Review: Walt Disney World’s Galaxy’s Edge
In the back corner of Walt Disney World’s Disney’s Hollywood Studios lies a land far far away. Well, far far away unless you stumble upon it via the entry from Toy Story Land. From the other side of the park, Galaxy’s Edge transitions via a grand entrance designed to set the new Star Wars-themed land apart from the more traditional Disney experiences.
Regardless of how one enters Galaxy’s Edge, it is clear that Disney invested in a grand gesture to George Lucas’s vision. But as a baby boomer, it quickly became clear that this isn’t my Star Wars despite the Millennium Falcon acting as the centerpiece of the experience. Galaxy’s Edge quickly reveals itself as a narrow slice of the Lucas vision, one focused more on the new films and the more recent television shows than the original films or their prequels.
The Falcon experience, known as Smuggler’s Run, doesn’t focus on a lost Han Solo adventure, but one concocted by animated character Hondo Ohnaka. Chewbacca makes a brief appearance as he offers reluctant permission to employ the Falcon in this rather hazardous journey.
But like most things Disney, Galaxy’s Edge brings a depth of detail that competing parks have a hard time following (save the excellent work at Universal’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter).
The detail, however, doesn’t create enough accessible experience to become a major focus of a day at a Disney park. With only Smuggler’s Run up and running, Galaxy’s Edge becomes one long line surrounded by a number of intriguing, expensive and often inaccessible restaurants and shops. Access, especially to experiences like the Oga’s Cantina, require significant pre-planning, as no walking up service or stand-by line exists (which is true of many other sit-down restaurants across the park) and other experiences, like Savi’s Workshop – Handbuilt Lightsabers and Droid Depot. With the newness of Galaxy’s Edge, it would have been nice to include a non-participant view, perhaps a walkway or a people-mover type experience that allows people to at least see the Cantina without eating there, or spending the money to acquire a lightsaber or droid.
Eventually (now in Florida, January in California) Smuggler’s run will be joined by a second ride, Rise of the Resistance, may offer deeper engagement, but the Disney Park’s PR team couldn’t offer a glimpse of the new ride a couple of weeks before its debut.
But regardless of the success of the upcoming ride in bringing a longer edge to the in-land story, the overall feel of Galaxy’s Edge remains alien to those who embraced Star Wars in the late 1970s, early 80s and then again in the late 90s and early oughts. That world lives around the corner in Star Tours, the aging simulation ride that strangely exists outside of Galaxy’s Edge.
The Star Wars experience lacks cohesion between the tight vision of Batuu’s Black Spire Outpost and the grand vision of the greater Star Wars universe and its various sagas. Amusement park experiences by necessity must tell a story. Star Tours made the same choice early on to bring fans into a slice of the Star Wars universe that was in a way, outside of cannon (a tourist trip to Endor). With a franchise as vast as Star Wars, it is impossible to create an all-encompassing experience with all the touchpoints one would want accessible. The mistake made by Disney with Galaxy’s Edge is to miss the core element of characters that sits at the center—the origin—of the Star Wars saga. It was the love for Luke, Han, and Leia that compelled the story at its onset. Even in the prequels, which still feel awkwardly sanitary when compared to the original trilogy—and for which there is little reference in the park, the story of the discovery, hope and ultimate loss of Anakin Skywalker generates emotional connections for fans.
Galaxy’s Edge lacks a Star Wars heart. The resistance story might well serve the needs of near-term promotion ahead of the next film and the on-going animated derivatives on Disney XD and Disney+. Ironically, the Disney+ series The Mandaloriandelivers a bridge between the first three films and the original three films. It too has no home in Galaxy’s Edge (though I’m guessing the adorable baby Yodaish character will soon be available for sale). The dark side of the force predominates Galaxy’s Edge, with wandering storm troopers, Kilo Ren and members of the first order. Sure, there is a story of a resistance spy (who no one knows going into the experience since she seems to originate in episode IX which can’t be seen until Dec 20.) who has a relationship with Ren and Fin. First Order context comes built into Galaxy’s Edge—any franchise the history of the world arrives through the guests, and those guests aren’t honored with any touchstones to their knowledge.
Expensive Lightsabers, including Luke Skywalker’s, can be found at Dok-Ondar’s Den of Antiquities, and various Chewbacca elements sit mixed with First Order gear. I did purchase a pair of dice for my car’s rearview mirror, but those dice (from Solo) and this land are clearly about the current Disney moment, not a decades-old franchise and the characters Baby Boomers grew up with.
Perhaps this is an attempt to build an experience that will age more gracefully as millennials bring their children to a world they connected with. In the meantime, the 30s and 50-somethings or older with money to spend have a hard time finding the Star Wars of their youth.
The 14-acre land, for the most part, delivers on immersion with its oddly named food, consistent use of credits for dollars and sights and smells and visual touches that broadcast an otherworldliness. The Imagineers require recognition and acknowledgment for their accomplishments.
But as a customer, I didn’t find the experience immersive enough. As I walked through the wonderfully nostalgic and creatively reimagined onboarding experience in the Magic Kingdom’s Peter Pan ride, I realized they’re all that I missed in Galaxy’s Edge—the missed opportunity for Disney to connect to all generations of fans. As I walked through the Darling home, following a spritely Tinkerbell as she frolicked through the decorations, and as I met my own shadow, I found myself totally bought-in. What I needed from Galaxy’s Edge—and little more force and a little less New Order.
Star Wars created myth and religion from the start, its soul revolved around a kind of spiritual quest, not just a lot of transactional information that created the elements of a universe.
Disney is not one to refrain from tinkering and refinement. Even as the onslaught of the New Order brings new order to Galaxy’s Edge, Disney will likely find a way to loosen the edges of the cell membrane that isolates the new land from its history and let in some Yoda, some Han, some Leia and some Luke (and perhaps even some Lando or Padme). If Galaxy’s Edge is supposed to create a personal story, I need the characters in my personal history to be included.
Oswald The Lucky Rabbit has found a home at Disneyland, so too can the beloved characters of the earlier Star Wars films. Hopefully, Disney will reconsider the fragmented Star Wars experience and find a way to bring Star Tours into Galaxy’s Edge, which will be more easily done in Florida than in California. But with the general need for a futuristic facelift of the sagging Tomorrowland’s, making a move sooner than later would make sense.
Three suggested fixes for Galaxy’s Edge Orlando
- More acknowledgment and inclusion of the original films and the prequels
- A back entry that hides Toy Story Land (during the first day in the long line leading to Smuggler’s Run I was taken aback by the lack of transition between the two areas).
- Take out Grand Avenue and bring Star Tours into the experience. Perhaps extend the trees into an Ewok land of sorts).
Disney continues to do a first-class job on executing the tactile and immersive visions. The details were amazing, The experience as a whole proved underwhelming. The inability to see without buying, the lateness of the second ride and the failure to create an inclusive Star Wars experience left me wanting more. Fortunately, Yoda was wrong. There is a try and this is it. Disney will likely keep trying and continue to improve the experiences that flow through their investment in the galaxy far, far away.
The Smuggler’s Run Experience
Early reviews suggested arriving early and getting in line immediately for Smuggler’s Run. That was a mistake. My family and I rode Smuggler’s Run twice. The early line extended nearly to the land’s entrance. Later a more modest line beckoned us back (over 2-hours vs. less than 45-minutes).
Like all of Galaxy’s Edge, the run-up to Smuggler’s Run sets itself in the new Resistance world, not the older Rebellion World. The Millennium Falcon is a wonder of detail that reflects George Lucas’s early edict to create models that hinted at inner workings to sell them as authentic vehicles. If you don’t study the needs of machines to escape gravity wells, then the Millennium Falcon’s detail suggests a ship that could power up and leave Bakku’s atmosphere.
The walk to the Falcon provides many views of the exterior worthy of photographs.
In a briefing room, Hondo negotiates for the Falcon and then tells the crew about their mission. Find a train and steal (or acquire) a container of coaxium.
Once out of port and into the Falcon’s interior, the wait for the ride allows for some memorable photos and things to touch, like sitting at the holographic chessboard.
Each set of six guests is assigned a color-coded card that assigns them to a team, and gives them a role: pilot, gunner or engineer. Each has a role actively participates in the ride.
Once called aboard, teams walk down a corridor to a cockpit. Six seats face a high-resolution projector that brings the visual part of the simulation to life. In a strange choice, piloting splits tasks between the vertical and horizontal. The interactivity engages a bit too much, often distracting from the visuals. I can’t really remember much about my first ride as a gunner, which required me to push a couple of buttons that I figured out about half-way through, but up to that point, I wasn’t paying much attention to the screen. This, of course, makes the ride one that requires multiple passes to master and to ultimately enjoy completely. (I had a similar issue with the design choices Epcot’s Mission Space).
The visuals are well-done, although the mission of being a smuggler trying to steal something from the First Order and in doing so destroying many ships and their pilots might bring an undertow to the experience for those with worries about violence in the land of Mickey. The clear good versus evil of the original trilogy often gets lost in grey depths of the more recent properties, including films like Rogue One and television shows like Rebels.
As the only working attraction at the time, the Smuggler’s Run experience was a must. It felt fast, required teamwork (usually with people you don’t know) and left one feeling almost like they piloted or assisted with a Millennium Falcon smuggling run.
It will be interesting to see if the Millennium Falcon adapts to telling more inclusive travel stories in the future. This seemed pretty much a boy ride, but the Falcon’s role in the Star Wars universe extends well beyond space battles and smuggling. I personally would rather escape after saving someone than in an attempt to steal some coaxium. The later feels more heroic, and perhaps more Disney (and yes, more classic Star Wars).
All photos property of BestEntertainmentReviews.com (Daniel and Alyssa Rasmus). Disney did not provide any support for this adventure. Just ask my MasterCard!
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For additional analysis of Disney Parks strategy, read the author’s post here.