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A woman in a green alien costume poses by a lavish bar, trimmed in gold and neon. Photo: Charlie Hall/Polygon

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Inside Galactic Starcruiser, a tiny Star Wars hotel filled with gigantic performances

An immersive theater experience unlike any other

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Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

Disney’s new Star Wars hotel experience, called Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser, is a spectacle that’s almost overpowering in motion. The media giant has spent nearly seven years developing the immersive Star Wars experience, investing millions of dollars into a new facility, novel technologies, and intensive training for its staff.

This week, Polygon was invited to Walt Disney World for an abbreviated four-hour preview of what would normally be a 60-hour-plus experience. What we found isn’t Westworld, not by a long shot. The narrative isn’t dynamic so much as elastic. You can’t steer the story off course by sheer force of will, push the bad guy out an airlock, or hook up with a robot. However, if you put in the effort, you will experience moments of profoundly intimate immersive theater.

It’s far from perfect. I found that the facility itself feels tiny, at times verging on claustrophobic. The price point — roughly $5,000 for a family of four for a two-night stay — puts it well out of reach for many American households. And the actual hotel experience of it all would fall flat without the cast of characters, a team of skilled, tireless actors who help bring this corner of the galaxy to stunning life. In spite of those flaws, it’s an experience I’ll always remember, something of a dream come true for a Star Wars fan.

Steel bollards block the way into a massive concrete bunker. Guests stream out of a waiting bus. Photo: Charlie Hall/Polygon
Staff welcome the viewer aboard a shuttlecraft. The door slides open, vanishing into the wall. Photo: Charlie Hall/Polygon
Inside the shuttlecraft, a slim simulated viewport shows the starship Halcyon floating in space. Photo: Charlie Hall/Polygon

The journey starts curbside, as most trips to a hotel do. Guests arrive by bus or car at a shockingly spartan, almost brutalist concrete bunker. That’s when the claustrophobia starts to creep in. Guests are escorted down a narrow hallway, into a tiny chamber dressed up to look like a small shuttlecraft. From there, thanks to a few hydraulic rams and a pair of clever viewport-shaped computer screens, you’re transported up into orbit.

When the door finally opens, you’re inside the atrium of the Halcyon. The flagship of the Chandrila Star Line, it’s a storied vessel with a 275-year history that reaches all the way back to the High Republic, Disney’s newest chapter in the Star Wars universe. The two-story atrium is its beating heart, a crossroads and a meeting place where guests are first introduced to the ship’s main characters.

The captain of the ship, wearing blue facepaint. Her hair is dark red. Photo: Charlie Hall/Polygon
An autonomous R2-class astromech droid, one of the ship’s crew. Photo: Charlie Hall/Polygon
A rougueish human, a Twi’lek, and a Rhodiian, greet guests in the atrium outside the bar. Photo: Charlie Hall/Polygon

I first met captain Riyola Keevan, a blue-skinned Pantoran with a steady hand on the tiller and a penchant for rebellion. Standing nearby holding court with her manager, the roguish human Raithe Kole, was Gaya, a flamboyant Twi’lek singer who serves as the main act in the evening’s dinner entertainment. I also met Ouannii, a Rodian musician played by an actor wearing an animatronic mask and headdress. While she understands English, Ouannii only speaks Huttese, which makes communication via pantomime a joyous necessity.

There are about a dozen main characters in all, including First Order members and Chewbacca. The staff remains firmly in character the entire time, offering up threads of storylines that guests can interrogate and explore over the course of their stay. Will you join lieutenant Harman Croy in his mission to root out Resistance forces aboard the ship? Or will you help junior mechanic Sammie smuggle aboard some stolen First Order technology? The choice is yours to make during your stay, and the decisions you make will directly impact the narrative you experience along the way — and the kinds of activities you get to do later on during your stay.

On the bridge of the Halcyon, guests marvel as the ship jumps into hyperspace. Photo: Charlie Hall/Polygon
A sideways view of the bridge. Dozens of guests stand ready at their stations. Photo: Charlie Hall/Polygon
One of the stations aboard the bridge of the Halcyon. A bewildering assortment of dials and switches is laid out in front of them. Photo: Charlie Hall/Polygon

Some of those activities feel a bit like escape rooms, albeit incredibly elaborate ones. While on the bridge, I worked with a partner at a command console, flipping switches and turning dials to move cargo around and take down enemy TIE fighters. The action played out on a massive curved screen. The feeling of moving through hyperspace, with the dark of space smeared into signature starlines warping above and around me, was exhilarating.

Other activities feel like stumbling into a short film where you and the other guests around you are the stars of the show.

What a Force trial looks like aboard the Galactic Starcruiser

At one point, I was ushered into an open-air courtyard, a kind of in-fiction holodeck used to simulate the surface of Batuu, home to Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. That’s where one of the Saja, a descendent of the Guardians of the Whills that played such a key role in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, plucked me out of the crowd. Together, we reached out with our minds and our hearts. Thanks to a little Disney magic (and a hefty set of electromagnets, no doubt) I used the Force for the first time. I felt silly, scared, and just a little bit vulnerable, but I also felt an uncanny connection to that character, named Keer — and to the Star Wars universe itself.

That sort of intimacy gives way in the end to a spectacular climax. The entire atrium is filled with a battle between the Resistance and the First Order. A stand-in for Rey is there, deflecting invisible laser blasts as troopers fire sparking squibs madly all around her. An actor portraying Kylo Ren makes an appearance as well, literally bringing the house down in a Force-fueled rage. Every single one of those marquee characters — including new friends like Saja Keer — gets their chance in the spotlight.

A Saja — a Force-sensitive tutor — and the captain herself, hold First Order troopers at gunpoint. Photo: Charlie Hall/Polygon

Galactic Starcruiser’s immersive story isn’t just fluff. It fills a gap in the larger storyline, papering over some curious plot holes between The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker. The overall story arc is inspirational, and makes the ship itself — and by extension, its hundreds of guests — an integral part of this beloved universe. It’s marvelous theater, and an authentic Star Wars experience. But those narrative triumphs make the facility’s flaws stand out all the more.

The Halcyon’s interior scale just doesn’t match up to the grand ship shown in marketing materials. I expected the atrium to be taller, the banquet hall to be wider. The cantina — home to the ship’s bar and its singular holographic Sabaac table — is at most half the size of Oga’s Cantina in Galaxy’s Edge. Liminal spaces, like hallways and stairwells, feel particularly sterile, like wandering around a suburban junior high school built in the mid-1970s. The staterooms are also entirely too small, falling somewhere in between the narrow cabins of a Disney cruise ship and a basic hotel room in a Disney World resort hotel.

My Halcyon experience was far from complete — for one thing, it was about 60 hours shorter than the full paid stay, cutting short the vast majority of the in-flight narrative content. But also, the Data Pad app, an invaluable part of my experience at Galaxy’s Edge, simply wasn’t available for me to try out. I was told that it extends the experience outside of the ship, turning Batuu into a sort of scavenger hunt that only Galactic Starcruiser guests get to experience. Similarly, I would have loved to have been in costume the entire time. Homemade garb is encouraged, and Disney-made apparel is available for sale before and during your stay on board the ship, but wasn’t offered to the press during our junket. Seeing so many guests in street clothes definitely broke the immersion for me at times.

Ultimately, individual guests’ visit to the Halcyon will depend a lot on the energy of the other Star Wars fans at their side during a given stay. Those who buy into the fiction, who take it upon themselves to start trouble or to make friends, will have the best experience. Just be prepared to pay a pretty penny for the privilege.

Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser opens at Walt Disney World Resort on Mar. 1.

Polygon’s preview trip and accommodations were paid for by Walt Disney World, but this did not influence our editorial content. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.

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