The long-awaited Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge opens to everyone on Thursday.
But on Tuesday, the park opened the new $1 billion Star Wars land in a preview for reporters and bloggers. The cynical, too-cool-for-school media types dropped the pretense and reverted back to their 10-year-old selves, gaping at a life-size replica of the Millennium Falcon. Some parkgoers devolved into in tears when they first saw the ship. The thing hums. Bright red lights make it appear to idle, just waiting for takeoff.
The theme park giant has placed a big bet on the immersive attraction at Hollywood Studios, along with the public’s appetite for the world of the Skywalker family and droids of all sort.
The land brings to life a settlement called Black Spire Outpost on the planet of Batuu, roughly set in the time of the current movie trilogy Episodes VII–IX. Laser-cut rock walls and spires are enormous and effectively block out the rest of the theme park. The land is large and roomy and the buildings towering. The setting is stunningly cinematic.
Disney employees are costumed and in character, answering questions about Batuu. Pay attention to the citizens of Batuu (Disney usually calls all workers cast members, but here they are “citizens”). Everyone from busboys to the turnstile workers have been schooled in Star Wars lore. They are funny and make the experience more interesting, especially the stormtroopers randomly patrolling the land. And unlike at the Magic Kingdom, where character meet-and-greets are planned, Rey and Chewbacca can be found just strolling by.
The buildings and marketplace have a lived-in, authentic look with exposed wires and rusty towers. That authenticity can make it difficult to navigate this land. Most of the signs are written in the Star Wars language of Aurebesh. You can use the Disney Play app to translate — one app translation reveals a sign that says “Clean up after your animal, creature or droid." Or you can ask a worker for guidance. In some cases, including at the cantina, the English words are subtly highlighted.
The gift shops in the marketplace area don’t have air-conditioning. That might be tougher to take in Orlando than in Anaheim.
During earlier previews for passholders, some guests criticized Galaxy’s Edge as a Star Wars-themed shopping mall with a ride attached. That’s not too far off. The land is worth seeing and walking around, but it costs $200 to get into the lightsaber factory for a custom build. And $100 custom droids come with all kinds of upcharges.
The Play Disney app is free and adds to the experience, especially for a Star Wars geek. Digital puzzles elicit physical reactions in the world around you, such as activating a droid. Over time, the app will judge a series of activities to gauge if you bow to the First Order, the Resistance or if you’re living the life of a rogue smuggler or “independent scoundrel.”
Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run ride
Just as you don’t see Cinderella’s Castle when you first enter the Magic Kingdom, designers created a dramatic entrance for the Millennium Falcon. The queue for Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run overlooks the spaceport where Han Solo’s spaceship is parked. Inside you meet an animatronic Hondo Ohnaka who has “borrowed” the Falcon from Chewbacca to transport some merchandise.
The sheer size and detail of the ship is impressive on the approach. Once inside, each passenger is assigned one of three jobs. Riders can flip switches and the ride experience changes depending on how well they do.
The ride has gotten mixed reviews because the two pilots get the best ride experience, leaving four others having less fun. The controls in the pilot seat are sensitive and really give you a feel of steering the Falcon. But the engineer job requires looking around for buttons to push — missing out on the visual experience ahead.
Rise of the Resistance ride
Reporters got a look inside the Rise of the Resistance ride, which won’t open until Dec. 5. Scott Trowbridge of Disney Imagineering called it the most ambitious attraction Disney has ever built.
The storyline puts riders in the middle of a battle between the First Order and the Resistance. The building is one of the largest Disney has ever created with two full size AT-AT walkers.
In a behind-the-scenes tour Tuesday, Trowbridge showed off the trackless ride vehicles that will seat eight and eventually fit into a larger vehicle to make its escape.
That’s when audible gasps arose. The doors flew open and uniformed First Order officers in their sharp black hats gave the visitors a steely stare. They had been captured. Behind them was a squadron of more than 40 stormtroopers lined up in straight rows.
“This is real,” someone in the back exclaimed. “It’s not a screen.”
In stunned silence, the visitors stepped forward into the cavernous bridge of a Star Destroyer with a gleaming black floor and a giant polygon-shaped porthole that looked out into vast space.
Then there’s a chase and visitors will try to escape, Trowbridge said, in a spaceship that will make a straight freefall drop before jettisoning off to the safety of the nearby planet.
Food and drinks
The marketplace Milk Stand’s blue milk and green milk ($7.99) is a favorite of Luke Skywalker. It’s more like a coconut and rice milk smoothie with fruity notes. Unlike at Disneyland, you can get a shot of rum or tequila added to your milk, bringing the price to $14.
Oga’s Cantina is surprisingly small. A reservation is a must, but you can also put your name in and get a text to come back later. It’s mostly standing room, so don’t count on getting a booth or staying long. There is a two-drink maximum.
Oga’s is inspired by the 1977 Star Wars cantina scene. The fun mood is created by a wisecracking droid DJ (voiced by Paul Reubens, a.k.a. Pee-Wee Herman). In a shout-out to old-school Disney fans, there’s DJ R-3X, nicknamed REX, the droid from the original Star Tours. Creative cocktails include the Jedi Mind Trick ($15) and the Outer Rim ($17). The Yub Nub ($15)is similar to a mai tai but with more fruit juices. For $42 you can have it in a souvenir Endor tiki mug.
The backstory is that proprietor Oga Garra (a local crime boss) can sometimes be heard yelling from the back. Look around and notice bullet holes and damage on the walls from past fights. Though it is a bar, kids are welcome and there are kid-friendly “mocktails” such as Oga’s Obsession ($7.50), a lemonade with a cotton candy flavor and blueberry popping pearls on top.
The quick service restaurant Ronto Roasters and Docking Bay 7 Food and Cargo use the mobile ordering system. The food is on-theme — fried chicken with veggies and mac and cheese is called Fried Endorian Tip-Yip ($15.49, $9.99 kids meal) and a folded pita filled with pork sausage, sliced pork and slaw is called a Ronto Wrap ($12.99).
The Outpost Popcorn Mix ($6.49) sold in a marketplace stand called Kat Saka’s Kettle, comes in bold purples and reds, with a sweet and spicy flavor.
Savi’s Workshop: This uses a reservation service in the app. A builder and two guests can make a $200 lightsaber. Only 14 guests are allowed in at one time to create their story and lightsaber. The choices are Peace and Justice (Jedi), Power and Control (Sith), Elemental Nature (raw and inspired by nature), and Protection and Defense (ancient). From there you choose your kyber crystal, which powers the lightsaber and gives the blade its color of green, red, blue or purple. Each gem can be removed and added to a holocron cube (for sale at a different shop) that allows you to hear lessons from previous wielders.
Droid Depot: Reservations are recommended to spend $100 to build your own droid and pay for upgrades like a personality chip. Choose from the older R series (like an R2-D2) or the newer BB-8 unit. The finished product will be roughly the size of a coffee machine and remote controlled. When finished, the droid will respond to your prompts and also interact with the various full-sized droids stationed throughout the park. There are also hats, clothing, ready-made droids, puzzles, cups and souvenirs for sale in the shop decorated to look like a robot factory.
Dok-Ondar’s Den of Antiquities: This gift shop is also an experience, due to the “artifacts” that line the walls, such as the Yavin Medal of Bravery awarded to Han Solo and Luke Skywalker at the conclusion of A New Hope. There’s a stuffed Wampa, the furry white creature from the snowy planet Hoth that attacked Luke in The Empire Strikes Back. There’s an animatronic Dok-Ondar on site who acts as overseer of the shop. You’ll find souvenirs and also ancient jewelry and tools, kyber crystals, lightsabers and Jedi robes.
Jewels of Bith: The tiny market stall is intricately decorated with details befitting an alien open air bazaar. You’ll find hats, magnets, totes, pins and mugs for souvenirs.
Black Spire Outfitters: Find the robes, tunics and belts to outfit a Jedi Master or Sith Lord, or even dress up as Rey. But Disney will enforce its rule that no one older than 14 can wear a costume in the theme park to avoid confusion with its own cast members. Tunics and vests are allowed, but robes, masks, helmets or body armor have to stay in the shopping bag.
Toydarian Toymaker: This jumbled shop houses a variety of souvenirs, toys, games and collectibles.
Creature Stall: From Kowakian monkey-lizards to cute little Porgs, there’s an array of stuffed creatures and toys in this marketplace stall.
Times staff writer Daniel Figueroa IV contributed to this report.