In the summer of 2015, Disney, one of the world’s largest media companies, announced it would build a Star Wars land. The expansion to Disneyland (and later, Disney World’s Hollywood Studios) would fill a corner of the park with cutting-edge technology, in-fiction character experiences, and enough story lore to bring even jaded nerds to tears.
For a long while, I didn’t believe them. There was no way, I thought, that anyone — not even Disney — could truly bring the Star Wars universe to life outside of a movie theater. I was sure that the gaps would show, and that the illusion would break the instant I walked on property.
But four years later, “Star Wars Land,” aka Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, is a reality, and on the opening day of the expansion, the Disney magic worked on me. The planet of Batuu felt uncannily real. It rang true. All of it.
Along with a couple of co-workers, I was among the first to go “on planet” as the Disneyland cast members say, one of the lucky ones who got to see, up close, the planet of Batuu and its Black Spire Outpost.
The literal scale of the land, combined with the ambition of the rides, shops, and performers within it, is overwhelming. Galaxy’s Edge engulfed me the moment that I walked inside. Part of the immersion comes from the layout of the land itself. Once I walked through the gates, the rest of Disneyland disappeared. Literally. Nothing else in the park was visible during my visit, save the top of the Matterhorn, which actually blends in nicely with the rock formations that give Black Spire Outpost its name.
To achieve the illusion, Disney Parks’ engineers literally dug down into the earth, allowing more room to build taller structures into the land. The effect lent Galaxy’s Edge a verticality that I didn’t see elsewhere in the park. The towering structures both blocked my line of sight to the other lands and added more space for detail, perspective, and texture. There was an awful lot to look at wherever I stood. At least half of the environmental storytelling at Galaxy’s Edge — a light made from a droid’s torso, a cargo container turned into a small apartment — was happening far above me.
The verticality also gave the nearly 100-foot Millennium Falcon room to breathe inside a docking bay. The area looked like the humongous landing pad I’d expect for a craft of this size. At the same it, the huge vehicle appeared small compared to the nature on the Black Spire’s periphery. The nearby rock face towered above it. Looking up and around that docking bay was dizzying. My eye was drawn everywhere, to all the greeblies and details hidden in every corner of the ship, the trading station, and the nature that threatened to topple onto it.
What surprised me most about opening day was just how much space there was for everyone to move around. I was part of the second wave of visitors to enter Galaxy’s Edge, and there was a one-hour overlap between the morning group and the afternoon group. But, even with all of us inside Black Spire Outpost at the same time, the land never felt crowded. The crowd felt built into Disney’s design and experience choices. During my visit the other guests weren’t a hassle; they became part of the scenery. Galaxy’s Edge felt alive with the hustle and bustle of visitors.
Wait times were surprisingly short. I was in line for the Smugglers Run attraction for less than an hour, and that included the ride itself. Surprisingly, the most crowded attraction was Oga’s Cantina. The wait was consistently over an hour throughout my visit. With 30 minutes left to go, cast members actually turned me away when I tried to get in line. There simply wasn’t enough time to get in and have a drink before I needed to leave.
While not getting to visit the cantina stung, the Play Disney Parks app was a pleasant surprise. The app switched over to a Star Wars-themed datapad when I stepped inside the park, and fed me mini-games based off my proximity to dozens of checkpoints spread throughout the land. Not only did the game explain much of the underlying story of Galaxy’s Edge, but it helped me locate and collect info on many of its tiny Star Wars lore Easter eggs. Completing tasks had a real impact on certain props and setpieces in the land. Completing a hacking puzzle would occasionally cause a satellite beacon to audibly fritz or a wall console to blink. I even made a dianoga surface near the public restroom.
At one point I found an abandoned storage container that I could actually peer into. It seemed like an afterthought, leaning against a wall in a shady corner. There, lying on the bottom of the container, below a bunch of Resistance helmets, I found what looked like Boba Fett’s jet pack. On a nearby crate I scanned a special QR code. The app told me that it was filled with jet packs favored by Mandalorians. The discovery earned me a collectible for my profile.
Even after getting to fly the Millenium Falcon, even after building my very own droid, even after my first taste of blue milk, by far my favorite part of the park was getting to talk to the people who work there. That’s because each one of cast members at Galaxy’s Edge was and will always be role-playing as a citizen of Batuu.
I asked everyone I met where they were from, and each one of them gave me an in-fiction response. Cast members told me all I wanted to know about the small, rural town of Peka and the more upscale city called Galma just outside of Black Spire where they lived. They shared with me their hopes and fears, and their reasons for coming to work there at the outpost.
And those same kinds of interactions are available with Galaxy’s Edge hero characters as well.
After riding the Falcon, I bumped into Vi Moradi, General Leia Organa’s top spy, the subject of an upcoming novel, and the star of the show at Galaxy’s Edge. The woman playing Vi stopped when I called her by name. Then she spent a good five minutes chatting, just with me, staying in character the entire time. She even made sure we had tucked ourselves into the shadows of a seedy street corner, away from the prying eyes of the First Order.
Vi also made sure to get my name so she could remember it. Later on during my visit, while I was standing in line for Dok-Ondar’s Den of Antiquities, the spy saw me in the crowd and called out to me by name. She stopped, and we chatted once again about the secret mission that she’d given me.
When she thanked me for helping the Resistance, and when she said, “May the Force be with you,” I got a bit choked up. For me, that connection really meant something. Not because Vi and I were suddenly BFFs, but because Vi represented all my favorite Star Wars heroes. Through her, they were all addressing me. Then. There. In real life.
My first visit to Galaxy’s Edge was amazing. I know. That’s simple and straightforward, but sometimes something is so successful in what it sets out to do that it warrants blunt, earnest praise. Amazing.
Disney Park’s new land is not the Star Wars-themed TGI Fridays that I was afraid it might become. In fact, it’s more than just a theme park expansion. It’s the complete package, chock full of all the magic that Disney and its Imagineers are known for.
But it’s also a place where people like me, people who have grown up and loved this franchise their entire lives, can get lost in a fantasy that feels intimate and epic at the same time. This is all said knowing that the land’s huge second ride, Rise of the Resistance, hasn’t even opened yet. In my four hours in Galaxy’s Edge, I never felt its absence. There was so much to do, so many people to chat with. I’m sure I will enjoy the ride whenever I return, hopefully sooner rather than later.
Post-visit, the app, of all things, has become so much more than just a set of achievements or a digital souvenir. It’s filled with bits of lore that I can enjoy on the flight home. It’s also an artifact that I can use to tell the story of my trip. When I get home, I’ll be able to pull out my phone, switch on my datapad, and tell my friends and family about one small corner of a galaxy far, far away.
And how I, Charlie Hall, drank blue milk, met Vi Moradi, and discovered a jetpack hidden in the back of a dusty shipping container that few people had ever paid attention to before.