Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is coming to both Disneyland and Disney World this year, and the company’s goal is to make visitors forget they are in a theme park.
Disney gave the Orlando Sentinel and a handful of other media outlets a behind-the-scenes tour of the Disneyland site for Galaxy’s Edge, which is about 80 percent complete. The company is promising reimagined merchandising and advanced ride technology — all aimed at making its Star Wars experience as authentic as possible.
“I think grown men are going to cry. I think people are going to fall to their knees and start kissing the ground,” said Margaret Kerrison, a Disney Imagineer. She is part of the massive team that has spent more than four years designing the twin 14-acre lands set to debut this summer in Anaheim and fall in Orlando.
The company did not reveal specific dates for the highly anticipated grand openings expected to draw hundreds of thousands of fans to Anaheim and to Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Orlando.
At both parks, Disney has created Batuu, a Wild West planet where bounty hunters, smugglers and other shady characters go to be under the radar.
The star is the Millennium Falcon space ship, 110 feet from tip to tip.
MORE STAR WARS: GALAXY’S EDGE COVERAGE:
- A first look at Disney’s ambitious new world
- Galaxy’s Edge built with huge crowds in mind
- Food and drink offerings at Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge may surprise you
- A personalized lightsaber? Yes, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge will have that (and more)
- Disney’s Star Wars challenge: Build Galaxy’s Edge at Disneyland and at Disney World
- Our Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge channel
Visitors waiting in long lines will get to admire the iconic ship from all angles as the queue takes them around and above it into a ride called Smugglers Run, which lets guests fly the ship. Up close, people will notice all the details, including what looks like a spot of damage, as if the beat-up ship had just narrowly escaped another run of trouble.
The ride is a motion simulator, similar to the Star Tours attraction. People take their spots as drivers, gunners and engineers in the six-person cockpit, but if someone slacks on his job, it affects the Falcon’s flight. It is essentially a giant video game moving in real time.
Bad drivers can’t go as far as crashing the Falcon or destroying it, Disney said, although the ship can sustain damage.
The second ride, the Rise of the Resistance, will be longest in Disney’s collection, said Bob Chapek, chairman of Disney parks. Disney executives declined to say exactly how long it will be but it is shorter than 28 minutes, dispelling recent Internet rumors.
On Rise, ride-goers who start at a Resistance cave base will take off and be captured by a Star Destroyer. Now they must escape.
The trackless vehicle moves in different ways, making it like four attractions in one, Chapek said.
The ride comes across as perhaps a bit intimidating. In the massive loading bay of the Star Destroyer, which features a 100-foot space window, will be 50 Storm Troopers and First Order officers, barking orders.
At one point, passengers will leave the vehicle behind and walk into a detention cell, awaiting a confrontation with the villainous Kylo Ren.
Throughout the ride, characters Finn, Poe, and Rey — played by the same actors in the films — will appear in some form as either a hologram, animatronic or on a screen.
“In my opinion, this will be the most ambitious attraction that we’ve ever built,” Chapek said at the headquarters of Walt Disney Imagineering in Glendale, Calif.
One Disney Imagineer warned it might take some imagination to envision the land since a crane was still on site and crews were working on unfinished interior spaces.
Even with those distractions, Galaxy’s Edge feels like a different world, with its rustic dome-shaped buildings and an impressive 40-foot arch near the village. Inside, the industrial-themed decor includes exposed pipes overhead, old pumps as ceiling fixtures and bolts and panels posted on the wall.
Spires — some 20 feet tall while others are more than 100 feet — dominate the landscape, capturing one’s attention at first, before the massive Falcon comes into view.
Some Star Wars references are subtle and require searching; others will not.
A pair of land speeders are parked in a garage, and a full-scale X-Wing fighter has landed near Resistance Forrest where the rebels have recently arrived to set up base.
Disney Imagineers added tracks modeled from the original R2-D2 played by Kenny Baker from the films on wet concrete, so it’s as if the famous droid has left his mark here.
What’s for sale
What you won’t find are large, modern stores common to many amusement parks.
Instead, there are Moroccan-inspired markets and vendor stalls, some decorated with baskets and crates stacked against the walls and hanging from the ceiling. Many of the areas for retail and the cantina bar aren’t huge spaces but are designed to be more intimate.
“The merchandise inside the shops won’t be in boxes that are cardboard that say, ‘Disney’ on them,” Chapek said.
In another space, an animatronic alien is a proprietor in a store with a taxidermied 12-foot wampa, the Yeti-like creature that attacked Luke Skywalker in the snow in “Empire Strikes Back.”
For sale will be everything from a bust of Yoda, a Princess Leia white dress and her famous bun wig and a porg puppet, the cute penguin-type animal from “The Last Jedi.”
Galaxy’s Edge is set period-wise in the present movie trilogy, so the golden era of Jedi wielding lightsabers is over. But Star Wars isn’t Star Wars without a Jedi Knight’s favorite weapon.
So 14 parties at a time build and personalize their own lightsabers in a special workshop. Disney did not release prices for the 20-minute experience.
Visitors can also make their own custom droids that beep and interact with other robots and characters in the land.
Blue milk and food
The lands will sell blue and green milk, both of which have popped up in the films.
“We know our fans have for 40 years been asking the question: What is blue milk?” said Scott Trowbridge, a Disney Imagineer.
Fortunately for visitors visiting on a humid Florida day, it’s not actually milk. The frozen slushy drinks — the blue tastes berry and melon flavored while the green is more tropical and citrusy — are made with non-dairy products.
For food, the land won’t have a table-service restaurant but will offer two quick-serve restaurants and a cantina with alcohol and snacks.
A tasting of some of the options included more sophisticated plates than traditional theme park fare, including ribs, a shrimp noodle bowl as well as a chocolate cake topped with chocolate and coffee mousse. Some dishes were designed to surprise, like a raspberry cream puff that is pale green.
Cast and crew
Instead of wearing identical outfits like at most other Disney attractions, employees who play natives in Galaxy’s Edge will mix-and-match their own costumes, deciding to wear, for instance, a vest or a hat. A villager might choose a layered tunic and long shorts; a First Order officer could march in an imposing belted suit.
“We’re encouraging them to create their own identity and personas,” said Kerrison, a managing story editor. “We want to empower them to be able to play like never before.”
“A lot of them are Star Wars fans. They are so incredibly excited that they’re making up things. We’re like ‘OK, wait, wait. Hold on there. You can’t be Han’s second cousin, OK? That’s just not a thing,’” Kerrison said, laughing.
A new destination
Disney created a new planet because places like Hoth and Tatooine — planets Star Wars fans already know — take away from the fantasy of visitors creating their own story, Trowbridge said.
But it is a Star Wars universe, so characters and references from all the movies, animation and books might appear, and Disney may expand with new ones as the franchise keeps growing.
“I want to be able to walk into this land and feel excited,” Kerrison said. “I want to not feel like I’m at a disadvantage because I don’t know all the nitty-gritty details as a hardcore Star Wars fan would know.”
Imagineers traveled to North Africa and the Middle East, places where history runs deep. They took pictures of doorknobs, rusty wires and dirty alleys to find some inspiration in the smallest of the details for the project.
“We’re creating a place that’s very believable and authentic and real. It starts with research,” said Doug Chiang, vice president and creative director for Lucasfilm.
Working with Lucasfilm, Imagineers visited the sets of the new film trilogy to look at props and studied clothing racks for the extras to learn what people in the background wore.
Collaborating with them were people such as Pablo Hidalgo, a superfan who wrote his own encyclopedia called the “Star Wars Index” before he got hired at Lucasfilm.
“We are the lifelong Star Wars fans that often are able to do the squint test to know if something is off,’’ Hidalgo said. “ [Yet] we’ve not seen everything in our 40 years at Star Wars. Let’s put some new stuff in here as well.”
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