Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge Review

Edited: September 29, 2019, 6:51 PM

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

Replies (6)

September 30, 2019, 12:29 PM

While I haven't yet been for a visit, my reading of a few articles tells me there are a few essential 'must see' attractions inside Galaxy's Edge. You already indicated how important the land's other E Ticket Attraction will be but I think the few things you unfortunately missed for one reason or another would have made the difference. There's the pricey build your own Lightsaber and the one to build your own Droid to take home. Also, many of the features can be brought to life by the interactivity achieved when downloading the Disney App and solving a few easy puzzles! I understand you are even able to power up a couple of the larger ships around town! Oh yes, one more thing. I also agree that your meal was one of the saddest I've ever seen at Disneyland. I have seen quite a few pictures of other meals around the "Galaxy" and all appeared much tastier to the eye than your regrettably thin bird! Oh well...so it goes!

September 30, 2019, 2:02 PM

Nice review AJ. I think you bring up a good point about WWoHP feeling immersive as guests seem to be wearing "costumes" appropriate to the land. We see robes all over Harry Potter but I'm not sure Star Wars has a good equivalent. I've only seen SWGE at WDW but I'm hoping to try again once RotR is open. I'd love to hear your updated thoughts after the other ride is opened and you'd had a chance to visit again.

October 1, 2019, 8:54 AM

In many respects AJ, your impression sounds pretty similar to mine. The land itself is incredibly detailed, and MFSR is a really good ride, though the quality of the experience between the different roles can be frustrating.

Disney is trying things that haven't been attempted before in a theme park, at least on this scale, so guests need to understand that. The promised interaction is not at the level where it needs to be, and the costume prohibition really puts a hamper on the potential of what Galaxy's Edge could be.

I will have to say that from an overall standpoint, Galaxy's Edge is light years better than PtWoA.

October 2, 2019, 12:41 AM

DisneylandToday, for my first visit to Galaxy's Edge I opted to experience it in the manner that a typical theme park visitor would. It's fair to assume only a small portion of visitors will participate in the lightsaber and droid upcharges, and I saw few (if any) using the interactive elements on the Disney App. By my standards, if the land could not be enjoyed by a guest who walks in with no preparation and who does not want to spend any additional money, I would be forced to consider it a complete and utter failure. While those extra elements are great for hardcore fans (and I do intend to build a lightsaber at some point), they are not what I consider the core features of the land.

Mike, that is the true issue with Galaxy's Edge vs. Wizarding World...one feels like a convincing location straight out of the canon, while the other feels like a theme park attraction inspired by said IP. IMO, all Disney needs to do is allow guests to don outfits purchased in the land while roaming around and staff a few dozen actors to portray aliens roaming the streets of Black Spire Outpost. It's an easy fix, and would majorly improve the atmosphere of the land.

Russell, after making the decision to visit the land now instead of waiting until early 2020, I decided to refrain from reading your review when it was posted. Reading it after writing mine, I do think there is a lot of similarity in opinions. When comparing Galaxy's Edge and Pandora, I would say that Pandora is superior when it comes to the simulator ride and food offerings, but Galaxy's Edge excels in the merchandise, exploration, interactivity, and memorable categories. Both are about tied for detail and quality of theming. Right now, I'd put the two lands roughly on par, with a slight advantage for Galaxy's Edge. Once Rise of the Resistance is operational, Galaxy's Edge is the clear winner in my book (though it may still fall short of Diagon Alley without the atmosphere).

Edited: October 2, 2019, 7:48 AM

@AJ - You have definitely hit on the major flaw of Galaxy's Edge as currently presented, and one I think should be an easy fix. It boggles my mind why Disney attempts to sell $100+ Jedi robes and realistic costumes yet won't let guests wear them in the land. I kind of understand their objection to it on the surface, but the hypocrisy of the policy screams across the entire land.

We go to our local Renaissance Festival every year (have been for 22 years now), and even though guests are able to wear their homemade costumes, purchased costumes, and even rented costumes, it's eminently clear 99% of the time who are hired cast and who are guests, and that's despite the fact that nobody wears nametags. If Disney's concern is that guests will come in looking so much like CMs that they could potentially give Disney a bad reputation by impersonating CMs, then they just need to look at Ren Fairs and other high level themed actor-driven attractions. AJ mentioned that the CM costumes were a bit "too polished" to seem real, so perhaps elevating those (at least for the CMs that aren't standing behind counters or just sweeping up) might be enough to allow the needed differentiation - though you would think that the nametags (aside from the on-stage character actors) should be enough. There's plenty of open space within the land to allow for guests to put on robes/costumes and remove them when they leave Batuu, and I think the Ren Fair approach is something Disney really needs to look long and hard at to give guests what was promised. It not only would provide the needed atmosphere, but would generate additional revenue (imagine if they had a costume rental stand just outside the entrance with a changing room that allows for guests to walk onto Batuu in full character). From reading recent reviews, particularly in Florida, it does sound like some guests are finding ways around the costuming prohibition beyond the typical "Disney bounding" (t-shirts that look like costumes), but Disney is already selling the real solution to the problem, they just won't let guests use it.

I will say that it sounds like Disney is listening to some of the criticism. My sister-in-law just came back from WDW, and had a picture with both Chewie and Rey at the same time. Also, the Galaxy's Edge TV special that aired on Freeform Sunday night highlighted some genuine interaction between Rey and guests (previous Rey interactions were just her stomping through the Resistance Camp and perimeter of the Marketplace rarely stopping more than 5 seconds for a photo). The TV special also highlighted an additional character, Vi Moradi, who I never saw at any point during our 6-8 hours inside Galaxy's Edge over 3 days. She must be even more elusive than Rey to meet on Batuu (I guess you don't want spies waltzing around in plain view), but the special eluded to the possibility that she might become more accessible as well.

I think much like Star Trek: The Experience and Ghost Town Alive, it's ultimately going to fall onto guests to give Galaxy's Edge the needed atmosphere. Disney can inject dozens of characters into the land, but then it will just turn into a giant character meet space, which is not the intent - though I do think they need to add some non-humanoid alien or droid walk-around characters (Groot was an amazing character, and I don't understand why they can't come up with something like that for Galaxy's Edge). I think at some point regular guests will figure out how to inhabit the space and start to fill the roles on Batuu that have been deliberately left unfilled. It's unclear how long that will take, because let's face it, a lot of hard core fans are biding their time until Rise of the Resistance opens, and even APs are resisting the urge to visit the land until it's complete. It's going to take time, but you can see the potential oozing from Galaxy's Edge.

October 2, 2019, 10:30 PM

Great stuff, as always. Thank you!




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