Disneyland's Season of the Force Isn't Star Wars Land, But Is It Enough For Now?

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On one level Hyperspace Mountain is more successful than the Launch Bay. It turns Space Mountain, a little ride that I am fond of, into an old-fashioned Star Wars space fight, integrating laser blasts, projections of TIE fighters, and a new soundtrack made up of John Williams music, iconic Star Wars sound effects and “Red Five standing by” style X-wing chatter. It is a fun, fast rumble through a recognizable Star Wars milieu, compounding the already nostalgic retro-futurism of Space Mountain with the deeply ingrained love for a movie franchise that I have known literally for as long as I have memories.

It also can’t compare with the real Space Mountain. That’s an almost mythic experience, especially the beginning, as your rocket slowly climbs through that tunnel as lights spiral and grandiose sci-fi music washes around you. That moment when you coast from the tunnel into the first decline, when you slip into the darkness of space and the shimmering Theremin music surges into a Daft Punk-style electro chug, when you start to feel that combination of speed, surprise and the unknowable expanse of the cosmos deep inside your very core, might be the most exhilarating moment in the history of amusement parks. It can’t be matched by the Star Wars theme and some makeshift TIE fighter graphics.

Even though it’s exciting in the moment, I couldn’t help but feel deflated by Hyperspace Mountain. It turns a crucial, iconic theme park experience into a fun but forgettable movie reference. If you’re a kid who only gets to go to Disneyland once in your childhood, hopefully it’s not while this inferior version of Space Mountain is running. Thankfully it’s scheduled to be a temporary overlay, although with Star Wars Land still years away it could last for a while.

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The best thing about Season of the Force, surprisingly, was the food. The Galactic Grill has a new menu full of Star Wars-branded options. It’s traditional fare—burgers, chicken fingers, salads—but with names and presentations inspired by Star Wars, and ingredients that are slightly more out-of-the-ordinary than other Disneyland fast-service restaurants. Some items are served in collectible keepsakes, including a box that looks like Han Solo frozen in carbonite and a stein modeled on Chewbacca’s head. The entire menu is split between a Light and a Dark Side, in keeping with the marketing for the new movie, which, for some reason, acts like it’s no big thing if somebody wants to side with genocidal space fascists. (Maybe these are the people voting for Trump?)

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I had the First Order burger, which is an angus beef and chorizo blend with fried cherry peppers, spicy lime aioli and a black bun. It was more like a dark brown bun, looking like the pumpernickel they’d bring you at a steak house, but tasting like a normal traditional hamburger bun. The chorizo and aioli gave it a pleasant kick, and it was definitely a tastier meal than the other fast food options I’ve tried at Disneyland over the years. I topped it off with the Pastry Menace, an éclair with a spicy chocolate cream center and red and black frosting that vaguely resembled Darth Maul’s head. It even had almond chips for Maul’s face spikes. The spice of the pudding-like cream cut through the frosting and dough, and by the end it was spicier than the burger. Both were really good, even if they cost a little more than I’d normally spend for a fast food meal.

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The offerings at the Galactic Grill are a cut above standard theme park food, but they also play into an ongoing debate about what a theme park should aspire to. Many critics deride the kitschy Star Wars-inspired food at Season of the Force, comparing it negatively to the non-illusion-breaking food of Universal’s Harry Potter parks. When you eat at a Wizarding World restaurant, you can only order food and drinks that fit the theme. That means no Coca-Cola, no pizza, nothing that would seem out of place in JK Rowling’s books or the movie adaptations. Obviously that doesn’t happen at the Galactic Grill. Nowhere in Star Wars does Poe Dameron order up a vegetarian sandwich named after an ewok. But then we don’t really know what they eat in the Star Wars universe, other than that insta-grow bread Rey makes at the start of The Force Awakens. And outside of the main attractions, Season of the Force in its entirety is only loosely themed around Star Wars—it doesn’t look or feel like Star Wars, and at no point will you lose yourself and forget that you’re at Tomorrowland. If Star Wars Land opens with the same mix of burgers and pizza you can get at most Disneyland walk-up restaurants, at odds with the immersive atmosphere it will presumably try to create, then maybe there’ll be reason to complain. For Season of the Force, though, the goofiness of the Galactic Grill is entirely appropriate, and the quality of the food probably makes it the best thing there.

As an expansion of Star Wars’ presence within Disneyland, Season of the Force is a success. There’s definitely more Star Wars in Tomorrowland than there was six months ago. It’s not a great example of how to design a theme park, though. It feels awkwardly squeezed into this preexisting space, a rushed makeover timed to capitalize on the new movies. Based on concept art, it looks like Star Wars Land will be a far more fully realized world, thoroughly immersing us in the Star Wars galaxy and living up to Disney’s legacy for creating carefully managed, real world illusions. Hopefully Season of the Force’s lackluster design doesn’t diminish excitement for the massive investment that is Star Wars Land.

Garrett Martin edits Paste’s games and comedy sections and writes about Disney parks for Paste as often as he can. For reasons he can’t fully understand he grows more obsessed with Disney parks every year.

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