Harrison Ford tell Chewbacca that they were home when I first walked on. Standing in the cockpit itself, and staring through the semicircles of its window, reminded me how powerful theme parks can be. This wasn’t just another ride vehicle, another entry point into a few minutes of excitement that I’d mentally file alongside all the other rides I hit up that day; for the very first time I was stepping into a place I’ve known since before I could even form memories. This wasn’t just like revisiting my childhood bedroom, or a favorite hangout long since lost to time; it was like stepping into a photograph I’ve known as well as real life but have never been able to visit before.
It was in the cockpit of the Falcon that Disney’s decision to set Galaxy’s Edge on a planet we’ve never seen before truly started to make sense. Galaxy’s Edge is a series of reveals, all of them exciting, and some of them legitimately jaw-dropping. The first of those reveals came the second I entered the park—I felt like I was in Star Wars from the moment I first stepped into this village and saw the movies’ trademark ramshackle architectural style that combines futuristic tech with squalid buildings and haphazard city planning. The next major reveal came when I turned a few corners and first saw that massive, exactingly detailed Millennium Falcon sitting in the middle of an open plaza. And one of the two greatest reveals at Galaxy’s Edge finally arrived when I first walked into that cockpit. By moving from a general impression of Star Wars to a very specific recreation of the most beloved spaceship in movies, Galaxy’s Edge is able to play our nostalgia like a virtuoso, driving it to a crescendo only when the time is right. Walking into that cockpit is made more powerful because it is the only specific location from the movies we visit in Galaxy’s Edge, and it just happens to be the one thing most guests would want to experience if they could only pick one thing from the movies.
And despite all of that, it’s not even the most amazing moment on one of Galaxy’s Edge’s rides. No, that happened during my walkthrough of Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, even though the scene was far from being finished.
Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance
Outside Black Spire Outpost (the village Galaxy’s Edge is set in), hidden down a woody trail that branches out from the village, lies an ancient temple. Once abandoned, that temple is now home to the Resistance, who have built another one of their temporary headquarters within. Here guests can embark on the revolutionary dark ride known as Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, whose size and scope are previously unseen from a theme park ride.
Like Smugglers Run, a lengthy queue aims to turn the cinematic into reality. John Larena, an Executive Creative Director at Walt Disney Imagineering, and Chris Kelly, a Producer with Imagineering, walked us through long, winding corridors within that temple, with Resistance tech rubbing elbows with ancient artifacts throughout. As I went deeper into the show building the displays became more elaborate, with crates of Resistance weapons and fighter suits in separate chambers, and the kind of star map used by the Rebellion and the Resistance at the center of another. Eventually I arrived at a preshow room; although the effects weren’t online yet, Larena told us that an audio-animatronic BB-8 and a hologram of Daisy Ridley as Rey would greet us in this room and explain our mission to us. We were Resistance members on a non-combat supply run, about to board a transport ship that would be escorted by Poe Dameron and two other X-wing pilots.
That transport ship was the first ride vehicle we entered, but once Rise of the Resistance is finished it won’t be the only one guests sit in. Larena and Kelly filled in the details that weren’t quite finished yet—an audio-animatronic Nien Nunb will be our pilot, windows that are actually screens will show footage of Oscar Isaac as Dameron and two other X-wings surrounding us, and slight movement will make the ship (which we stood up in—there are no seats here) feel like it’s actually jostling through space.
The story takes a turn on that transport ship. Two Star Destroyers and a fleet of TIE fighters appear, with Dameron and his fellow pilots scrambling to protect us. They can’t fight a tractor beam, though; our ship is pulled off course, coming to a sudden stop. We didn’t see any of this directly, but that didn’t make the next moment any less powerful.
When the door to our transport ship opened, we were no longer in a Resistance base on Batuu. We were in a massive Star Destroyer hangar bar, with a 100 foot screen on one wall that will simulate the space battle happening outside. This room was very unfinished when I visited, but it was still overwhelming and genuinely breathtaking in its size. There was a full-sized TIE fighter installed on one side of the hangar, but even without any other effects the impact was still almost disorienting. Larena told us the finished room will have not just a view of space on the screen, but a platoon of dozens of Stormtroopers in formation pointing their rifles at us, with just enough movement to make them seem alive. And cast members dressed like First Order officers will arrest us as we exit the transport ship, beginning the next leg of this multifaceted ride.
From the hangar bay we walked down a Destroyer hallway that, again, looked like it came straight out of a movie. Our guides from Imagineering explained how, when the ride is in operation, those First Order officers will march us through this hallway towards a detention cell. We were taken to one of those cells, with the door closing behind us. When the ride is online, guests will come face to face with Kylo Ren here, before eventually being broken out in a daring escape attempt. Our tour ended in this cell, but we know that guests will eventually board trackless ride vehicles that will take them through the Destroyer, including beneath full-sized AT-AT Walkers. It’s anybody’s guess what happens from there, or if Rise of the Resistance will have another moment as spectacular as that reveal of the Destroyer’s hangar bay.
Although it’s very early, with almost no effects installed, and we only walked through what Larena estimated was about a third of the final ride, Rise of the Resistance already feels like a ground-breaking leap for theme park design. With multiple vehicles and elaborate sets, it’s more than just a ride—like the rest of Galaxy’s Edge, it wants to make you feel like you’re actually living in the universe of Star Wars. From what I’ve seen, it’s on track to pull that off better than I would’ve ever expected.
Senior editor Garrett Martin writes about videogames, comedy, travel, theme parks, wrestling, and anything else that gets in his way. He shares stories and photos from his Disney journeys on Instagram at @garrett_goes_to_disney. He’s also on Twitter @grmartin.