If you’re excited about Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind, the new roller coaster that opens at EPCOT later this month, I advise you to do one thing: don’t read about it. Try to know as little as you can before getting in that seat. If that means clicking away from this page right now, so be it. If you want to experience Cosmic Rewind at its most exciting, most groundbreaking, and most revelatory, you need to come in fresh. All you should know beforehand is that it’s a new roller coaster based on James Gunn’s Marvel movies, and that you can ride it in EPCOT at Walt Disney World. The end.
If you absolutely need to know more, though—or want to know what I think about the ride, which I got to experience during a media preview last week—you can always read on.
It’s totally your call. Either way, I’ll respect your decision.
Okay, still here? Then let’s get to it.
Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind is an amazing ride and an instant classic that fills two major holes in EPCOT’s current lineup. It’s a massive new E ticket attraction and easily the most thrilling ride in the whole park. Imagine if Space Mountain was built today, but with modern technology and characters from a blockbuster movie series. It’d probably look a lot like Cosmic Rewind, which, like Disney’s classic space coaster, has a cosmic setting and uses darkness to amplify its thrills.
Since first announcing Cosmic Rewind, Disney has touted it as a “story coaster.” All of Disney’s roller coasters have a story, but none as defined and front-and-center as this one. Beyond the preshow that sets the stage, you’ll see scenes play out on large, wall-sized screens, as the Guardians try to stop one of Jack Kirby’s massive, space-faring Celestials from erasing the Earth from existence. Your car can twist and turn, aiming your attention at whatever the ride’s designers want you to see, while you rocket through the enclosed show building. It can be a little hard to really focus on what’s happening in that story, but you’ll pick up stray images and lines of dialogue during all that jostling and swiveling, and it’s a simple enough comic book tale for almost anybody to grasp despite all that turbulence.
What you hear on Cosmic Rewind is more important than what you see. As awe-inspiring as those massive screens can be (the first major scene of the ride itself is almost as overwhelming as the Star Destroyer reveal in Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance), Cosmic Rewind earns its multimedia bona fides through its use of music. At the start of the ride, just as your car is launched backwards, the needle drops on one of six songs from the ‘70s and ‘80s. Peter Quill’s seemingly endless mix tape is a key part of the whole Guardians experience, of course, so get ready to get dizzy alongside hits from the early days of MTV.
The music winds up being the most powerful part of Cosmic Rewind. I went in with no idea of what songs were on the playlist (you only hear one song per ride, so get ready to do it again and again to hear ‘em all), and the anticipation for that first note was as potent as waiting for that backwards launch to kick in. It’s not the first roller coaster with a soundtrack or pop songs, but it might be the first that seems to truly move along to the music, with the slight rotations of the ride vehicle injecting a unique sense of motion and rhythm. When you’re not angled towards a screen, you’ll sway and spiral your way through a starfield and around glowing planets with a dancer’s grace. Smooth and elegant, Cosmic Rewind is lightyears away from the back-rattling bluntness of Space Mountain.
I was lucky. I rode Cosmic Rewind three times and heard a different song each time. They were the three I’d most want to hear, too, although again, I didn’t know any of them were on the soundtrack until I heard them start up on the ride. Expect hits from Blondie, Tears for Fears, A Flock of Seagulls, The Trammps, Earth Wind and Fire, and Gloria Estefan and Miami Sound Machine; the physical ride experience doesn’t change based on the song, but the way I interpreted and reacted to that experience did seem to change. When set to Blondie’s “One Way or Another,” it feels a bit like a madcap sprint—almost like an impossibly high tech take on classic carnival staples like the Scrambler and the Himalaya. It becomes more serene, almost meditative, when “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” plays. And although “Space Age Love Song” would’ve made way more narrative and thematic sense than “I Ran,” I can’t fault Disney for going with A Flock of Seagulls’ biggest hit. There’s no limit to how many times you’ll want to ride a good coaster, but the variety and randomness of the music add an extra element of repeatability to Cosmic Rewind. I know multiple people who rode it at the media event until they heard all six songs, and for all of them it took over a dozen trips.
There’s so much more I could talk about with Cosmic Rewind. I haven’t even touched on the preshow, or the celebrity cameos, or the Marvel Easter eggs slipped in for the superfans. Although the entire experience from start to finish makes up an attraction, the most important part of a ride is what happens once you’re in that seat. And if fast speeds, a backwards launch, and occasional spinning (don’t worry, your car never comes close to doing a 360) don’t trigger any motion sickness, you’ll probably love what you see and feel during Cosmic Rewind. It’s an incredible new attraction in a theme park that has long been desperate for new attractions.
It’s also deeply out of step with what EPCOT used to be and was originally conceived as, though. It’s perhaps the starkest reminder yet that the classic EPCOT of the past is gone forever. The vast majority of guests won’t care about that, and I envy them; getting wistful for the past brings me no joy, but when I wasn’t actually riding Cosmic Rewind I couldn’t help but think about how out of place a Hollywood comic book roller coaster would’ve been in the EPCOT of the ‘80s and early ‘90s. That doesn’t make the ride any less fun or fantastic, but when the dopamine buzz wore off after each of my trips on Cosmic Rewind I would inevitably think about how out of place it feels. Despite a cursory storyline connection to EPCOT’s history and the ‘80s-aping merch in the post-ride gift shop, Cosmic Rewind bears no trace of EPCOT’s original goals, which were mostly cast aside before the 20th century even ended. Thematically it would make far more sense in Disney’s Hollywood Studios, a park that’s now devoted to making it feel like you’re inside the movies. EPCOT’s educational goals were always somewhat hindered by corporate sponsorships and the need to entertain guests, but Cosmic Rewind doesn’t even attempt to teach you anything. All you’ll learn is how cool it feels to sweep through a large warehouse full of fake stars while “Conga” blasts into your ears. That’s an important lesson, sure, but not the kind EPCOT was built on.
My point isn’t to grumble about change or the past. It’s simply to highlight how Cosmic Rewind isn’t just a roller coaster but a symbol of what EPCOT, and Disney’s theme parks as a whole, have become. They still aim to fill us with wonder and excitement, only now they use faces familiar from TV or the movies to grab our attention. The ride is essentially a meta commentary on its own relationship to EPCOT; the Celestial known as Eson wants to erase Earth’s existence from its very creation billions of years ago, while Cosmic Rewind is a 21st century IP-driven ride framed as an ‘80s EPCOT pavilion. Both try to go back to the start in the hopes of undoing—Eson wants to prevent humanity from existing, and Disney wishes it could prevent EPCOT from being known as the “edutainment” theme park.
Rides like Cosmic Rewind interpret and adapt the pop culture that we already love, instead of creating new pop culture that generations of parkgoers will grow to love. A coaster like Space Mountain, which is built around a concept and an atmosphere instead of an intellectual property, probably wouldn’t be built by Disney today, but then even in its day Space Mountain wasn’t as ambitious or groundbreaking as Cosmic Rewind. Philosophies and techniques change, but Disney remains the world standard in theme park design, as Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind reminds us.
Senior editor Garrett Martin writes about videogames, comedy, travel, theme parks, wrestling, and anything else that gets in his way. He’s also on Twitter @grmartin.