Entering the immersive world of Star Wars at the edge of Disneyland

New 14-acre "Star Wars land" opens, and hopes to surround you in a sci-fi experience of your choosing
From codes on the walls to the cast members at the Black Spire Outpost, you will be able to interact with and play various games in the world of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. Photo Credit: Richard Harbaugh / Image Group LA

Arturo Hilario

El Observador

Last week, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge opened at Disneyland in Anaheim, California with a galactic bang. The streets of the fictional world of Batuu were filled with those curious to explore the brand new, 14-acre section of the park dedicated to the George Lucas creation – which has become just as iconic as Mickey Mouse since its inception in 1977 with “Star Wars: A New Hope”.

Not since 1993 has a new land opened at Disneyland (Mickey’s Toontown), and Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is a feat of architecture and design unlike anything seen before. Here, guests walk into a living, breathing word with a storyline meant for them to feel like they’re in this Star Wars universe living their own story, without ever leaving “The Happiest Place On Earth”.

Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is a tremendous undertaking for Disney, Lucasfilm and all the collaborators that made it possible. Originally announced in 2015, the entire land takes place in the fictional planet of Batuu, created specifically for this project. The specific region you are in is called Black Spire Outpost, and there you can walk through and see curiosities in a huge marketplace, find mission clues through the town’s corridors, visit a droid repair shop, create your own lightsaber, and see giant spaceships on either ends of the land. (You can even drink the film’s famous blue milk, which is a frosty and sweet interpretation in the real world).

From the iconic Millennium Falcon, (a vessel made famous as the spaceship of choice for Harrison Ford’s Han Solo character), which is essentially the centerpiece of the whole place, to the newer villain ship called the TIE Echelon, these anchors provide a visual feast to fans while still creating a brand new experience.

This isn’t a place you’ve seen in the movies, but it undoubtedly feels like Star Wars. By going back to the original drawings for the first film and pulling elements and inspiration from the whole of the Star Wars universe, the creators of Galaxy’s Edge have managed to make a place feel so alien but so much like the places they’ve seen in films, animated series, and even the comics related to the franchise.

It was fitting then that at the grand opening night on May 29, just in front of the life-size Millennium Falcon, some of the featured guests included a few of the original film’s cast, on stage to dedicate the alien world.

Amongst these guests were Bob Iger, CEO of The Walt Disney Company, and Star Wars icons Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, and Billy Dee Williams, who played the parts of Jedi Knight Luke Skywalker, the smuggler Han Solo, and his buddy, also a smuggler, Lando Calrissian, respectively. The group had the crowd gathered at the event going wild, as they recalled their experiences with the stories of the Star Wars films and made comments regarding the new land itself.

Be Your Own Story

For the designers working on Galaxy’s Edge, one of the main focuses in walking into the land was the patrons experience, overall. Creating a place that is unlike any other in Disneyland while still having Disneyland-like experiences required a lot of planning and diligence on the part of Walt Disney Imagineers and Lucasfilm staff.

When the group in charge of creating the story of this land began to plot out ideas, they put themselves in the shoes of a Star Wars fan and wondered what they would want in a world at a theme park and how they would want to interact with that galaxy.

Carrie Beck, VP Animation & Live Action Series Development at Lucasfilm said, “You may want to see yourself as a smuggler or a scoundrel, a Jedi, Sith, stormtrooper; you can be drawn to the dark side of the force – but the goal ultimately was to support that interaction for anyone that comes to the land. So, they could actually see themselves here in this place. The land itself serving as the backdrop for your own personal story.”

This includes the interactivity with the Play Disney parks app which taps into various activities throughout the land. So, in order to get the most out of your stay in Batuu, it is recommended you get this app and set a course for adventure, because there is a lot to do there.

The app itself will turn into a Star Wars Data pad which can be used to hack modules on walls, scan signage and translate messages, in turn earn galactic credits. Daily missions will occur several times throughout the day and bring success to either the First Order or the Resistance, whichever one decides to choose.

It’s up to you.

This is why Beck and her team spent a long time building a history for the land, from every vendor in the marketplace to the idea of the first settlers in Batuu thousands of years ago. All these layers of made up history add density to this world, makes it feel old and raises the potential for exploration – to find out all you can about it and all the secrets it may have in its history. It definitely adds to the fantasy of being in your own Star Wars quest.

“We were thinking about all the layers of story that pre-exist your arrival here, and thinking about it like any place that you would travel to in our own world that has a history, that has a heritage, there were people that were the first settlers that came here. There are things that have happened in probably thousands of years prior to your visit. The layers, again, make it feel real, and lived in,” said Beck.

Living, Breathing Batuu

The world that one enters through either of the entry points at Fantasyland, Frontierland, or Critter Country is such a stark contrast than the other lands within Disney. There are certain areas within the present-day park lands that do have a perspective which masks the rest of the park, one example is walking out of Pirates of the Caribbean ride and only seeing the various 19th-century themed structures in New Orleans Square.

On one hand, one of the great things about walking through the lands is how quickly one land fades into the other, and suddenly you’ve walked from Main Street into the retro futuristic Tomorrowland.

Yet, when you enter Galaxy’s Edge you are 100% immersed in it from the get-go, the transition period being very sudden and enthralling. This was the goal for the team behind the four-year project. In fact, the land itself feels like an attraction, although you are free to roam and interact with it rather than sit and let the attraction take you someplace.

Scott Trowbridge, Creative Executive at Walt Disney Imagineering explained, “With all the attention to detail and the immersiveness and the characters and the opportunities for exploration and discovery, the land itself, you can think of it as its own E-ticket attraction.”

Batuu as a world immerses you in its visuals, as far as the eye can see you are in Black Spire Outpost and the only goal in front of you is whether you will head to Oga’s Cantina for a drink, or start a secret mission as a Resistance fighter along with the help of one of the various cast members who are all acting a part in this world.

Trowbridge put it this way:

“One of the things that we decided very early on is to build a new place, a place that was not a memory of somebody else’s Star Wars story, it was not a place that we had visited in one of the earlier films, we know those place, we know the stories that have happened there, we know the character’s experiences there. We know that we are not part of those stories. This is Black Spire Outpost; this is on planet Batuu. This is a place that is purpose built so that you can live your own Star Wars story and become an active participant in the world of Star Wars.”

The Excitement of the Smuggle

Two major attractions are within Black Spire Outpost: Rise of the Resistance, which is currently not open, puts one in the middle of an epic battle between the First Order and the Resistance.

The second one, Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run, is a doozy of a ride. As either a pilot, gunner or flight engineer groups of six sit in the cockpit of the faster ship in the galaxy and go on a mission along with a smuggler named Hondo Ohnaka. Touches of Pirates of the Caribbean star Jack Sparrow can be seen on this space pirate in my opinion.

The best part of the experience while riding is that you are an active participant in the results of the mission, buttons light up and prompts let you control the fate of this mission, either as you help steer the ship and avoid danger, shoot enemies and obstacles, or repair the damages and systems as an engineer. And best of all, you can pull the lightspeed lever – It’s wonderful attention to detail and a gift to fans.

Asa Kalama, the Executive Creative Director of Walt Disney Imagineering, was the man in charge of bringing this attraction to life. He says, “The level of guest participation in Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run is different from anything we’ve done before. You’re not merely a passenger along for a ride, but rather the protagonist of the adventure. The story unfolds around you and responds to the way you engage it.”

Although the ride is great, and should be experienced by all Star Wars fans, part of the joy of the experience is the queue itself. While our preview had considerably short lines, I’d gauge that if you were waiting for an hour or so you would have a lot to look at even experience with the app.

Windows in the building for Smugglers Run face the back of the Millennium Falcon, so you have moments where you can see all the details and splendor of the ship from different angles.

Towards the end of the queue, you are brought forth into a familiar place if you’ve seen the films. The corridors and famous communal space of the Millennium Falcon greet you as you get ready to be split into your group and placed inside your cockpit. Here you get a moment to lose your mind as you are inside a faithful reproduction of the ship seen in the films, where iconic characters and moments have occurred for over forty years.

The reproduction even includes the chess-like board game, Dejarik. Lucasfilm worked with Walt Disney Imagineers to create an authentic reproduction of the ship, down to the stickers on the exterior and the various hoses and vents.

There is so much that can be written solely about this ride and its attention to detail, but it won’t do it any justice until it is experienced. Once Rise of the Resistance opens later this summer, we will have another ride to dissect and enjoy.

Overall, the new world inside Disneyland is remarkable, alive, and one of a kind. Although I expect it to be busy through the rest of the year and beyond, there is so much to see and do that boredom will not feel like an option here. Smuggler’s Run is the star of the show, but the show is so much more than just that one ride. It’s the feeling of walking the streets, the interactions with the cast members of Disneyland working hard to make you feel like you’re in some sort of ultimate escape room, but you won’t want to escape this one. At least not until you get your fill.

So, grab a drink, put away your lightsaber and enjoy the ride. May the force be with you in Batuu.