Note: This review may contain minor spoilers for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance. I will not be giving away any plot details (beyond a very general overview) or any of the surprise moments, but there will be a bit of information about ride systems and the general flow of the attraction. If you want to go in completely dark, I recommend avoiding this review. If you only care about being story dark (or have seen Disney's official promotional material), you're safe to continue.
Back in 2015, Disney announced that they were working on developing brand new areas themed to the world of Star Wars for both of their US resorts. Over the years that followed, as information was released about this project, it became clear that the signature attraction would be unlike anything Disney had ever created. Rumors spread of a 45 minute experience involving two separate ride sections and a walkthrough in the middle, with fans dubbing the ride the world's first F-ticket attraction. After all, if an attraction like Indiana Jones Adventure, which featured a very highly themed queue followed by a super high-tech dark ride was an E-ticket, shouldn't something this elaborate be a tier above?
To the surprise of nobody, this new high tech attraction was plagued with issues during construction and testing. Initial announcements for the opening of Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge made it very clear that the attraction would not be ready for some time. Finally, in December, this attraction was ready to debut in Florida, and a month later California got its first taste of the future of immersive theme park attractions. On January 17th, 2020, guests to Disneyland could enlist for the first time and experience Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance for themselves.
My opportunity to ride came on January 28th, about a week and a half after opening. Due to low capacity, this attraction is accessible by day of reservation only (more on that in a bit), and reservations have been running out within minutes of opening. Therefore, I arrived at the resort an hour earlier than usual, only to be met by an unusual sight: hordes of guests mobbing the esplanade between the parks, more than I've ever seen on all but the busiest holidays. All this on a random Tuesday! Fortunately, I was inside the gates with about 20 minutes to spare, which left time to find a spot and prep the Disneyland app to secure a coveted boarding group. Once ready, the only thing left was to wait and hope.
9:00 A.M.! As quickly as possible, I clicked through the app as groups around started cheering as if they'd just won a new car. A few seconds later, I got what I was hoping for..."Success! Group 44." Unfortunately, there's no indication how long it will take for your group to be called, so it was time to enjoy the light crowds at the resort (DCA in particular was empty...even Racers was only posting a 45). Finally, at approximately 2 P.M., it was time to board.
The premise of this attraction is that you've been recruited by the Resistance and you are to enlist at their secret base on Batuu. To keep with the theme, the entrance is fairly minimal, marked by a gun turret and a couple surveillance towers. Beyond this, the lengthy queue winds through the forests of Batuu before entering caverns beneath a waterfall. As you wander deeper and deeper you come across signs that these caves are inhabited by Resistance members. Those who have experienced Flight of Passage will be familiar with the buildup here as the two attractions have similar queues...slowly reveal more and more until finally guests arrive at the place they are seeking. From here, the attraction follows a similar pattern to Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, with a standard video preshow, a second preshow that could qualify as a ride in and of itself, then another short section of queue (and a bonus third preshow) before boarding the main ride. It all flows tremendously well together, and the level of detail throughout is amazing. I won't give it all away, but I will say that it does convincingly feel that you've been transported away from Disneyland and into the world of Star Wars, even more so than the land already does.
So, how was the attraction is a whole? In a word, amazing! Beyond the incredible theming and detail found within, the ride itself is absolutely cutting edge and throws so many tricks at you it's hard to keep up. There are old tricks used in new ways, plus a couple brand new effects that will make you wonder how they did it. It is a sensory overload, and something that anyone with more than a passing interest in Star Wars will be geeking out over from start to finish. It is, without a doubt, the most immersive, most impressive, most insane thing that Disney has ever built, and it is worthy of the F-ticket moniker that has been applied to it by fans. It is perhaps the greatest theme park attraction ever built from a technical stand point.
It is not, however, the best dark ride in the world.
The more I think about it, the more I realize that Rise of the Resistance is a lot like Escape from Gringotts over at Universal Orlando. Both attractions are masterful at bringing a popular IP to life, but unfortunately do so by sacrificing a few things that make a theme park attraction spectacular. In Gringotts's case, the issue is largely that you're stopping and watching scenes play out rather than everything happening to you as you progress through the attraction naturally. Rise, on the other hand, has the flaw of overusing the same sorts of tricks. Three or four scenes in the attraction consist of turning a corner and running into an obstacle, resulting in simply backing away and doing something else. There's also a weird pacing issue at one or two points where you know danger is lurking yet an unusual amount of time passes before anything happens. In my opinion, a top notch dark ride should flow from one scene directly to the next without gaps in the action, and every scene should feel distinct.
Now don't get me wrong, Rise of the Resistance is absolutely outstanding. It has several extremely impressive scenes, and the whole experience from the first pre-show to the end of the ride is something else. I also am basing this on a single ride, so it's quite possible my opinion will change after a couple more rides. I am extremely curious to see how well it holds up, because this feels like the sort of attraction that works the first time but could become a little less impressive once you've been through ten times. For now, I would probably place it as my fourth favorite attraction at the resort, ranking behind Indiana Jones Adventure, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Radiator Springs Racers.
If you're planning to ride Rise of the Resistance, there are a few things you need to know. Unlike every other attraction, this ride is available by boarding group only, and they are gone within five minutes every single morning. To increase your odds of getting a boarding group, I recommend the following:
1. Use Toy Story parking instead of Mickey and Friends, and be at the parking lot a minimum of one hour before opening. Note that the lots open 90 minutes before the posted opening time, so don't bother coming earlier than that or you'll have to wait around offsite.
2. The lines to get into the gate will be lengthy, but even if they're backed up to DCA you should be inside within 20 minutes. Once inside, find a spot with good cellular reception (don't rely on the park's Wi-Fi) and make sure everyone's tickets are linked in the app on everyone's device. Also, delete any tickets that may be stored but are not being used for boarding passes.
3. A few minutes before official opening, everyone in your party should open the app and go to the boarding group screen. You will not be able to join at this time, but you will be ready. Watch the clock on your phone.
4. As soon as the clock rolls over, hit "My Status," followed by "Join Boarding Group." If for some reason you cannot join, back up one screen and try again. Once you hit join, quickly confirm that everyone in your party is linked, then click through until you've got a group. EVERYONE should attempt to get one, but as soon as someone has confirmed the group for the party everyone else should exit out. It is possible for the party to be split over multiple groups if further attempts are made.
5. If you were successful, get excited (though be respectful in your celebration)! If you were unsuccessful, book it to Tomorrowland and try the paper machines near Buzz Lightyear. You may still be able to join a backup boarding group this way, as a small number of slots (reportedly 300-500) are reserved for those who cannot use the app for whatever reason.
There is no assigned return time, but a good rule of thumb is ten groups per hour. For example, if you get a boarding group in the 40s (like I did), your return time will likely be 4-5 hours after opening. Once called, you have two hours to scan in at the attraction, so there is no need to hang around and anticipate it.
Lastly, for those debating whether joining the Resistance is right for you, note that this attraction has an intensity level on par with Radiator Springs Racers or Splash Mountain. Most of the ride is a slow-moving dark ride with thrills coming from visual effects, but there is a section near the end of the ride that features a short free fall and about 20 seconds of motion simulator action. It is tamer than any of Disney's roller coaster attractions or the higher intensity dark rides (like Indy), but there is a bit more to it than the classic dark rides of Walt's day. Honestly, unless you find something like Pirates too extreme, you'll probably be able to handle this ride fine, and it is such a spectacular ride that I highly recommend everyone experience it at least once.
Now, should you book your next trip to Disneyland ASAP? Due to the boarding group system and the fact that you may or may not get to ride, I would hold off on visiting until summer or fall when the ride is hopefully more reliable (and hopefully offers a regular queue) unless you've already got non-refundable travel plans. For those that live local, however, it is well worth attempting to get on this one in the next month before spring break crowds arrive. Aim for a weekday, get there early, and may the Force be with you! If you don't make it, at least you can enjoy a day at Disneyland with low crowds, but if you do, you're in for something truly special.Tweet