I know that I'm about a month behind on my trip report (BTW, next installment will be out next weekend), but as I missed every new for 2019 attraction on that tour I figured I best review at least one new thing that opened this summer. So, without further ado...
Since Galaxy's Edge was announced, I have watched this project with anticipation. Despite the negativity of many fans, it has been something I've been excited about for a couple years. Unfortunately, Disney opted to do a staggered opening with the land, opening the first phase in June of this year and following up with a second phase in early 2020. With ticket prices approaching $150 per day, I wasn't planning to experience the land for myself until everything is ready next year. However, as luck would have it, circumstances lined up just right for me to purchase another annual pass to the resort, so on September 24th I was able to make the journey to Batuu for myself.
Upon entering the land for the first time, my initial impression was that this is the most highly detailed area Disney has created. Black Spire Outpost unfolds before you, a world that looks familiar and yet new at the same time. Scattered throughout the land are vehicles and artifacts that make it clear you've stepped through a portal from Anaheim into the world of Star Wars. Now, let me be clear...if you consider Star Wars to be strictly what is depicted in the movies and TV shows, you will be disappointed by the approach Disney took here. However, if you consider Star Wars to be everything that could conceivably exist in the galaxy far, far away, this is a land that delivers.
Naturally, my first stop was to check out the land's only operating attraction: Smuggler's Run. Anticipation builds as you approach the attraction, with a full size Millennium Falcon sitting front and center on the docking platform. As you wind through the queue and see the inner workings of Ohnaka Transport Solutions, you're afforded several views of this magnificent ship. Eventually, however, Hondo Ohnaka beckons you inside to explain what's going on: You're being "recruited" to help "transport" some valuable Coaxium to aid the Resistance. The Falcon requires a crew of six, and Hondo needs pilots, gunners, and engineers to ensure the "mission" goes off as planned. After being grouped up, you get about two minutes to wander the main hold of the Falcon before your boarding group is called and you're off on your adventure.
Many seem to be disappointed by the ride itself, as this attraction is little more than an interactive motion simulator. To my surprise, I actually found the attraction to be quite good. While not as intense as Star Tours, the motion is more than sufficient to give the sensation that you're actually flying aboard the famous starship, and the interactivity is easily the best I've seen on any Disney attraction. As a simulator ride, I'd rank this one above Mission: Space but below Star Tours, Flight of Passage, and Soarin'. That said, this is more of an experience than a ride, which makes it incredibly hard to compare against more passive attractions. Unlike most attractions, you really need to put work into this one in order to get enjoyment out of it, but if you really get into the idea that you're flying the Falcon it delivers exactly what is promised.
Due to a wait averaging 30 minutes and an efficient single rider line, I was able to experience this attraction four times and experience all three roles. My favorite was pilot, as you're really in control of the ship up here. Even though the sequences and locations are fixed, you are able to maneuver the ship quite a bit and will experience negative side effects if your piloting is poor. My second favorite position was the engineer role, as there are a lot of buttons that need attention and it can be challenging to keep the ship in decent shape. Some have complained about an obstructed view or the need to look away from the screen to complete your tasks, but I actually found these elements to enhance the experience and make it feel more real. My least favorite position was gunner, mostly because automatic mode is extremely boring (hold a single button down to fire) and manual is super challenging (even with good pilots aiming is tough). I will also say that the experience of this attraction is very dependent on your crew...I had the most fun with a group of young adults who all got into it, while on one of my rides I was with foreign tourists who had no idea what was going on (half of them didn't even press a single button, including one of the pilots). Much like an escape room, this ride would be the most fun with a group of six rather than flying alongside random crewmembers.
Beyond Smuggler's Run, Black Spire Outpost offers the usual shopping and dining offerings found in any theme park land. I peeked inside several stores but did not take the time to examine their wares in detail...that will be for later. However, the design of the shops is very impressive, and those with a keen eye can spot a fair number of Easter eggs scattered throughout the settlement. I hear tell that many oddities can be found here, including elegant weapons from a more civilized age. Sadly, I was unable to locate such devices, but I'll be sure to investigate further next time I return to Batuu.
As this was a new place to me, I opted to round out the experience by having some local cuisine for dinner. I checked out the offerings at Ronto Roasters, but after having a hot dog for lunch and not being big on sausage in general, I opted to pass. Instead, I found myself stepping through the doors of Docking Bay 7 to get some evening grub. The main spot for nourishment in these parts, Docking Bay 7 had several interesting selections on the menu.
I opted for the Fried Endorian Tip-yip, a large piece of fried chicken (more like a jumbo-sized chicken finger) served with mashed potatoes and gravy. The food wasn't bad, though given that the meal (with a drink) cost about $20 I was a bit disappointed by the portion size and quality. In other words, I wouldn't mind dining here again if others wanted to try it (especially since the atmosphere and decor of the place is great), but I probably would opt for something else on a solo visit.
I never made it to Oga's Cantina as the popular establishment was packed throughout the day, but I did stop by the Milk Stand to sample Batuu's signature blue milk. It was tastier than I thought it would be, but at $8 a glass this will be an occasional treat rather than a regular purchase.
I spent approximately three hours on Batuu, split between an afternoon visit and a return later in the evening. To my surprise, the area was much busier after dark, feeling more like an actual active settlement than a forgotten planet on the edge of the galaxy. I loved the evening vibe of the place, perhaps even enough to make the larger crowds justified. For whatever reason, everything feels more real when lit up, and the small details that give away the facade are hidden under the cover of darkness.
Throughout it all, there is one glaring issue that bugged me the entire time I was here. Disney has been promoting this land as the ultimate Star Wars experience, promising guests that they can live their own adventure within this world in the galaxy far, far away. However, no matter where I went, no matter what I did, at no point did it feel like I was truly immersed in the world of Star Wars. The physical manifestation fit the bill to a T, but the atmosphere wasn't quite right. The reason comes down to this: Batuu is populated by theme park guests, and it is staffed by Disney cast members. With only a couple exceptions, the cast members within Batuu were indistinguishable from those found throughout the rest of the resort. I was never greeted with "Bright suns," nor did I hear any of the Batuuan dialogue Disney has crafted for this land. It does not help that, try as they might, the costumes are just a bit too polished to seem like a natural fit for the world of Star Wars. As for the other point, with the exception of a couple stormtroopers, everywhere you look you see nothing but ordinary Earthlings dressed for a day at Walt Disney's Magic Kingdom. It feels like a theme park land, not like a completely different world. To me, this is the single thing that keeps Galaxy's Edge from being a slam dunk, especially since the Wizarding World of Harry Potter does it so well. The fix isn't difficult...staff streetmosphere performers to populate the land, hold cast members to stricter character standards, and allow guest to cosplay (within reason) during their visit. It's a shame that the part of this land that doesn't work is the easiest to fix, and I really hope Disney will correct that as soon as possible.
Overall, I enjoyed visiting Galaxy's Edge, and I'd say Disney scored an A- with this land. The detail is there, the offerings are high quality, and it is truly something that can't be experienced anywhere else, but sadly budget cuts and poor operational decisions have robbed the experience of its true potential. Assuming Rise of the Resistance is as spectacular as rumors indicate, I have no doubt this land in finished form will be the best that Disney has created. Even in its current state, it surpasses Cars Land and rivals Pandora as the most impressive and immersive single IP land in Disney's arsenal. Who knows...if Disney can properly capture the soul of what this place represents, it could surpass Wizarding World of Harry Potter for immersive theme park experiences.
As it is now, I'd hold off on visiting until Rise of the Resistance opens, but once that does every Star Wars fan should be planning a trip to experience Batuu on one coast or the other. Even if you're not a Star Wars fan, the sheer level of detail here makes it well worth 2-3 hours of your next Disney vacation. I do understand the disappointment, especially when measured against what was promised, but even evaluated at face value Galaxy's Edge is a huge win and ranks near the top of everything offered within the world of themed entertainment. I’m not sure when I’ll next get a chance to visit (though I now have a Disneyland AP again), but for now ‘til the spire!