Epic Southern California Adventure: Part 6 - Galaxy's Edge Part 2

Edited: September 11, 2019, 9:40 PM

Characters

Similar to the rest of Disneyland and Disney California Adventure, character interactions within Galaxy’s Edge are much more organic and spontaneous than WDW guests are probably accustomed to. There are no specific meet and greet locations on Batuu, but most characters are willing to pose for “face scans” (aka pictures) with guests. However, guests need to understand that all of the cast members walking around in full costume are portraying real characters within the Star Wars Universe, and rarely break character. Many guests have complained that Rey rarely stops for more than a few seconds for a photo, and I only spotted her once briskly walking through the Resistance Camp with a quick 5-second pose for a single photo. Well, of course she’s not going to stop for long, because she’s got stuff to do, but I understand the frustration and complaints, certainly with the little girls used to meet and greets with the Disney Princesses. The same goes for Chewbacca, though the Wookie did tend to linger longer with guests and was out and about more frequently in my observations of him.

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If you’re a fan of the First Order or the Dark Side of the Force, however, you’re in luck, because Kylo Ren and his detachment of Storm Troopers have no qualms about stopping and discussing the merits of serving their cause and probing your party for any information regarding Resistance activity on the planet.

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I can see how this may be off-putting to some guests as the “heroes” of Galaxy’s Edge tend to be terse and abrupt, while the “villains” are more inviting and interactive. I guess you can chalk this up to the basic premise and timing of the Galaxy’s Edge construct between The Last Jedi and Rise of Skywalker, but it is a concern that is echoed frequently. It will be interesting to see if interactions on the Resistance side of the land change once Rise of the Resistance opens, or if Disney tweaks some of the characters as they gain feedback from guests and/or modify the story based on what happens in Rise of Skywalker.

Aside from the handful of costumed characters walking about with variable levels of approachability, Galaxy’s Edge is also populated by hundreds of CMs all empowered to develop their own personal backstory weaved into the fabric of Batuu. There’s no doubt that asking CMs to do this was a financial decision to decrease the land’s reliance on highly paid acting talent, and unfortunately the results are mixed. We interacted with many CMs throughout the land on our visits to Batuu with highly variable outcomes. In general, the CMs stayed loosely in character and attempted to use the preferred lingo where applicable – “Bright Suns” and “Til the Spire”, though it often felt forced and unnatural even from the most enthusiastic. I think some of these CMs could have said “Hakuna Matata” with virtually the same impact and effect on guests, which makes me wonder why Imagineers didn’t instead attempt to craft something a little more foreign for CMs to say to guests to really hit home the message that we’re not in Kansas anymore.

“Bright Suns?”, why yes, the sun is quite bright while I’m sitting outside Savi’s Workshop in 90+ degree direct sunlight (without shade) waiting for my lightsaber building reservation that was supposed to start 15 minutes ago. Of course the sun is bright!!

I’ll give Disney credit for trying to get everyone involved in the story of Batuu, but the level of buy-in and enthusiasm from CMs is a bit all over the place, and the bare-bones script that Disney has provided for CMs to build from is not terribly inventive. I will say there were a few CMs that took the opportunity to deliver an immersive experience, but it wasn’t always what was needed or wanted. For example, we interacted with a PhotoPass photographer near the Resistance Camp seeking “face scans” in front of the various ships. My wife deliberately tried to use the proper terms, yet the PhotoPass photographer was not satisfied in the way that she used them, correcting her at every turn. While the photos he took of us were some of the best we got over our 3 days in Galaxy’s Edge, the interaction was very awkward and borderline creepy.

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However, I did have positive interactions from a couple of the shopkeepers in the marketplace that went off-script in a good way, and the CMs assigned outside of Oga’s and Savi’s upped their game once Kylo Ren and his guards came through.

The characters of Galaxy’s Edge are still a work in progress, and I hope Disney continues to refine how the costumed characters and CMs interact with guests. It would also be helpful if Disney would publish a comprehensive guide for guests and CMs wanting to get serious at immersing themselves on Batuu. There are always going to be both guests and CMs that are willing to be at varying levels of role playing, but in order for this place to be successful, everyone needs to know where the lines are going to be drawn and what the cues should be to signal the level of immersion desired from individual guests and what each CM is willing to deliver.

Food

I felt that I had given Batuu enough money after having a few drinks inside Oga’s so we were more calculating when it came to eating inside Galaxy’s Edge. We ended up eating just one meal inside the land at Docking Bay 7, though I was tempted to try something from Ronto’s Roasters, which was wafting delectable smells throughout the marketplace (we’ll probably eat here in Florida). We utilized Disney’s mobile ordering system to place our order from Docking Bay 7, and the process was virtually seamless, though there was no line at the cashiers taking orders. My wife and I decided to share the Braised Shaak Roast,

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while my son got the Yobshrimp Noodle Salad kid’s meal.

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Zach really liked his meal, but then again, he’ll eat a pound or more of shrimp if you shell them for him. Our entrée was very good with tender beef, more along the lines of a short rib than standard pot roast, and veggies along with a savory mushroom-based sauce. I would have preferred a little more sauce for the underlying pasta, but I think my wife might have objected since she’s not as fond of mushrooms as I am.

We were tempted to purchase the Outpost Popcorn Mix from Kat Saka’s Kettle and a Blue Milk just to say we tried it, but knowing that we would be visiting Galaxy’s Edge in Florida and not feeling hungry enough for these indulgences at any point during our time on Batuu, we passed on these. Knowing now that the Milk Stand at DHS is serving the Blue Milk with rum, I’m perfectly satisfied waiting to try that instead of the virgin variety.

Millennium Falcon Smuggler’s Run

Making the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs is not for the faint of heart, but guests get to test their skills on the only ride currently operating inside Galaxy’s Edge. Some may call this a “D-ticket” attraction, because of the reported massiveness of Rise of the Resistance. However, Millennium Falcon Smuggler’s Run can hold its own against pretty much any other E-ticket at the Disneyland Resort. Even if the ride itself is underwhelming to some, you cannot doubt the queue is one of the most elaborate and amazing Disney has ever conceived. The queue itself is part of the story as guests enter at the base of the iconic ship and slowly work their way inside Onaka Transport Solutions’ hanger bay. Guests are drawn to the awe-inspiring full-scale replica of the Falcon outside, and have their anticipation and expectations slowly ramped up as they progress to the pre-show area.

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Before they get their pre-flight briefing, guests are given some of the most visually impressive views in all of Galaxy’s Edge from windows above where the Falcon is docked.

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Then, guests arrive at the preshow, where the Hondo animatronic is one of the most convincing figures I’ve ever seen. The motions are realistic with his flowing robe and hair delivering the sense that this alien is really there helping you through the mission.

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After the excitement of seeing the Falcon and Galaxy’s Edge from above, and building anticipation from Hondo’s pre-show, guests walk down a long corridor to the grouping area. This is where things get real, and you understand that you’re about to board the Millennium Falcon. Once guests are handed color coded boarding cards with position assignments, they are led to a waiting area that is straight off the movie set. This room is filled with details that simply can’t be consumed in the couple of minutes guests get to hang out here. There are Easter eggs everywhere, and of course that big photo op at the Dejarik Table.

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I could probably have looked around this room for an hour, and was even spotting new details on our third ride. However, Hondo seems to be a pretty impatient guy, so guests are quickly moved along to a pre-boarding area where they are given some final instructions.

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Again, this area is also detailed up the wazoo, but nothing compared to what comes next as the cockpit to the Falcon opens.

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There’s really no other way to describe this ride vehicle other than perfection. From the buttons and switches to the seats to the screens, to the view out of the cockpit, it is exacting right down to smallest detail. I felt like Lando was going to come barging in, or for Chewie to suddenly arrive and scream at us to get on with it.

Once you’re done drooling on the consoles and have your seat belt buckled, it’s time to start the ride. This is where the perfection of the space becomes a hindrance. Since guests are assigned specific positions in the 6-person cockpit, only the 2 guests given the roles of pilots have great views out of the front windows. Those in the second and third rows are severely obscured due to the increased distance from the front window. Because of that, the gunners and engineers feel more detached from the action for much of the ride. It’s similar to riding in Row C of Soarin’ where you’re not as high in the projection dome and are forced to stare at the feet of guests above you. The MFSR experience is still great from these rear positions, it’s just a BIG step down from what it’s like to be the pilot (FWIW, only my son got to be a pilot, so my impressions of that position in the cockpit are based on his descriptions). I have to say my first experience on the attraction was a blur, because I was so in awe of the precision of the cockpit and being jealous of my son in the front seat. However, on our second and third tries on the ride, I began to get the hang of the controls and, after knowing where all of the critical buttons were, I was able to pay a little more attention to what was going on outside the windows. As many have said, this experience is very much like Mission: Space, one of my favorite rides at EPCOT FWIW, except your ability to perform the assigned tasks at the appropriate time has a direct impact on the attraction. The interactivity on MFSR is what I always wanted Mission: Space to be. Now if Disney could just find a way to combine the high intensity g-forces experienced on Mission: Space with the interactive nature of MFSR, and they’d have the perfect space simulator.

Even without the high g’s, MFSR isn’t the bucket of bolts its purported to be. If you or your pilots are inept at the controls, you will feel it with lots of significant shaking and vibration. The motion is on par with many other motion base simulators, meaning the system can deliver some good bumps and jolts when needed. It’s not quite as intense as Star Tours, though I never rode with a particularly awful set of pilots, with incredibly realistic motions that are well synchronized to the action projected outside of the cockpit.

Speaking of which, I really think Disney missed an opportunity for the gunners and engineers. Each position is equipped with a small screen where Hondo shows up at the beginning of the trip and where scores are shown at the end. This screen would have been a perfect spot to show a smaller version of what the pilots see outside the front windows. The details on these screens wouldn’t be nearly as realistic as those shown outside the cockpit, but it might allow the guests in the back to not feel quite so separated from the action.

When the ride is done, the crew is given a score based on their performance on the ride. Each position is also shown their individual rating and depending upon how good or bad you do will affect the lights and effects in the hallway as you exit the ride. However, we never received any further interaction on Batuu referencing our performance on the Falcon, which is something Disney Imagineers promised. I’m not sure if this is something that’s coming later, or if we were doing something wrong, but our lack of post-ride interaction didn't detract from the fun and excitement of the ride itself.

As a whole, I really enjoyed this ride, and if lines were not so long, I probably would have ridden a half dozen more times. Obviously, my impression of the ride lacks any experience from the pilot’s seat, but even without getting to sit in Han or Chewie’s chair, I really felt that Disney hit all the marks with this simulator. I will say that I wish the single rider line wasn’t so bland. The queue is almost devoid of any theming, and feels more like a backstage hallway than a line to board such an intricately themed attraction. The main queue has so much to look at, even in the final steps leading to the boarding area, and with the nearly infinite re-rideability of the attraction, I’m surprised that Disney did not put more effort into decorating the single rider queue. Also, I wasn’t able to get a full understanding as to how the ride system was laid out, but I could definitely tell that we rode on two of the reported four ride systems (turntables) within the attraction. What I did notice was that one of our rides was decidedly different than the other two (the two that were on the same turntable) and included an asteroid scene and significantly longer ride experience (at least 30 seconds). I also observed a slight change in the projections that altered the lighting to match what was going on outside, meaning that if you ride in the evening, the scenes will be darker. I definitely look forward to riding this attraction a lot more when we visit Galaxy’s Edge in Florida, and hopefully Rise of Resistance operating will reduce the waits to allow for repeated re-rides. MFSR doesn’t quite top my current favorite Disney attraction, Flight of Passage, nor is it better than Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout, but for me it’s right up there with the mountains and Soarin’.

Disney Play Parks App

While we were in Galaxy’s Edge, I spent a little time with the Datapad portion of the Disney Play Parks App, which is designed to add extra interactivity within the land. The feature of the Data Pad that most intrigued me was the Arubesh translator, which would allow us to quickly figure out what all of the signs throughout the land said. However, instead of using standard character recognition through the camera on your mobile device, like what the Google Translator can do, guests have to manually enter the characters. For one word signs and writings, it’s not a big hassle, but for signs and messages that are complete sentences or paragraphs, manually inputting characters in a language you’re not completely familiar with can be really tedious. What’s worse is that the translation field on the app only allows you to enter a couple dozen characters at a time, so the sign printed on the water source for the water bottle filling station containing a Dianoga, which contains 4 sentences of warnings, took us nearly 5 minutes to translate. By the time we finished the translation on this sign, the joke was no longer in the content of the warning, it was on us for spending such a long time trying to figure out what it said. What I thought would be a cool feature of the Datapad ended up being pretty useless. Plus, the language of Arubesh starts becoming familiar once you get used to seeing it to the point where by the end of our 3rd day in Galaxy’s Edge, I could figure out what most signs said without the need for a translator.

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The Datapad also allows guests to complete missions and perform tasks and panel “hacks” within Galaxy’s Edge. I only spent a few minutes with this portion of the app, but my wife spent a lot of time playing with this feature. My wife is quite a technophile, and was hoping that these features of the Datapad would increase her appreciation of Galaxy’s Edge since she’s not as big of a Star Wars fan as I am. She had quite a bit of success completing missions and collecting fictional credits, but beyond the feedback within the app and limited interaction from certain control panels and props, she didn’t feel like the app added to her experience of Batuu aside from being an easy way to kill time. No CM or character actor ever walked up to her to discuss her performance nor was she given any tasks that required her to interact with a person, giving her the impression that the entire experience was driven solely by A.I., and not a live interactive experience that Disney Imagineers touted. Also, in performing tasks she didn’t want to be classified as either a scoundrel or Resistance, but after completing a number of missions and tasks, she felt that you needed to pick a side to be given more elaborate and interesting missions. Considering that most guests are unlikely to spend more than a few hours at a time in Galaxy’s Edge, you would think the missions would progress faster and not be so dependent upon choosing an alliance. Also, there are a number of interactive locations while in the main queue for MFSR. However, the way the line moves within the attraction, guests rarely have enough time to fully complete any task or mission before they have to move up in the line. Additionally, there are a number of locations where you can complete Datapad interaction on the exterior portion of the MFSR queue, and it appears that this portion of the queue was designed to allow guests to step out of line to perform the interactions and rejoin the line further down. However, where you think there would be a gate or chain to allow guests to get back in line after completing their Datapad interactions are hard rails that aren’t even spaced far enough for an average sized adult to squeeze through. Not only that, but these rails have the appearance of flexible cables from a distance that are instead rigid. It’s a great idea for Disney to have guests use the Datapad to pass the time while waiting in long lines, but when so many of the interactions are location based, it becomes more of a frustrating time sink than a fun diversion.

I think at its heart, Imagineers have the foundation to utilize the Datapad to enhance the guest experience inside Galaxy’s Edge. However, they are relying too much on A.I. and not enough on physical and CM interactions to make it worth the commitment from guests. Also, there are certain aspects of the system that just aren’t designed very well like the translation feature and the location of certain interactive elements. I will note that my wife didn’t mention the app draining her iPhone XR’s battery any more than any other location-based apps, which is a common complaint from guests. There’s some work for Disney to do here, but we’ll definitely give the app another try when we visit Galaxy’s Edge in Florida to see if the system works any different there.

Final Thoughts

Galaxy’s Edge is easily Disney’s most ambitious, and reportedly most expensive, new theme park addition in its history. If guests use Pandora: The World of Avatar as a baseline for their expectations, this new land grounded in the Star Wars Universe blows DAK’s landmark addition out of the water. The interactions are better, the design is more impressive, and if Rise of the Resistance is as good as advertised, it will easily have a set of attractions that are among the best in any single theme park land in the world. However, Galaxy’s Edge is more likely to be compared to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I think those comparisons are a bit unfair as Disney is attempting to create an entirely new setting and story within the Star Wars Universe instead of simply replicating movie sets. While guests can instantly relate to Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley, it’s going to take time for visitors to warm up to Batuu. There are plenty of recognizable aspects to Galaxy’s Edge that definitely ground it within the Star Wars Universe, but Disney’s ambition to craft an entirely new world and story never seen before may leave guests cold. To some it may be missing the “it” factor that the franchise has sustained for so many years. However, I’d like to think that the land has been equipped with all the ingredients to make it successful but will just take some time for guests to warm up to. Obviously, if Disney views Galaxy’s Edge through the eyes of accountants, it will fail to evolve and mature into a land that will warrant repeated visits. I’d like to think that Disney still has enough sense and creativity to see that even though guests may not be immediately attracted to the costly new addition, they will eventually come around if the experiences are continuously tweaked and improved. My only concern is that Pandora elicited some of these same concerns and Disney has yet to address them, but I strongly believe that Disney will not allow Galaxy’s Edge to stagnate like PtWoA, which leans heavily on the brilliance of FoP.

As a pretty big Star Wars fan, I was extremely satisfied with our experiences inside Galaxy’s Edge. There are a number of aspects of the land that are near perfection, but plenty of others that have room for improvement with the foundation clearly laid to fix them. I was wowed by the overall design and impeccable attention to detail throughout the land. I was nearly brought to tears by the emotional Savi’s Workshop experience, and my jaw was on the floor throughout my first time on MFSR. Oga’s Cantina was a good experience, but pricing and other annoying details will likely keep me from wanting to revisit the bar. The overall interactivity of the land is not where I think it should be, but that’s something that can be easily improved with a little effort from Disney. We plan on trying some more of the food when we visit the land in Florida, and are also likely to do the Droid Depot experience to see how it compares to Savi’s.

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As Walt Disney said himself, “Disneyland will never be complete, so long as there is imagination in the world”, and that also applies to Galaxy’s Edge. Imagineering’s work is never finished, and Batuu will undoubtedly evolve over time, not to mention that the DHS version of the land will be enhanced by the Halcyon. While we spent quite a bit of time within Galaxy’s Edge, I still felt like I had not tapped all of its potential and that doesn’t even include Rise of the Resistance. I’m definitely excited to see what the fully armed and operational land will be like when we’re at WDW early next year, and can’t wait to go back to Batuu. ‘Til the Spire!!

Next time – Knott’s and Our Adventure’s End

Replies (3)

September 12, 2019, 9:03 AM

Great review. I enjoyed reading it all and it made me get even more excited for my trip to WDW in May. It looks like I will want to stay in the land for a long time and hopefully I will be able to convince the others with me to do the same. And after reading your experience with the lightsaber, I think I will work on convincing my wife to let me spend $200 on it.

September 12, 2019, 5:03 PM

Awesome review. You brought up some interesting points in terms of CM / guest interactions in the role playing immersive arena. It will be interesting to see how this evolves. As you said, some will love to play....while others not so much especially after a long day....

I do like the direction Disney went with Galaxy's Edge. I welcome them taking chances...even if it doesn't 100% hot the mark for everyone. Galaxy's Edge is a different type of land for Disney Parks...we'll see how it evolves.

Again, excellent review!

September 13, 2019, 7:12 AM

My one concern as I noted is that Disney promised some similar interactivity within Pandora, and aside from a couple of trees that make sounds and light up when you touch a spot on their trunk and a giant flower that spurts water when you rub its side, there's very little interactive inside of the Avatar land. The interactivity inside Galaxy's Edge in comparison is a BIG step up from that not only with the CMs and costumed characters but also the Datapad, even though those interactions are not where they should be or anywhere close to what Imagineers hinted to when discussing the features of Galaxy's Edge.

Where guests have to seek out those interactive elements on Pandora, they're much more apparent on Batuu. My hope is that Disney sees that guests really want to see that interactivity and put resources in place to make improvements in this area, because Imagineers seem to have left Pandora to be carried by FoP, leaving the promised interactivity to fade from memory. In that respect, perhaps it might be a blessing in disguise that the land has to carry itself without its top attraction for a few months, forcing Disney to focus on modifying the interactive experiences before guests are too busy running to RotR to notice or care about any of those elements.

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