New ‘Star Wars’-themed land taps The Force at Disneyland

By | May 30, 2019

Opening May 31, Galaxy’s Edge aims to impress fans and redefine ‘immersive’

AT: Dean Lamanna

ANAHEIM — After five years of planning and near-hyperdrive-speed construction, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge opens to general public at Disneyland on Friday, May 31. The themed land’s debut follows a splashy world premiere attended by Amusement Today and hundreds of international journalists on Wednesday, May 29.

With George Lucas, Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Bill Dee Williams joining Disney CEO Bob Iger to launch the new land, the midweek media event unfolded with a distinct air of pop culture and attractions industry history in the making — revealing an area that renders tangible more than four decades of the Star Wars universe in ways that are likely to exceed the expectations of the hardest-core fans. One of two virtually identical 14-acre sci-fi/fantasy areas emerging at the Walt Disney Co.’s U.S. theme parks this summer (the other, at Walt Disney World Resort’s Disney Hollywood Studios in Orlando, is scheduled to debut Aug. 29), the project represents the largest single-themed land the Southern California park has ever introduced.

The massive effort, which included the extended temporary and permanent closure of several attractions and the rerouting of the Disneyland Railroad and Rivers of America, have been well worth it. Galaxy’s Edge occupies what was formerly the northern part of Frontierland and a backstage area, maximizing the use of the park’s confined space.

The land transports guests to Black Spire Outpost, a village on the never-before-seen planet of Batuu filled with otherworldly sights, sounds, smells and tastes. Visitors become part of the story as they sample exotic food and beverages, explore a collection of merchant shops and take the controls of the most famous ship in the galaxy with Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run, a flight simulator ride guided by the characters Hondo Ohnaka and Chewbacca located inside a stunning full-size replica of the vessel. Rey, Finn, Poe, BB-8 and Chewbacca are among the characters guests may encounter during their journey.

This represents the project’s first phase. The next, launching later this year, will be the unveiling of a second major attraction called Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance — billed as even more advanced and ambitious than the Millennium Falcon adventure. The multi-element dark ride will place guests in the middle of a climactic battle between the First Order and the Resistance.

Making culture ‘pop’
Galaxy’s Edge, the seamlessness of which is enhanced by new atmospheric theme music by celebrated Star Wars composer John Williams, culminates decades of collaboration between Walt Disney Imagineering (WDI) and Lucasfilm, Ltd., the now Disney-owned guardian of the 42-year-old franchise. Their creative partnership dates back to 1987, when the groundbreaking Star Tours attraction opened at Disneyland.

Designing the land required every technological tool in the box, including 3D modeling, digital animation and virtual reality. The techniques enabled teams from WDI, Lucasfilm and the venerable, multi-award-winning visual effects house Industrial Light & Magic to carefully plan and pre-experience everything from Black Spire Outpost’s unusual, partly-Middle Eastern-inspired architecture and street market scene to the movement of the Millennium Falcon ride.

New to the Star Wars universe, the setting is “a place that, in days of yore, was a necessary stopping off point to get food and provisions and refuel as you explored the outer reaches of the galaxy,” explained Scott Trowbridge, creative executive for the global Star Wars portfolio. “But over time, and especially with the advent of faster-than-light travel, it lost its prominence. It became much more of a home for smugglers and bounty hunters… maybe even some folks that are trying to avoid the ever-expanding watch of the First Order.”

Trowbridge added that Galaxy’s Edge gives guests “a massive E-ticket experience filled with story and characters and ways to explore and experience this galaxy far, far away like never before. One of the things we know about our guests is that they want more and more to lean into these stories, to get closer to these characters. They want to participate more, not just be a spectator.

“It’s all focused towards a single goal: to give our guests the opportunity to live their Star Wars story.”

Star wares and “wears”
Another thing the Galaxy’s Edge creative team knows about Star Wars fans is their penchant for merchandise. Storefronts and stalls throughout the new area brim with authentic franchise collectibles, gear and souvenirs.

The Droid Depot invites guests to construct their own droids. Patrons can pick pieces and parts off a conveyor belt to build one of two core models (R-series or BB-series) and customize their droids with various parts and colors. These creations, in turn, are capable of interacting with elements in the land.

At Savi’s Workshop, visitors can craft and customize their very own lightsabers. Dok-Ondar’s Den of Antiquities offers a selection of rare and mysterious items representing different Star Wars eras, including holocrons, ancient Jedi and Sith artifacts, and more.

The Black Spire Outpost market features the Creature Stall, dedicated to replicas of rare and fascinating creatures that populate the galaxy; and Black Spire Outfitters, showcasing the latest in accessories. There’s also Toydarian Toymaker, a stall filled with toys crafted by a Toydarian (the flying alien species first seen in Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace, in 1999).

Guests can even demonstrate where their loyalties lie with the wearables they purchase. The Resistance Supply stall sells pins, badges, hats and other accessories to help visitors feel like part of the cause. First Order Cargo, meanwhile, sells pins, caps and model spaceships.

“We strove to be better than we’ve ever been before, to push ourselves further in product and design than we’ve ever pushed ourselves,” said Brad Schoeneberg, WDI’s director of merchandise strategy and a lifelong fan of the movie series. “Star Wars toys are the cornerstone of many generations of children and their childhood. So we knew it was important to offer them something different in this living land than they’ve ever seen before.

“The product in this land is new, developed specifically for this place. You will not find any of our traditional Star Wars or evergreen products here. Everything was created through the lens of Galaxy’s Edge.”

That includes food and drink. Several outlets and street vendors serve treats such as flavored milk in shades of blue and green and savory eats like Ronto Wraps filled with grilled sausage and roasted pork.

At Oga’s Cantina, even the blaster-bolt scorches on the walls tell a story. Here, revelers gather to share their tales from around the galaxy as they enjoy exotic beverages served in unique vessels and enjoy musical entertainment provided by DJ R-3X, otherwise known as Rex — the former Starspeeder 3000 pilot droid from the original Star Tours.

Know before you go…
Galaxy’s Edge is the first land within a Disney park designed to integrate with the Play Disney Parks mobile app, which debuted last year and offers interactive adventures within the park environment. When guests use the app on their own cell phones, it allows them to engage with the land — whether through galactic language translation, mission assignments or role-playing games.

“It’s an invitation to play, to go as deep as you want, using this new personal technology,” Trowbridge said.

Guests planning to visit Galaxy’s Edge at Disneyland between May 31 and June 23 will need a valid theme park admission and be required to make a no-cost reservation, subject to availability. Guests staying at one of the three Disneyland Resort hotels within this period will receive a designated reservation to access the new land during their stay (one reservation per registered guest; valid theme park admission required).

Reservations for the land will not be required after June 23, but depending on demand, the park may implement virtual queuing. Access to Disneyland, Galaxy’s Edge and the experiences is subject to capacity.

Visit Disneyland’s website for additional information, including details on expanded parking and the latest park rules regarding costumes, smoking and the use of strollers. Look for complete coverage of the grand opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge in the July print edition of Amusement Today.