Editor’s note: We’re excited to have our good friend Mark Eades, a former Disney Imagineer and former longtime Disney beat reporter for the OC Register share his thoughts on Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge! Check out our ongoing thoughts on the land in real-time via Twitter.
Lightspeed to Batuu!
Like many others in the media business, I had the chance to journey to another galaxy far, far away to Black Spire Outpost on the planet Batuu, all part of the new land called Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disneyland.
Just like entering Disneyland, I reached the new land by walking through a tunnel, creating a transition from Frontierland or Critter Country – almost like a dissolve or “wipe” like those used in the Star Wars movies.
While the new land makes you feel like you’re on another planet, the jaw-dropping moment for me was when I saw and walked up to the full-size version of the fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy, the Millennium Falcon.
Suddenly, I found myself feeling like I had stepped into that universe and soon would be feeling the Force from Jedi Knights, or skulking away at the approach of Stormtroopers.
Not quite real.
Because I was there for the media preview and dedication ceremony, the land was not set up like it would be for regular guests.
Television crews were set up at several spots around the land to shoot interviews with various Disney executives and Imagineers – which meant it would be hard to see some of the neat things and photograph them.
But it was still a lot of fun to begin my exploration of this alien land that almost felt normal, probably because I’ve seen the Star Wars movies so many times.
The Faraway Land
The backdrop for the land is the rockwork, including the “black spires” that reach up to the sky. The spires look a bit like giant petrified tree logs, and my understanding is the Imagineers were inspired by petrified wood. The rockwork serves as the berm so that once in the land, the real world beyond cannot be seen, and a lot of the noise from outside is blocked out too.
Of course, the other purpose is to hide the show buildings for the land’s two attractions: “Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run” and “Rise of the Resistance.” The latter attraction was not open, and Disney plans to open it in August this year.
Facing back towards the park, walls and a berm of trees hide nearly everything inside the rest of Disneyland. Though at a couple locations, Big Thunder Mountain could be seen.
Besides the spaceport where the Falcon sits (and the entrance to that attraction) there is a Merchant’s Village, a Droid Alley and dotted around the side adjacent to the berm, a variety of spacecraft, most of which will be instantly recognizable to any Star Wars fan.
To make the land truly feel immersive, the Imagineers used a Star Wars language for the signage called “Aurebesh.” (Except for the legal ones required indicating ADA access, restrooms and exit signs.) Those signs are also part of an interactive app using the Play Disney app, more on that later.
I liked the look and feel of the land, but if I had one quibble, it would be that there should have been a few more “exotic-looking” plants that would have made it feel more alien. I know the trees on the side along the tracks of the Disneyland Railroad had to fit in with the Frontierland look and I have no problem with that. But I was thinking that down low shrubs could have been a little more exotic, just like the plants on Pandora at Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom.
Flying the Millennium Falcon
Right now, only one of the land’s two attractions is open, “Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run.” The backstory is that it now has a new owner, Hondo Ohnaka (a character from Clone Wars), who is using it to obtain materials (totally legit he says). But he needs a crew for the ship.
The queue line is very lengthy, but packed with all kinds of little discoveries throughout that will thoroughly occupy any nerd. Supposedly, the Play Disney app will have surprises in the space too.
After walking up a long ramp that gives you views of the back of the Millennium Falcon and its top, you enter a giant room with another piece of equipment, owned by NAME, that is getting some work done on it.
Finally, you enter a room where you meet Ohnaka, and he outlines his problems: a crew to obtain some less than legitimate from another planet for the Resistance. Then you enter another room where more is explained and you get handed a colored card with your role in the cockpit on it. Those roles are: pilot, gunner or engineer. There are two of each needed.
Now this is where it gets really cool. You then enter the actual ship and it is just like the interior seen in the movies. There is the famous holographic chess board, the ship’s monitor and more. All great photo ops of course.
Your group color is called and you move into the cockpit. I was the right seat pilot on my first trip, so controlled up and down, and the jump to hyperspace. The second trip I was the right seat gunner.
I had a great time. It is a bit of a sensory overload, what with trying to see what it is going on out in front of the cockpit, and trying to fly the ship or shoot things down. But I didn’t mind that at all. It was a fantastic experience, and yes, I want to go on it a few more times down the line.
Since the experience is dependent on what the crew does, it can and was different on my two trips. Also, with my experience as a producer on the original Star Tours, I can say that the motion of the cockpit was extremely well programmed – especially considering that the images are not going to be the same from moment to moment on any given trip. Good job Imagineers.
I did get a chance to sample quite a bit of the food options at Black Spire Outpost, and I liked them all. Nuff said there. I also tried the Blue Milk and the Green Milk. I liked the Blue, but didn’t care for the Green.
Oag’s Cantina was open for us to enter and check out. They had small samples of non-alcoholic drinks for us to try, but we couldn’t order any of the other alcoholic beverages. The Deejay is our buddy Rex from Star Tours. Same voice too. He plays a variety of musical hits from around the galaxy. Other things happen in this bar, much like Trader Sam’s over at the Disneyland Hotel.
Okay, this bar looks like a really cool place to hang out, and I’m sure a lot of the regulars will be doing just that, and that is going to create a problem as many will not want to leave, just like happens at Trader Sam’s.
And though it is larger than Trader Sam’s, I do think it is too small. I would suggest another creature open up another competing bar/lounge somewhere else in the land. The Imagineers could even create a backstory where they are friendly competitors.
Day versus Night
While it is neat to be at Black Spire Outpost during the day, it definitely takes on an off-world feel at night. Suddenly, there are dark corners where Resistance fighters could be lurking, or spies for the First Order could be skulking around.
The lighting package for the Millennium Falcon is first rate. All the other ships, both First Order and Resistance, take on a completely different and spectacular look at night. All photograph well in day and night, good luck getting a selfie at all these locations as everybody is going to want one.
And if you thought it was fun to dodge the First Order Stormtroopers during the day, it’s even better at night.
Interacting with Batuu
The interactive app, part of the Play Disney App, for the land was finally turned on late that night. I had about 30 minutes to try it out.
Because it was dark, I had a hard time finding something to “scan,” one of the four things you can do in the land with the app. But I was successful at the very end of the night. I also tuned in a frequency as a resistance fighter to spy on the First Order, translated a sign, and, though it took a few tries, hacked one of the control stations.
I enjoyed this, and wish I had had more time to try it out. When I return to Batuu, I will probably devote a lot more time to this. Oh, and bring a phone charger as it is on your smart phone, as it will consume battery life.
Overall, I really enjoyed this new land and am looking forward to the “Rise of the Resistance” attraction. It is well designed with a lot of details and lots of areas to explore and discover things.
Being able to see close-up the ships, speeders and more from Star Wars is really cool. Yes, if I had the money, I would build a lightsaber and a droid, but I’ll let others do that.
There were a couple of small design mis-steps in my opinion. First, where the large First Order ship is, it looks like it is on a stage – rather than looking like it just landed at the outpost. I suppose that is because it is used as a stage for a live action bit with Kylo Ren and some Stormtroopers, but I think it could have been designed to look more like a landing pad.
Second, I think the trail from or to Critter Country needs a few more things. I know that one side is primarily a queue line for Rise of the Resistance, but that area felt, to me, a little bare. Maybe under regular operation when residents, creatures and droids are wandering around, it will feel more alive.
But those are very minor annoyances. Overall, I enjoyed it immensely – especially when Chewbacca walked by, stopped, and gave me a gigantic hug!