We’ve written a series of articles going into detail about different aspects of Galaxy’s Edge based on a trip we took to its Disneyland construction site last week. You can find a link to the other pieces at the bottom of this one, or by clicking here. If you just want a quick overview of what to expect—a Falcon’s eye view—keep reading.
Whatever you do, don’t call it Star Wars Land.
The easy thing would’ve been to give Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge the simple and expected name of Star Wars Land. This 14-acre expanse of state-of-the-art theme park design is devoted entirely to manifesting the universe of Star Wars into the real world, after all. When it finally opens this summer, it will be the latest addition to Disneyland, home to such iconic locales as Fantasyland, Tomorrowland and Adventureland. And when an almost identical version of Galaxy’s Edge opens later this fall at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Florida, it’ll be the first new expansion there since 2018’s Toy Story Land. Given Disney’s decades-long history of using the word “land” in its theme park areas, a history that extends from its earliest days all the way up to last year, you’d be forgiven for reflexively calling these Star Wars-themed expansions by that no-nonsense name of Star Wars Land. And that’d be a mistake, because it would completely undersell what Disney and Lucasfilm are trying to achieve with Galaxy’s Edge, and what they seem on pace to accomplish.
We’re not trying to downplay theme parks. (Trust me: we love theme parks here at Paste.) Even Disney’s own classic theme parks have a different goal than Galaxy’s Edge, though. A park’s theme refers to a general idea or atmosphere. Tomorrowland offers a futuristic glimpse of what the world might look like (or at least what Disney Imagineers thought it might look like many years ago), and Frontierland captures the spirit of Hollywood’s version of the Old West, but both spaces, along with the rest of Disneyland, offer impressions instead of recreations. When you’re on a ride, you should be fully engrossed by the story that’s on display, but when you’re walking around the park you’re not supposed to feel so immersed into the fantasy that you forget where you are. It’s like how Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion, two rides that present fully-formed and distinct little universes, coexist in the same New Orleans Square area of Disneyland; New Orleans Square offers an impression loose enough to contain both rides, whereas Pirates and the Mansion are their own self-contained worlds once you board them.
Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge doesn’t just want to remind you of Star Wars while you enjoy a day at a theme park. It wants to create a fully immersive experience where you get to live your own adventure in the world of Star Wars. It wants to erase the lines between fiction and reality and make you feel like you’re an active participant in the struggle between the Resistance and the First Order in the Black Spire Outpost on the planet of Batuu. It wants to fulfill the dreams of everybody who grew up wishing they could fly the Millennium Falcon, or wield their own lightsaber, or have their own loyal droid whirring alongside them. It wants to make Star Wars real in a way it’s never been before.
It also wants to remind the world that, when it comes to this theme park business, nobody beats Disney.
To that end, Galaxy’s Edge is the most detailed and immersive theme park expansion Disney has ever built. We’ve walked through the Disneyland site, which is deep into construction, and even with unfinished interiors, workers all around, and walkways that were mud as often as they were concrete, the sheer size and scope of this project overwhelmed us. If everything comes together the way Disney envisions it, Galaxy’s Edge will set a new standard for immersive entertainment. And all it’ll take is a laser-like focus on every single detail inside the park.
To pull that off, Disney had to devote years of time and resources from several different departments throughout the company. Galaxy’s Edge is the result of a sprawling partnership between Walt Disney Imagineering, Lucasfilm, and Disney’s merchandising, parks, and food and drink teams that all came together to bring Star Wars to life. And, crucially, to put you, and every other guest, at the center of its story.
There are a few simple principles that underpin an immersive experience like Galaxy’s Edge. Chief among them is that everything a guest sees, hears or does in the park has to make sense within the fiction of Star Wars. That means every structure within Galaxy’s Edge looks like it came right off a movie set, with that distinctive aesthetic that combines the alien and the ancient. That means the music loops typically heard in Disney parks have to be phased out, replaced with the natural sounds of people (and aliens, and droids) living their lives in Batuu. That means the music within Batuu’s restaurants and cantina have to sound like something we could hear playing diegetically in a Star Wars movie (imagine the difference between the band in the original movie’s cantina and the John Williams score that blares over the opening scroll—the former is diegetic, existing within the world itself). Any detail that doesn’t fit inside this world will ruin the immersion.
When you walk into a store in Galaxy’s Edge, it won’t look like a typical Disney gift shop. Many of the stores will have Audio-Animatronic characters from races and species that only exist within Star Wars, from the Ithorian that runs the antiques shop, to some of the creatures that reside in Bina’s Creature Stall. Points of sale won’t look like traditional retail counters with cash registers. Disney cast members will wear uniforms that look like something you’d see extras wearing in the movies, and will be playing roughly sketched characters that insure they don’t break the illusion. Instead of listing their home towns or countries in English, their name tags will mostly be written in Aurebesh, a common language in the Outer Rim.
Even the stuff we put in our mouth within Galaxy’s Edge won’t be entirely familiar to our Earthly palates. As we explore in our guides to Galaxy Edge’s food and drink, Disney’s culinary team spent years trying to come up with delicious dishes and drinks that feel and look just off enough to seem like something from another galaxy, while still pleasing our earthbound sensibilities. (Spoiler: they pretty much nailed it.)
Batuu isn’t a planet we’ve visited in any Star Wars film, so guests will be seeing it (and the ancient petrified trees that make up the massive spires surrounding the village of Black Spire Outpost) for the very first time when they come to Galaxy’s Edge. It’s still important to give them something familiar to latch on to, though, something that will help them forge an instant connection with their surroundings, and so Galaxy’s Edge’s two rides include a number of jaw-dropping moments that will make you feel like a kid watching Star Wars for the very first time again. And yes, one of those is a trip through the Millennium Falcon, whose cockpit you’ll sit in while piloting Han Solo’s ship during one of the two rides.
It’s not just about creating a space that looks and feels like Star Wars, though. There’s a level of interaction that has to exist to draw guests in even closer. Universal’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter has its wands, which interact with various gimmicks throughout those lands to make guests feel like they’re casting spells. Galaxy’s Edge approaches that basic concept from multiple different angles. Like Potter’s wands, guests can buy merchandise, including personalized droids and lightsabers, that wirelessly communicate with different points throughout the park, unlocking hidden messages or completing various tasks within the fiction of Galaxy’s Edge. Those droids are remote controlled, and can follow you around the park (assuming it’s not too crowded).
You won’t have to buy souvenirs to feel that style of immersion, if you can’t swing the credits, or just don’t want to. The Play Disney Parks app, which is a free download on Apple and Android devices, will turn into a kind of alternate reality game once you step into Galaxy’s Edge, with its interface changing entirely into something you’d see on a monitor within a Star Wars movie. We didn’t get to test the app during our time in Galaxy’s Edge, but if it works as designed, it will turn each guest into an undercover agent working on behalf of the First Order or the Resistance—or a smuggler only out for their own gain. The app has a jobs board that lets you accept tasks for one of those groups; it also lets you play a hacking minigame to “download” data from specific points throughout Galaxy’s Edge, and lets you scan writing on buildings or monitors to learn more secrets. You can even use it to “chat” with familiar Star Wars characters. The app is completely optional, of course, but it shows how far Disney is willing to go to make Galaxy’s Edge feel like a living environment.
This all came together through cooperation. The Lucasfilm Story Group worked on the backstory of Batuu and its characters, fitting it into the larger plans for the entire franchise. (You can already find references to Batuu and some of its characters in various Star Wars novels.) The Food and Beverage team devised these one-of-a-kind meals and drinks. And Walt Disney Imagineering created what might be its most impressive work yet, both in terms of the architecture and design of the land, and the massive scope of the rides and their queues.
We were hit with this deluge of information over a few days last week, before we were finally taken to Galaxy’s Edge itself. As fascinating as it all sounds to this lifelong Star Wars fan, we weren’t prepared for what we saw once we were in the actual park.
Even in that unfinished state, it immediately felt like we had stepped right off of Earth and onto a planet that Luke Skywalker or Darth Vader could’ve visited. Iconic Star Wars vehicles like land speeders, TIE fighters and X-Wings were already installed, life-size versions of the toys and models we played with in the ‘80s. We had to imagine where most of the Audio-Animatronics would go, but we had seen many of them in operation in Imagineering’s warehouse the day before, so we knew what the cantina would look and sound like when its droid DJ was working, or how the Ithorian Dok-Ondar would grunt when his human employee annoyed him. Even with just the bones of Galaxy’s Edge in place, it was easy to see how immersive this place will be once it’s open.
Even though Disney’s purchase of Lucasfilm and Star Wars in 2012 made perfect sense, given the companies’ decades of cooperation, and even though our interest in Star Wars is just about as strong and old as our love for Disney, it’s still hard to think of Star Wars as a Disney property in the same way as Mickey Mouse, the animated features, or any of the classic experiences at the parks. There are some out there who aren’t entirely happy with the massive presence Star Wars will soon have in Disneyland, the original Disney park, and we absolutely get that. But when we saw Batuu up close, walked through its plazas and alleyways, and then turned a corner and came face to face with the Millennium Falcon, we weren’t thinking about other ways Disney could’ve used this space, or any of Imagineering’s never-realized parks projects. We were thinking about how that’s the Millennium Falcon, a ship we’ve wanted to visit for our entire lives. We even forgot we were at Disneyland. We were simply at Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, something that’s both a part of Disneyland and yet fundamentally and philosophically apart from it. And when we left the park, after visiting the Falcon’s cockpit, after shockingly finding ourselves on a full-size Star Destroyer hangar bay, after exploring this space that was brand new and yet unmistakably, inescapably connected to something we’ve known as long as we can remember, our only thought was how long it’ll be before we can return and live our own adventure in the finished park. The next few months will be long and torturous.
To learn more about Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, click the following links:
The rides of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge
The food of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge
The drinks of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge
The merchandise of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge
Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge opens in Disneyland in Anaheim in summer of 2019, and in Disney’s Hollywood Studios at Disney World in Florida in fall of 2019.
Garrett Martin edits Paste’s games and comedy sections. He also writes about music, travel, food, theme parks and more. He’s on Twitter at @grmartin.