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Entertainment & Arts

Column: Tense and intense, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is not your mother’s Disneyland

Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge

Storm Troopers in the First Order Cargo area inside the new Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disneyland.

(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
Culture columnist/critic

As a SoCal mom, I know what it takes to do Disneyland: water, sunscreen, sturdy walking shoes, lots of cash, phone, snacks and whatever other gear the age and Disney-geek demographic of the group demands.

Strollers, mouse ears, matching shirts, lanyards clanking with tradable pins, whatever; I’ve always had it covered, down to the Band-Aids, hand sanitizer and Advil.

But I never thought to pack a back story.

Within minutes of entering Galaxy’s Edge, the park’s brand-new “Star Wars”-themed land, I realized this was a hideous mistake.

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“Are you looking for a job?” A young woman in native-Batuu garb asked in a low voice as she sidled up to my daughter and me.

“Um, no,” I said. “We’re looking for lightsabers.”

“Keep your voice down!” she said. “The First Order is everywhere. But Savi’s Workshop is right around the corner.”

I smiled in what I hoped was a knowing fashion and moved away.

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“Mom,” Darby hissed impatiently, “you have to stay in character.”

Wait, what?

With the strained patience peculiar to 12-year-olds, she explained that she would be pretending to be sympathetic to the First Order because she did have some Dark Side to her, but in reality she would be passing on secrets to the resistance because she was really a good guy.

Then she looked at me expectantly.

“Um, I guess I can do that too?” I proposed weakly, before attempting to distract her with a purchase of blue milk.

“OK,” she said with a sigh, “but follow my lead.” She stood at attention as a group of Stormtroopers marched past, smiled knowingly at a young man (Rebel? Smuggler?) leaning out of a nearby doorway, then heaved another sigh of greater exasperation as I struggled to pay for the blue milk (in Batuu, the chip readers are not yet functional).

I’m not going to lie to you; things can get a little tense in Galaxy’s Edge.

Our inaugural experience on the land’s one ride, Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run, had already left me a quivering mess of self-doubt.

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Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge opens, and Los Angeles Times reporter Todd Martens takes a look at the Millennium Falcon and finds out what it’s like to fly the hunk of junk in the Smugglers Run attraction.

FULL COVERAGE -- Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge »

After winding wide-eyed through the rusting, flashing wonderland of Hondo Ohnaka’s warehouse and onto the iconic deck of the Falcon, Darby and I were presented with color-coded wooden tokens that named us pilots. Now, I had already heard from our Disney-geek in residence, Todd Martens, that piloting the Falcon was not for the faint of heart so I quickly tried to switch with the couple who had been designated as engineers. How hard could engineering be?

One look at Darby’s outraged face put a stop to that, and soon I was at the controls beside her in the cockpit. I was in charge of navigating up and down; she would “move” us side to side.

For the record, it was not my fault that we hit that other ship immediately or ran into a massive piece of space debris just before landing — I told Darby to head left.

Still, I had a hard time meeting the gaze of our four flight companions when we concluded our breathtaking, and yes, very bumpy flight. Never mind that I had been there, awestruck in my small hometown theater, when “Star Wars” supernova-ed into American culture; clearly I had not paid enough attention to what all the pilots were actually doing.

I had certainly not given enough thought to the notion of interactive theme parks: Galaxy’s Edge is not Cars Land, that’s for sure.

Or even Tomorrowland. Galaxy’s Edge is not a land at all, not really. It’s a different universe. Larger in scale and scope than any other part of Disneyland, its stark contrast with the quaint and pretty areas that surround it — Critter Country, Frontierland, Fantasyland — is actually a bit unsettling at first.

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I had mentioned the verboten term “lightsabers” because we were looking for the place where you can build your own, and it was hard to find. In the Black Spire Outpost of Batuu the only signage is in Aurebesh, a fictional language with which I am unfamilar (and having struggled long enough with J.R.R. Tolkien’s Elvish and George R.R. Martin’s Valerian, was in no mood to learn) and many of the stores and restaurants exist behind closed doors; you approach and they open, and only then are their contents revealed.

Which is definitely cool, but also secretive in a way the rest of Disneyland is not.

There is an open marketplace, but it is set up to encourage role-playing as much as actual commerce. Though there are toys and T-shirts for sale, the plushie/tchotchke factor is low, the cultural immersion high. One helpful merchant showed us how to touch a large stone seat for good luck and told us not to miss the wishing tree. All greeted us with a salutary “Bright suns.”

“Under his eye,” I responded at least once in a bit of cross-pop-culture confusion; amid Batuu’s earth tones, a Handmaid would definitely be out of place. But hey, I was trying.

The prices, it must be said, are also, well, astronomic. When we finally found Savi’s place, we were furtively shown bits of “scrap metal” (stylized bits of lightsabers indicating the four themes of lightsabers) and told that a visit to Savi would cost “200 credits,” which daunted even my young rebel spy. We were both too intimidated to ask if we could just watch someone else build their own weapon, so we got no farther than the exterior, which could have fronted a Batuu strip club for all we knew.

The Droid Depot was more accessible — you can enter and watch other guests pick out various pieces to create custom-made droids, but the 100-credits price tag meant that was all we were prepared to do. “Maybe we should have said yes when they asked if we wanted a job,” Darby said, combining perfect Han Solo timing with her personal knowledge of our family rules on souvenirs.

Even the pre-made lightsabers at Dok-Ondar’s Den of Antiquities were 40 credits and I didn’t even bother looking at the price tag on the (truly fabulous) Princess Leia necklace.

The blue milk was good though, as was the green, and if the turkey jerky was unremarkable, I did get a very nice cold shrimp noodle salad in Docking Bay 7. We didn’t make it intothe cantina — the line was too long — but we’ll save that for the next trip, when we’re a bit better prepared, which may take a while.

READ MORE: Why this avowed Disney ‘apologist’ finds it harder to believe in the magic of Disneyland »

Viewings of at least the most recent “Star Wars” films, the time frame in which Galaxy’s Edge exists, are certainly called for. Not to mention downloading the Play Disney app, which apparently will unlock all manner of connections to the landscape.

But even more than that, Galaxy’s Edge requires a different set of expectations than the rest of Disneyland.

“Total immersion” and “world building” are popular terms these days, used to describe experiences as varied as television series and shopping malls. Galaxy’s Edge may be the closest to the true definition, and it requires some internal adjustments.

It’s a big step from Critter Country to Batuu, where the world exists behind closed doors and people in strange garb want to talk to you, often in code, sometimes in whispers, about loyalty and quests while armed Stormtroopers and their Nazi-esque commanders prowl the streets. In Fantasyland, a glimpse of Maleficent is a campy thrill; here the sight of Kylo Ren sweeping by brings even a non-role-playing mom to a sudden halt.

Even after June 23, when reservations are no longer required, you’ll need more than the usual Disney kit of sunscreen and stamina and credit cards.

Before you visit Galaxy’s Edge, you need to prepare your character, and then come ready for some serious play.

mary.mcnamara@latimes.com

@marymacTV


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