Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, Disneyland’s new Star Wars land, opened this past weekend to rave reactions. While the park opened with only a single new attraction, Disney did manage to mount a full complement of unique retail experiences. One of the most exciting is Droid Depot, where you can build your own custom astromech droid.
After previewing the product line at this year’s Star Wars Celebration in Chicago I rushed to the shop on opening day for the full experience. My gut take: the finished droid is well worth the $99.99 price tag, but the experience itself needs a bit of fine tuning.
My trip to Droid Depot began, as do most things at Disneyland, with a short wait (about 30 minutes) in line. While waiting, I interacted with multiple hotspots inside the store through the Play Disney Parks app. I also chatted with a few cast members, each one role-playing as a citizen of the planet Batuu. That’s how I learned about Mubo, the utai proprietor of the Droid Depot, and a master collector and tinkerer.
Like all of the shop owners at Galaxy’s Edge, however, Mubo never actually makes an appearance. I guess it’s little too hot in Anaheim, California for prosthetics.
Once I made it to the kiosk, I picked between either an R2 or a BB style astromech droid. The staff charged my credit card, then handed me a wire basket with a parts list printed on the bottom. After making my selections, a hired hand escorted me to the conveyor belt, where parts streamed out of the back room.
The conveyor evokes that scene from Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back where Chewbacca gathers up the scattered pieces of C-3PO, but in practice it’s an imperfect system. Turns out that once you enter the Droid Depot, your options for customization are limited to what’s on hand at that given moment.
Before leaving for Disneyland, I sat down with my daughters, ages 9 and 5, and decided on a color scheme for the droid that I would bring home from my trip. I stood there next to the conveyor belt for a good few minutes, but the right colors simply weren’t coming down the line. I even asked a cast member if they could grab a specific set of components for me from the back room, but they declined to help me out. It was a little disappointing to travel all that way, wait in multiple lines, and then not be able to create the exact droid my kids asked for.
Things got a little better at the droid building station.
I lugged my tray full of droid parts across the store and plunked down at a workstation in the middle of the room. That’s where I found step-by-step instructions printed on the work surface. Step one required an electric screwdriver to attach the legs. It had just the right amount of torque so that there was no risk of stripping the parts. Next came the dome on top, which snapped in place easily enough. Finally, I had to choose a handful of plastic accent bits for the chest and legs.
But again, I couldn’t find the right colors for those accent pieces in the tiny trays at my workstation. I asked a cast member to help me out, and again they declined, saying that I had to work with the parts that were there in front of me. Rather than put blue accents on my red-and-white droid, instead I walked around the U-shaped set of build stations, rifling through bins filled with other guests’ parts to find the ones I wanted. It was a bit awkward, but no one seemed to mind.
Once I finished with assembly, a cast member socketed my droid into a special slot on my workstation, paired it to a remote control unit, and powered it up for the first time. There was a flutter of lights and motion, and just like that, little R2-E2 was born. The whole process took less than 15 minutes.
As successful as we found the reservation-reliant crowd control at Galaxy’s Edge, the droid building experience still had a few bugs. The number of guests in the shop seemed a bit high, given the amount of space we all had to work with, but that’s expected on opening day. Perhaps some of the issues with parts availability will disappear once the team at Galaxy’s Edge gets some more repetitions in, and once the buyers get a handle on how much they need to keep in stock at any given time.
What’s more problematic is the flow of the space itself.
On the other side of the line to enter the Droid Depot is where all the droid accessories are, and I passed it up the first time around. I had to backtrack to get the special droid-carrying backpack, then cart it to the kiosk to purchase it for an additional $39.99. Given the hustle and bustle, there just wasn’t much room to browse the other accessories on display.
There’s also another optional bit that’s easy to overlook, since it’s tucked in the back corner of the shop opposite the entrance: Every droid has a slot for what’s called a personality chip, which costs an extra $12.99. Once installed they change the sound a droid makes from standard R2-D2 and BB-8 noises to something else.
There are two each for the Resistance, the First Order, and the Scoundrels faction, but thanks to how loud it gets inside the shop, it’s almost impossible to hear what they all sound like. The demo station where the personality chips are on sale needs to have a much higher volume setting, and it wouldn’t hurt if the droids themselves had a volume button as well.
Once outside the shop, I put my droid inside his backpack and wore him facing forward. Thanks to a zippered flap with a magnetic clasp, I was essentially babywearing my little buddy through the park for the rest of the day.
What’s fun is that little R2-E2 reacted to the sights at Galaxy’s Edge along with me. He made excited little chirps when we entered the Resistance Forest, and moaned in despair when we wandered too close to the First Order. It was just enough to make him feel alive, like an active participant in the experience.
Even more exciting was what happened once I left the park. When I landed at O’Hare Airport I had a bit of a wait before my luggage arrived, so, I busted out little R2-E2. Would you believe that droids work particularly well on the long, tiled corridors inside Terminal 4? Hiding myself behind pillars here and there, I would drive the droid up to folks who looked the most despondent about their delays. Reactions ranged from curiosity to outright delight when his little dome pivoted to look at them, chirped, and blinked. Honestly, I’ve never seen so many people smiling inside an airport.
If you’re heading to Galaxy’s Edge with kids of any age, then a trip to Droid Depot is a must. Not only is it a great way to ease kids into the incredibly immersive park, but you’ll basically be adding another character experience to your day.
Just take your time, be patient, and try to grab one of those handy backpacks before you leave the shop.