Disneyland Park, Anaheim, CA
Friday, May 31st, was a day long remembered. It saw the opening of the biggest expansion in Disneyland history, and it saw the debut of a new land to take guests to a galaxy far, far away. Yes, this past weekend, after years of design and construction, and after cast member previews, VIP previews, and press previews, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge opened to the general public… that had an advanced reservation to visit.
The first Disneyland expansion since Fantasy Faire in 2013 and first full themed land expansion since Mickey’s Toontown in 1993 brings guests to the distant planet of Batuu, a remote world on the edge of Wild Space. Once a thriving space port planet frequently visited on interstellar routes, Batuu fell out of prominence with the rise of hyperspace travel. As a result, it became a more backwater domain, where adventurers and those wishing to stay under the radar gathered. In more recent [storyline] times, it has come under purview of the First Order, but at the same time, a small Resistance force has set up camp in the outskirts of Black Spire Outpost, just out of town.
It is this environment that guests come into when they arrive from one of three entrances—Critter Country (the current most commonly used entrance on account of its extra room for queuing while the Resistance side is currently less active until the opening of Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance), Frontierland, and Fantasyland. More than just a themed land that features intellectual property, Galaxy’s Edge is a true teleportation to a strikingly magnificent, richly detailed, deeply immersive world that takes theme park escapism into a new realm. With a blend of cutting edge ride technology, story-driven interactive theater, immaculate and enveloping theming, and brilliant place-making, Batuu not only makes guests forget that they’re in Anaheim, Southern California. It makes them forget that they’re in Disneyland.
The story-driven experience is present in a variety of ways both subtle and overt. The citizens of Batuu have their own customs and vernacular woven into their interactions with guests. They say “Bright suns!” as a greeting in the morning and daytime, and “Dim suns!” around sunset, then “Rising moons!” in the evening. “Till the spire” represents a parting salutation—a sort of “see you later” or “until next time” turn of phrase. Want a more formal version of good-bye? Say, “May the spires keep you!” Unsure of how to answer something? “Only the Ancients know,” is the appropriate response when the answer isn’t actually known.
There are no drinking fountains around Black Spire Outpost, only “hydrators.” Restrooms are called “refreshers.” Payments for food and merchandise are conducted in “credits” per Star Wars terminology, not dollars. At Oga’s Cantina, guests looking for alcoholic libations won’t be asked for their ID, but rather their “credentials.” Have a picture taken? It doesn’t go on Photo Pass, but rather an “image data disk” (that doubles as a free Galaxy’s Edge souvenir). Plus, there are a lot of signs, graphics, and messages written in Aurebesh, rather than Basic (English), which will require a decoder on the Disney Play app or a fluent knowledge of said language.
If role playing isn’t the thing for you, never fear. Similar to Ghost Town Alive! at Knott’s Berry Farm, the theaterical aspect of Galaxy’s Edge is not forced upon anyone, and although cast members and storm troopers will maintain character in interactions, they don’t for guests to drop into any sort of character if they’re not comfortable with that. And signs for essential locations, such as restrooms, are written in Basic as well.
Fortunately, for the guest who prefers to simply observe, there is a plethora to see and experience within Galaxy’s Edge. Although much has been said about the land opening “with only one ride,” Galaxy’s Edge boasts multiple attractions (and they’re even listed that way on the park map). The marquee is, of course, Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run, where guests help smuggler (he would call himself “transporter”) Hondo Onaka acquire some certain cargo while piloting the most famous starship in the galaxy. But there is also Savi’s Lightsaber Workshop (for those who don’t mind shelling out $200 plus tax, no discounts, for admission and lightsaber purchase) and Droid Depot ($99 plus tax, no discount, to build your own droid), which function as themed experiences, even if they aren’t rides themselves.
I would also argue that Dok-Ondar’s Den of Antiquities is an attraction in its own right, layered in a wealth of intricate theming and Easter eggs surrounding a highly specialized and elaborately fancy souvenir store, because it frequently has a line for admission. And Oga’s Cantina, though technically a dining/drinking established, is certainly an attraction because of both its unique and memorable interior ambiance and its low capacity resulting in a certain sense of exclusivity for those who have time to get in.
There are also unscheduled mini-shows that punctuate the air at various times throughout the day. We’ve seen this in Knott’s Berry Farm’s Ghost Town Alive! sequence of events (which follows a more linear and organized plot) and in the unannounced shot bits that Scary Farm has incorporated the last couple of years in The Hollow and Forsaken Lake scare zones. These follow Galaxy’s Edge motif of discovery. There are no announcements about them and, really, no warning to those who haven’t seen them before. At any point in time, Kylo Ren might march up onto a platform (stage) in front of his TIE Echelon looking for Rey, or a gunfight might break out between Resistance members and storm troopers, or Chewbacca might be working on fixing up an X-wing. Then there are the roving storm troopers, who are constantly on the watch for Resistance spies and offer up some delightful banter to guests whether the guests play along or not.
Of course, the land itself is absolutely spectacular. Galaxy’s Edge is about Star Wars, but placing the setting in a new planet previously untold in Star Wars lore has allowed the Imagineers to craft something original within the confines of a familiar mythos. In this case, the planet of Batuu is home to towering ancient trees that have since died and become petrified, turning into massive and monumental rock spires. Over time, these rocky towers have been colonized and incorporated into the local, vernacular architecture. The result is an organic sense of architecture mixed with an epic stroke of [manufactured] geology.
Spaces in Batuu alternate from grand and majestic to intimate and nestled. In the merchant marketplace area, referred to as the souks, a very strong Middle Eastern ambiance arises, showing clear influences from the Imagineers’ actual research trips to places like Morocco and the medinas that formed their dense cores. Where guests behold the Millennium Falcon, the space is a grand plaza with the platinum money shot of the entire land—the famous ship in front of towering rockwork formations and hidden smuggler operations.
The quality in Galaxy’s Edge is matched by only one other Disney creation: Tokyo Disney Sea, where the hyperrealism and super-articulate detail is overwhelming in the best of ways. Sightlines, frames, compression and expansion of space, and procession have been carefully orchestrated to tell a visual story that matches the mythological backstory. Although there are a select few locations where other parts of Disneyland can be seen (a few view windows from the Smuggler’s Run queue reveal the buttes of Big Thunder Mountain—which work out because they kind of blend in with the similar rock structures of Batuu—for example), for the most part, the rest of the park is completely hidden away from view. What the local Batuu citizens refer to as “off-world” (or “off-planet”) is truly that—something that’s a world away.
As with any quality Disney product, the details add richness and complexity to the thematic environment, and Galaxy’s Edge has plenty of them—so many that new ones seem to make news every day. There’s a hydrolator that has a dianoga movie fans might recognize from the garbage chute of the first Death Star. Dok-Ondar’s Den of Antiquities has the now-heavily publicized Ark of the Covenant from Raiders of the Lost Ark and also the much less-heavily discussed golden bust of Jar Jar Binks from who-the-heck-thought-that-was-great-but-eff-you-it’s-amazing. The tunnels inside the Smuggler’s Run building have striated texture from the “excavation” that occurred, while the ride’s main queue itself has a series of highly realistic-looking space vessel parts and equipment that really transport guests into a scene from the Resistance.
Looking for more interaction? There are also barcodes scattered throughout the land that can be scanned in the Disney Play app and tied to missions and adventures that guests may elect to play as part of a side quest and game while within the land. All of this adds up to a whole new chapter in what a theme park or themed land is supposed to be in the 21st century. Leveraging the strengths of video games and practical settings brings the best of both worlds and lends variety to how guests can enjoy Batuu.
With any themed land, food and merchandise play a large role, and Galaxy’s Edge continues that trend as well.
There are officially five locations for food and drink: Kat Saka’s Kettle, an exotic popcorn stand; Ronto Roasters, home of wraps and meats heated by podracer engine; Docking Bay 7 Food and Cargo, the main quick serve restaurant offering the greatest variety of actual full-fledged meals; Milk Stand, where guests can imbibe in the (in)famous blue (fruity) or green (floral) milk (they’re slushie-type drinks and highly sugary); and of course, Oga’s Cantina, now the second place in Disneyland Park where alcohol is served (Club 33 being the first) and home of former Star Tours captain-turned club DJ R-3X.
On my visit this past weekend, I was only able to experience Oga’s Cantina and purchase a wrap from Ronto, so there is plenty more on the food front yet to be touched. Our friends at Disney Food Blog have been knocking it out of the park with their “Star Wars” Land coverage, though, and Heather has been sharing a plethora of information on her Instagram, Dining in Disney. Oga’s is definitely an attraction to be experienced, because even without the drinks (which are a bit hit or miss and definitely pricey, even by Southern California craft cocktail standards for the quantities given), the energetic vibe inside is absolutely enchanting. It’s a bit Mos Eisley Cantina, a bit electro-swing dance club, and even the bartenders are in character.
Unsurprisingly, Disney has also devised a wide variety of ways to milk credits from guests in the form a variety of shops throughout Galaxy’s Edge. Dok-Ondar’s Den of Antiquities has already been mentioned as an attraction just to see the detail of the rich interior decorations, but features a wealth of Jedi and Sith memorability might be irresistible to many Star Wars fans. On the western side of town, a series of merchant stands offer creatures for adoption (sale) at Creature Stall; Jedi robes and local garbs (which strangely aren’t allowed to be worn in land by adults over 14 years of age under Disney’s sometimes-confusing costume policy) at Black Spire Outfitters; adorable plush figures and toys at Toydarian Toymaker produced in a craftsman style—representations as Batuu citizens who’ve heard about some of these famous characters but haven’t necessarily seen them themselves would recreate them; and local goods and trinkets at Jewels of Bith. The wealth of goodies includes many items that cannot actually be purchased anywhere else in the park, which makes them feel more special and exclusive. There’s certainly a reason why people have already started calling this land “Broketuu.” It will definitely put a dent in many a fan’s credit reserves!
Those concerned about crowds in the new land don’t have to worry until June 24, when it is truly opened up to any Disneyland park admission holder. Galaxy’s Edge is currently open on a limited basis. Guests who stay on Disneyland Resort proper from now through Sunday, June 23 (spots still available), and guests who were quick enough to snag an online reservation early last month when they were released (no slots available any longer) have been granted four hour time slots on the day of their reservation, giving the park tight control of traffic and crowds on Batuu. New entries occur every three hours, yielding a one hour overlap between two groups. But as the first weekend has demonstrated, outside of that overlap, crowds within Galaxy’s Edge have been quite pleasantly low during the middle two hours that each reservation period has the land to itself. Lines at Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run, for example, have dropped down to the 15-20 minute wait time, from a peak of 60-90 minutes during the opening rush and overlapping hours.
Those who have reservations but haven’t looked into the details of check-in and arrival should know that they need to go to Star Wars Launch Bay in Tomorrowland (the former Innoventions) up to two hours before their scheduled reservation time. Everyone in the party must have a valid ID (called that while we’re in Tomorrowland), and each person will receive a colored wristband with a code word and the time slot printed. From there, guests are told their entry point (most likely from Critter Country) but dissuaded from queuing up until 15 minutes prior to the actual reservation time. Many linger around the area 30-45 minutes beforehand anyway, which is good, because there will be a pre-queuing around half an hour before entry, followed by the scanning of wristbands as guests enter through the portal into Batuu, and then more waiting in the wilderness around the Resistance base until the reservation time actually ticks by.
Listen to the cast members, who will provide updates on different guides to follow depending on the target destination (Smugglers Run, Oga’s Cantina, Savi’s Lightsaber Workshop…). The process is relatively smooth for the most part, with people generally reporting speedy check-in procedures lasting 10-15 minutes at most, but there were also reports of the Launch Bay portion taking up to 45 minutes, so buffer plenty of time for all the preparation before actually stepping foot onto Batuu!
All of that said, Galaxy’s Edge is not without its flaws, though they are significantly outweighed by all the positives. The biggest gripe and shock many might find will be prices, which are higher even compared to equivalent items elsewhere in the park, thanks to the Galaxy’s Edge rub. Coke and Sprite bottles, for example, are $5.50 for the special bottle design, more expensive than regular Coke bottles off-world. The $14 - $17 alcoholic drinks at Oga’s are often small and contain less volume than added drinks, while certain drink items come in souvenir mugs and must be purchased at the souvenir mug price. While owning a droid or a lightsaber for oneself sounds cool, playing $100 or $200 respectively for one might be unpalatable, especially on top of the park ticket admission price. Even the absolutely adorable plushes at Toydarian Toymaker run $20 a piece, when similarly sized plushes at the Main Street Emporium or World of Disney are at least $5 less.
The costuming rules are a bit silly as well. Prohibiting costumes so that guests aren’t confused with cast member characters makes sense, but applying that to wardrobe that is sold in the land itself is silly. Universal allows its guest to dress in Hogwarts robes, and there aren’t issues with confusion between guests and employees or actors who also wear robes.
The exclusivity of Oga’s Cantina and Savi’s Lightsaber Workshop due to their very limited capacities can also be a point of contention. It’s tough to stomach that these attractions effectively won’t allow the vast majority of land visitors to experience them because of how little people they can accommodate per hour—especially when one of them is listed as an attraction on the park map and thus expected to be widely accessible.
The merchant booths themselves could also pose a capacity issue once the land is fully open, because each is an independent store with only one cashier’s booth. An item at the Creature Stall cannot be paid at Jewels of Bith, and each store’s limited pay stations could cause some long lines just to purchase souvenirs. In addition, this past weekend, several items were already sold out early one, including several of the Toydarian plushes and a special metal gift card available at Droid Depot that can be used anywhere on Disney property.
These are small trifles in the grand scheme of things, and the issues are being continuously worked through during this initial, several week, reservations-only period, which effectively is functioning as a soft opening. Ultimately, the grandeur and marvel (pun intended) of “Star Wars” Land outshines its issues. And especially for those fortunate enough to be visiting now through June 23, when capacity is clearly being throttled well below the maximum allowable, the experience will be very enjoyable, because there won’t be the dreaded mobs to battle through for most of the time.
Finally, for those who plan on going the next few weeks while reservations are still in place, a few tips to maximize your time and keep things efficient:
Check in at Star Wars Launch Bay early just in case there are snags in the process or a sudden rush of people checking in at the same time. Cast members are being strict about matching reservation names to ID’s.
If you want to do Oga’s Cantina or Savi’s Lightsaber Workshop, hit those first. The lines for those do not go down, and positioning yourself as close to the front of queue when entering will give you the best chance of getting in sooner. The line for Oga’s will also be closed to newcomers if it gets too long, though on Sunday, they were also experimenting with a reservation and paging (through text message) system.
Avoid riding Smuggler’s Run during the first and last hours of your reservation time when you’re overlapping another group and everyone floods the line. Stick to the second and third hours, and wait times should not exceed 30 minutes.
Supposedly, entry into the queue for Smuggler’s Run is cut off half an hour before the end of your four hour reservation slot.
You can kindly ask a cast member for a different position on Smuggler’s Run if you receive one you already tried. They’ll usually just ask you to wait.
Oga’s has a selection of coasters that you can keep, and try asking the bartender for a complete set if you want a free collectible.
The metal gift card (if back in stock) is sold at Droid Depot, at the cashier next to the actual build-your-own-droid area. If you’re there just for that, enter through the exit door instead of the entrance door that will probably have a long line snaking out of it.
The “image data disk” is available from Photo Pass photographers upon request and is another free souvenir.
Online mobile ordering is available for Ronto’s Roasters and Docking Bay 7, but they run out quickly. One strategy might be to order food upon entering (or even before entering) and setting the pick-up window to a time that you know won’t be occupied by other activities—for example shortly after entering and getting a reservation at Oga’s or Savi’s, or right before your time slot expires.
Though guests are supposed to leave Galaxy’s Edge upon the conclusion of their four hour window, the only enforcement is via checking wristband. Wristbands are checked when entering the line for Smuggler’s Run and when paying for food or merchandise. For the most part, guests won’t be bothered if they stick around and just wander, take in the scenery, or unobtrusively take photographs.
And a few things you should NOT do:
Don’t steal the unique metal sporks at Docking Bay 7. Again, they’re not for you to keep. And DEFINITELY don’t try to resell on E-Bay, because that’s just being greedy.
Don’t steal the menus at Oga’s Cantina. They’re cool and all, but they’re not meant to be given away. Don’t be a jerk.
Don’t dance on the tables at Oga’s. Apparently, someone did that on Saturday, so now they have to warn people entering the cantina.
I started this post off with the intention to write a short summary of initial feelings about Galaxy’s Edge, but like the sprawling land itself, it has evolved into a pretty full-fledged review. Still, over the next few weeks, we’ll be doing deep dives into some of the various attractions—mostly to showcase more photos, but also to provide more detailed information. So sit back, relax, and enjoy as we culminate our two and a half year long coverage of “Star Wars” Land with a look at the various finished products within.
In the meantime, may the spires keep you!
Architect. Photographer. Disney nerd. Haunt enthusiast. Travel bugged. Concert fiend. Asian.