Epic Southern California Adventure: Part 5 - Galaxy's Edge Part 1

Edited: September 12, 2019, 8:29 AM

When Disney first started clearing backstage space to build what would become Galaxy’s Edge in Disneyland, I started thinking about how and when we would be able to experience real Star Wars in a theme park (sorry Star Tours never satisfied my need there). Then, when Disney said they would be opening identical lands on both coasts, I began to explore the possibilities of experiencing both lands in the same year. After all, the last time we had visited Disneyland in 2013 was just 6 months after a visit to WDW, so it wouldn’t be unprecedented for us to attempt to visit both resorts in 2019. However, as construction progress and rumors started to indicate that WDW’s version might not be open in time for our preferred October timeframe, we poured all of our energy and resources into solidifying our trip to California for the end of July/beginning of August. While we visited many different attractions, theme parks, and baseballs stadiums on this trip, there’s no denying that the driving factor for taking this vacation to Southern California was to experience Galaxy’s Edge. We deliberately timed our visit to the Disneyland Resort hoping to avoid the initial rush over the first month or 2 the land was open while still during the AP blackout period. As reports about the land started appearing, I could barely contain my enthusiasm for our trip, and it was almost excruciating that we had to wait nearly 2 months from the time Galaxy’s Edge first debuted to the world and when we finally stepped foot on Batuu.

When our days at Disneyland finally arrived, I’m sure my wife was shocked by my restraint as we spent much of our first day at Disney California Adventure and then had lunch at Blue Bayou. The rides and attractions of the morning and early afternoon were successful in distracting me from the back corner of Disneyland that was calling my name like a Siren to a woebegone sailor. After lunch and a few Fastpass attractions in Disneyland, the time had come. The suspense had been built over years of rumor, speculation, and concept drawings followed by trip reports and stories from others that had been to Batuu, but now I was about to “look on [it] with my own eyes”.

First Impressions

We first entered Galaxy’s Edge through the Fantasyland Entrance. This portal to Batuu places guests right into the bustling Black Spire Outpost, but decidedly onto First Order territory. The Frontierland Entrance is pretty similar, but seemed a little more removed from the action at first, while the Critter Country Entrance is almost the polar opposite with very little happening, almost an abandoned feeling, that I’m sure will change dramatically once Rise of the Resistance opens. There’s no doubt that Imagineers were inspired by Universal Creative’s London entrance to Diagon Alley for all 3 entrances, as there is subtle music and sound effects playing in the background to signal the transition from “off-world” Disneyland to the planet Batuu, much in the same way the USF uses the brick wall and sound effects to transport guests from London to the Wizarding World. All 3 pathways ramp down as you enter to allow for clearance under the train tracks, obviously a practical choice since the new land is fully situated outside the perimeter of the tracks, but it allows Batuu to slowly come into view as you walk up into Galaxy’s Edge like you would into a theater or sporting arena.

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It’s not like Diagon Alley where you’re stopped in your tracks by the dragon sitting on top of Gringott’s, but Batuu instead invites you to explore the alien terrain at a more measured pace.

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We had made a reservation for Oga’s Cantina in the 5 o’clock hour, which afforded us time to walk around a bit before needing to queue up for the bar. As we browsed around Batuu to get a lay of the land, my permanent facial expression throughout this first taste of Galaxy’s Edge was one of awe. The level of detail and intricacy is impeccable.

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Also the way the walkways meander, allowing for new, exciting details to emerge in the distance is quite an achievement. Instead of seeing the entire land upon entry, it slowly reveals itself as you explore all of the nooks and crannies.

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In fact, since we immediately turned left after entering the land for the first time, we had not actually seen the Millennium Falcon until we queued up for Oga’s. The fact that you can’t see this life size iconic ship from the entrance was a risky decision for Imagineers, but brilliant. Every other theme park attraction wants to you see their “weenie”, and I think there’s no doubt that the Falcon is Galaxy’s Edge’s “weenie”. Concealing it from all three entrances and at the end of winding paths makes the reveal all the more inspiring.

At night, the land completely changes with impressive lighting effects, enhanced by all the Padawans waving their newly built lightsabers about. The most impressive lighting feature may have actually been accidental. Since the nightly fireworks are launched from a nearby backstage area, the smoke and dust following the show tends to be thicker over Galaxy’s Edge. The tops of all the structures in Black Spire Outpost are equipped with blue tinted lights to illuminate the rock formations, but also reflect on the smoke and dust, creating an artificial sky effect that really makes it feel like you’re on another planet. While daytime views look and feel much like Earth with our single sun, nighttime views are very alien with this cool lighting and further enhanced by sound effects that make it seem like ships are constantly landing and departing from the nearby hangers. Even without the smoke and dust from the fireworks, the lighting and soundtrack really sell Batuu as an alien planet at night. Much like Pandora the World of Avatar at DAK, Galaxy’s Edge is a completely different experience when the sun goes down.

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Oga’s Cantina

I’ve heard all of the criticisms and reviews of Oga’s Cantina, so perhaps my enthusiasm for the experience was appropriately tuned. It definitely met my expectations as an experience, though I do wish there were some things about it that were done better. The interior space itself is about as perfect as can be. No, this is not the Mos Eisley Cantina hard core fans really wanted, but it’s a very loyal spin on the concept. Think of it as a local franchise of the original Cantina that is allowed some latitude in the corporate template. It’s not like Disney was going to allow death sticks, smugglers shooting blasters at bounty hunters, or Jedi masters dismembering patrons here. Nor were they going to be able to have a live band or fantastical creatures skittering under the tables. Oga’s is not the “wretched hive of scum and villainy” portrayed in A New Hope, nor is it the more modern looking Maz Kanata’s place from The Force Awakens. It’s a real life place that might not replicate the scenes or the perfect ambiance from the movies, but it’s a passable facsimile.

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I do think that Disney could have taken a queue from Star Trek: The Experience and Quark’s Bar by either using CMs or allowing guests to role play characters within the bar. Maybe this will come later, but I did feel that the ambiance inside Oga’s could have been improved if it wasn’t just a bunch of tourists in here along with CMs scrambling to serve drinks and turn tables as fast as possible. DJ Rex helps out a bit, but he might as well be a pre-programmed jukebox since he doesn’t actually interact with anyone that I noticed.

Another criticism of Oga’s is that there’s very little seating, and guests do not get much choice in where they are placed within the bar. I definitely understand this complaint as Zach felt removed from the experience, but seemed amenable sitting on the floor staring at a mobile device while my wife and I enjoyed our drinks. Even though this is a bar, it’s the only one regular guests can visit in all of Disneyland, so it should be expected that kids are going to be joining their parents here and should be accommodated. That’s just not the case unless you are lucky to be seated at one of the few booths along the perimeter of the space.

I will say that I wouldn’t ordinarily pay $13 for a beer, but for a location as unique as this, I was willing to lift my standards enough to try 2 of the beers on the menu while my wife ordered a cider and my son, after being told the drink he really wanted was not available, got a non-alcoholic drink that he enjoyed. Since the $75 beer flight wasn’t available (I’m not sure that I would have purchased the wooden board with Rancor teeth glasses even if it was), I ordered the Gamorrean Ale, a red ale brewed by New Belgium, and the Bad Motivator IPA, an American-style India pale ale from Sierra Nevada, fulfilling my 2-drink limit, while my wife ordered a Spice Runner, a hard cider from Angry Orchard.

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I preferred the IPA to the Gamorrean Ale, but probably wouldn’t order either of these beers for this price anywhere else in the galaxy. The cider, on the other hand, was a bit of a miss for me with more of a holiday-style flavor profile than one that should be served year-round. My son really wanted the Carbon Freeze, which features different fruit flavored popping pearls, but since that was not available, he ordered the Jabba Juice and was intrigued with the pineapple-based drink with just blueberry flavored pearls.

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After spending almost our full 45-minute time allotment in Oga’s, I didn’t feel the need to make another reservation, and I’m not even sure if we will make one for Oga’s when we visit Galaxy’s Edge in Florida early next year. There were definitely a lot of cool aspects to this bar like the decorations, DJ Rex, and the fact that it’s the only place in Disneyland where regular guests can consume alcohol. However, the menu prices, limited capacity, and lack of seating probably make it a one and done experience at least until some aspects of the experience change.

Black Spire Outpost

In the grand scheme of things, Oga’s was probably the only somewhat disappointing aspect of Galaxy’s Edge that we experienced. After our time in the Cantina, we took some time to browse through Dok Ondar’s Den of Antiquities and walked down the main marketplace. Dok Ondar’s is the mother of all Star Wars retail experiences. It’s as much a museum as it is a store, and hardcore fans could easily spend 30 minutes or more just looking around at some of the iconic relics on the walls and shelves.

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This is another aspect of Galaxy’s Edge where Disney likely took cues from Universal’s Wizarding World. Dok Ondar is an animatronic figure here much like the goblin tellers in Diagon Alley, and some of the items sold here are very similar to many of the high end souvenirs and movie memorabilia sold in both Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley. The one disappointing aspect to this store was that the most popular items, individual Kyber Crystals, were out of stock, and had been absent from store shelves since early June. I’ll talk more about these clever items a little later, but at least I knew ahead of time that these would likely be unavailable. I’ve heard that there’s still ample supply at DHS’s Galaxy’s Edge, but here in California, the only way to purchase Kyber Crystals is to either purchase a $200 lightsaber (with a choice of 4 different colored crystals) or a $50 Holocron (with a choice of either red or blue crystal).

The main marketplace is a collection of individual stores presented in an open air style. There is a shop specializing in robes, another in toys, one selling creatures, and another specializing in jewelry and accessories.

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I liked the presentation of these shops where each store’s merchandise overflows slightly into the main walkway, which is not much of an issue in California where it rarely rains. However, if the stores are the same size in Florida’s version of Galaxy’s Edge, I’m concerned that the display of merchandise into the main walkway could lead to issues when it rains because each individual store is so small and needs the extra exterior space just outside the storefront to display everything.

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On the whole, I was most impressed with the clothing selection, not only with the variety of different robes and costumes available, but the quality of the items. These are not cheaply made Halloween costumes that fall apart after one wear. These are clothes you’d be willing to walk around wearing all day. The only problem is that Disney won’t let you wear these authentic looking and feeling, camera-ready costumes anywhere in Galaxy’s Edge.

I feel this is a significant flaw of the Galaxy’s Edge concept as a whole. The surficial execution of the land is near perfection, yet Imagineers are being hypocritical by challenging guests to create their own Star Wars story, but not letting you truly cosplay. Disney goes as far as to give guests all of the tools to make this happen including authentic accessories and costumes, but won’t let you get fully into character. I can only imagine how much more revenue Disney would make here if guests could come as tourists, buy (or even rent) costumes and accessories from the marketplace, and then live out their Star Wars adventure on Batuu in full character. Everything is here for that to happen, but Disney is either unwilling or unable to allow for guests to make that final step into cosplay. Perhaps the Halcyon will give guests the opportunity to make that jump, but even that experience will likely be limited in terms of capacity and scope, and won’t even be an option in Disneyland or those unwilling to pay the rumored usurious prices for the experience.

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Savi’s Workshop

I could probably spend tens of thousands of words about this one 20-minute experience, because it’s certainly worthy of it. At its heart, Savi’s is much like Olivander’s, but instead of watching someone else be the designated representative for a large group, everyone gets to participate. I’ve seen the Olivander’s show close to a dozen times, and even though I’m not a huge Harry Potter fan, the experience of watching someone have a wand choose them still sends chills down my spine – there’s also that excitement and anticipation that you might be the one chosen to receive a wand too. In that way, Savi’s is very much the same with the $200 guarantee that you will be walking out of the experience with a long stick to wave around and call you own. However, for a Star Wars fan like myself, it is an almost religious experience, and there’s a satisfaction in piecing together this finely crafted, though understandably expensive, souvenir based on your own individual choices. While I’m sure there are other lightsabers out there that are identical to what I assembled, there was a sense that the one I built was MINE (and my son’s) and unique to our experience.

The reservation process was pretty simple through Disney’s online systems (if you connect through the Disneyland App, it forwards you to a webpage where the reservation is actually made). There is also a chance that there are cancellations or unsold build experiences for the day, so if you forgot or were unsure about making a reservation ahead of time, Obi Wan is not your only hope. When we arrived outside the unmarked experience, though pretty easy to spot if you know what you’re looking for, I found it a bit annoying that I was initially turned away because we were 10 minutes early for our reservation slot. When $200 is on the line, guests are naturally going to show up a little early to make sure they don’t miss their spot, so I felt CMs could have been a bit more accommodating to guests walking up to the entrance a few minutes ahead of their designated arrival time. Once my reservation time finally arrived, I was welcomed at the counter, and with a few looks over our shoulders to make sure Kylo Ren or other First Order forces weren’t nearby, I was instructed to select the overall style of our “scrap”. I chose Power and Control, not because of any fondness for the Dark Side per se, but more because the part selections for that style were more appealing to me. Each style (Power and Control, Peace and Justice, Elemental Nature, and Protection and Defense) has parts that fit the theme, and what I didn’t know ahead of time was that once inside, guests are not bound to the Kyber Crystal colors generally associated with each style. Once paying my credits and handing over our first born male child to Lord Iger, I was given a pin to wear that would indicate to the Gatherers inside the experience which style lightsaber I had chosen to build.

Then you wait…I guess this is where having a reservation later in the day can be a drawback since there appears to be very little leeway in the schedule for the experience (shows run back to back to back throughout the day with no apparent break to catch up if there’s a delay at any point). While those with reservations later in the day don’t have to worry about carrying around their lightsabers throughout the park (or leaving to stash them in their car or hotel room), the later the reservation, the more off-schedule the experience seems to run. The other issue is that if you’re waiting at say 5 PM on a sunny August day in Anaheim where the temperature is 90+ degrees, it can get a little uncomfortable in the designated waiting area where there is little shade (there’s plenty of shade near the exit to the experience, go figure). I can imagine that in Florida, this is not only uncomfortable when it’s hot, but also when it’s raining. Considering the level of detail and forethought that went into the overall design of Galaxy’s Edge, you would think Disney could have designed some type of awning or shade for the exterior waiting area for this experience, or heaven forfend have an interior waiting room once guests are checked in.

After 15-20 minutes (about when the next group of reservations started checking in), it was time for us to enter the Workshop. The Gatherers introduce themselves and state their mission and purpose on Batuu. They also explain why we’re all in the Workshop and the importance of our role in the Galaxy. Before I knew it, we were ready to get down to business, and were given instructions for building our lightsabers. Despite a few flubs of the script and an accidental dropping of a Kyber Crystal, I still got chills and goosebumps when I realized that I was about to construct my own “elegant weapon for a more civilized age”. Gatherers then present each builder with a tray of parts based on each individual’s chosen style, and walk around with a clever cache of Kyber Crystals for guests to select from. Again, I had initially thought that I was locking in my color crystal based on the style I chose, but if I had wanted, I could have chosen any of the four available colors (red, blue, green, and purple). Each crystal’s properties and attributes is described by the lead Gatherer as they present you with the choice. Not discussed is that the lightsabers make different sound effects (and project different colors obviously) based on the color of Kyber Crystal placed inside. Having made my choice, I placed the red crystal inside the hilt/handle, and began following the instructions to assemble the lightsaber from the tray of parts in front of me. I had already thought long and hard about what I wanted my lightsaber to look like, so I was pretty quick making selections with some help from my son – you can invite 2 guests into the experience, and while they’re supposed to be there just to observe, I didn’t get the impression that any of the Gatherers had a problem with my son helping a bit.

Once the hilt is completed, the Gatherers verify that you are satisfied with your creation and whisk away the unused parts, leaving your assembled device in front of you to admire. Then comes the magic – When the entire room of builders has finished, the Gatherers come around and place each hilt into a connector on the side of the workshop tables. Guests are asked to close their eyes and feel the Force while engaging the activation switches on their creations as Jedi Master Yoda offers a word of encouragement. Then everyone is asked to lift up their devices as the room glows from the lights of the newly forged lightsabers. It’s enough to make even desciples of the Dark Side tear up in amazement. The look and feel of the lightsabers is beyond compare, and to think that guests are able to customize them to their liking is quite astounding. These are heavy duty pieces of equipment, a far cry from even the really nice predominantly plastic facsimiles from Hasbro, and by no means a “toy”. Every last detail of these devices was thought out from the interchangeable crystals that change the color and sounds of the lightsaber, to the activation and deactivation effects that are straight out of the movies. This is about as close to the real thing as Disney could have gotten without risking rampant dismemberment.

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The only thing that wasn’t thought out is what guests are supposed to do with their lightsabers once they’ve built them. As I mentioned, my build time was in the late afternoon, and even though I only had to carry it around for a few hours through the end of the day, it was quite awkward and annoying getting on and off rides with a 4' long object to manage despite the convenient shoulder sling. While it was nice having the lightsaber to take photos on Batuu, particularly at night, carrying the device outside of Galaxy’s Edge was a bit of a chore. You can detach the hilt from the blade, but the blade by itself is still 3 feet long, so even if you decide to clip the hilt to your belt, you’re stuck lugging the equivalent of a yardstick around the park. Perhaps Disney will eventually come up with a way for guests to “check” their creations to the front of the park or their on-site hotel rooms when they’re ready to leave Galaxy’s Edge, but until then, it’s something to consider when you participate in this experience.

I have to agree that $200 is a lot to pay for a souvenir, even if it is from a Galaxy Far Far Away, but I felt that the price here was well worth it not only for the high build quality and options provided to guests but also for the experience itself. I don’t think I would pay $200 to do this again when we’re in Florida early next year (not sure my wife would let me), but I would love to observe the experience again. This is where Savi’s and Olivander’s are at odds since Savi’s guarantees every paying guest a souvenir, while Olivander’s allows guests to watch the show for free while guilt-tripping the lone participant into buying the wand that chose them. I’m not sure which way I think is best, but I wouldn’t be surprised that if at some point Disney will run out of guests willing to pay $200 for this experience (not any time soon but maybe 5+ years from now). Nonetheless, I absolutely loved the experience, and can’t wait to buy some different colored Kyber Crystals for my creation when we visit Batuu East, assuming they haven’t sold out like Disneyland was.

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Next up – Characters, Interactivity, and the Falcon

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