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There was little doubt that Disneyland’s new attraction, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, would make headlines. At 14 acres, it’s the largest expansion in the Anaheim, Calif., theme park’s history. It combines two iconic brands — Disney and “Star Wars” — both of which boast a devoted fan base. And it has been in the works for nearly six years, giving Disney’s talented Imagineers plenty of time to tinker with the details and make sure the new world is sufficiently mind-blowing.
Home run, right?
Not so fast. Many of these pros have built-in cons, as well. The expansion is large, but Disneyland in general has been dealing with issues related to crowds. Devoted fans can be picky and critical — looking for every little mistake. And, as good as the Disney Imagineers are, this project was way bigger and more demanding than any previous park expansions.
So, how did it go? Let’s take a look.
What a WorldFrom the beginning, Disney’s Imagineers set out to create the impression that park visitors were entering a whole other world. And, boy, did they nail it.
The architects and storytellers that built this world — Black Spire Outpost on the planet of Batuu — carefully crafted every physical detail of the land, and then took it a few steps beyond that in order to create a completely immersive experience. For instance, cast members who work in Black Spire are encouraged to create their own identities and personas that fit the narrative of the world (and choose costumes they feel best fit their characters). The storm troopers who wander around the outpost’s winding streets never break character — managing to be menacing and playful at the same time. Even signage in the land is in Aurebesh, the language they use on Batuu.
There are plenty of details for visitors to discover. A favorite is the use of strange otherworldly sounds, including intergalactic critters scurrying just out of sight in the bushes (with different creatures coming out at night than during the day). I was told that even in the restrooms, one might hear something scampering through the pipes.
The Imagineers said that their inspiration for Black Spire’s physical look was North Africa and the Mediterranean, and, indeed, one finds plenty of touches that feel a lot like a combination of Morocco and Turkey. In particular, the outdoor market — complete with power lines crisscrossing above the street — is reminiscent of a foreign bazaar.
In addition, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is the first land to integrate the Play Disney Parks app from the ground up. Unlike other areas of the park, which has had the app layered on top of attractions that already existed, the app’s functions and the actual physical world of Black Spire are meant to function hand in hand. The app can be used as a translator; it offers added fun in the form of games and scavenger hunt-like activities; and it provides real-world services such as mobile food ordering.
The main ride in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge (a second attraction is scheduled to open by the end of the year) is Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run, and, like the rest of the land, it represents a first for Disney. Small groups of visitors are positioned in the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon and work together to complete a special mission. Each member of the group is given a task (including piloting the ship), and the team is scored on how well they perform together. Ultimately, the success or failure of the mission is up to the riders. The attraction combines virtual reality, video gaming and teamwork in a truly unique way.
Plus, this is all taking place in the world “Star Wars” fans know intimately from the film series. For instance, as you enter the Millennium Falcon, you have some time to sit at the iconic chess board featured in the movies (a spot that’s clearly designed to be a social media photo op).
I give the ride a thumbs up — although I only got to ride it once, which means that I don’t know what the experience is like if you were doing one of the other tasks on the mission. Still, it was exciting and unique. If you are part of a fun group of fellow guests that really gets into the spirit of the fantasy, it’s sure to provide some laughs.
A Galaxy of MerchAt times it seems like at least some of the land’s 14 acres could have been better utilized. For instance, there are spots that have replicas of ships from the movies: a TIE fighter and an X-wing fighter. I suppose these are placed there as photo ops, or perhaps as placeholders for future attractions, but it feels like a missed opportunity. Likewise, there’s a podracer garage that adds to the sense of place, but it doesn’t really serve a function to parkgoers, and some other buildings appear to serve no actual function, as well.
At times, it seems like the Imagineers were content-creating a world that the rest of us can wander around in awe. But once the awe wears off, then what?
Since there’s currently only one ride in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, everything else in the land is either designed to be set decoration or is a retail opportunity for Disney.
Store after store in Black Spire sells an enormous range of merchandise — more than 700 unique items, according to Disney — from odd-but-adorable furry stuffed creatures to your own personalized light saber built at Savi’s Workshop (which could run as much as $200). Visitors can purchase a Jedi’s tunic or a full rebel pilot’s flight suit. There’s an entire store dedicated to the villainous First Order, including a tiny storm trooper outfit that can be worn by an 8-year-old. (Creepy or cute? You decide.)
Between shopping sprees, visitors can sample the unusual food outlets in the land, with menus creatively designed to suggest cuisine from other planets. The must-visit spot for guests is Oga’s Cantina. Besides being decorated using many items from the “Star Wars” universe — and featuring a robot DJ — Oga’s is noteworthy as the first place in Disneyland to serve alcoholic drinks.
Many, if not all, of the stores and food stalls are creatively and thoughtfully designed so that non-buyers will enjoy browsing, as well. Which is good, because — let’s face it — a lot of the land is dedicated to retail opportunities.
I imagine that fans of the movie franchise, however, won’t mind that a bit. It’s all part of finally being able to visit a galaxy far, far away.
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