Breaking the code behind Disney's new Star Wars lands

January 4, 2019, 4:51 PM · As we enter 2019 — the year that the new Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge lands will open at Disneyland and Walt Disney World's Disney's Hollywood Studios — Disney is stepping up its promotion for what will be Disney's biggest themed lands ever.

Much of what you will see from Disney in the months to come before the openings will just restate the information that Disney has released already. But each announcement typically offers a new clue or two with which we can break the code hiding a more complete picture of Galaxy's Edge.

Here's what we know, so far. The top thing to keep in mind about Galaxy's Edge is that this Star Wars land is not about recreating iconic scenes or moments from the eight (soon to be nine) primary Star Wars movies. It's an attempt to create a new Star Wars-themed story, casting you — the visitor — in the leading role.

Disney is setting that story during the time period of the new trilogy (Episodes 7-9), meaning that the current "Star War" is that between the First Order and the Resistance, rather than the Empire and the Rebellion (Episodes 4-6), or the Republic and the Trade Federation (Episodes 1-3). Galaxy's Edge takes place in the Black Spire Outpost on the planet of Batuu, here described by Walt Disney Imagineering's Creative Director for the project, Scott Trowbridge:

Once a busy crossroads along the old sub-lightspeed trade routes, but its prominence was bypassed by the rise of hyperspace travel. Now home to those who prefer to stay out of the mainstream, it has become a thriving port for smugglers, rogue traders and adventurers traveling between the frontier and uncharted space.

I am guessing that the narrative similarity to Cars Land — as a forgotten outpost of eccentric characters, bypassed by more modern transportation — is completely coincidental... and probably induces a cringe or at least a forced smile from Imagineers whenever someone suggests that.

Recent visitors to Disneyland might have noticed the three (still shuttered) entrances to Galaxy's Edge: behind the Hungry Bear in Critter Country, near Big Thunder Mountain in Frontierland, and near the transition between Frontierland and Fantasyland. The show buildings for the two rides in Galaxy's Edge stand at the back of the land. But Disney offered a sneak peek on Christmas Day:

At D23's Destination D event at Walt Disney World in November, Disney Parks Chairman Bob Chapek revealed some of the backstory driving the Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run attraction. Intergalactic pirate Hondo Ohnaka has cut a deal with Chewbacca to use the Millennium Falcon and has brought it to Batuu. You have been enlisted to help pilot the Falcon on an illicit mission, casting you as the smuggler in this run.

Disney today released an excerpt from the upcoming "Star Wars: Pirate's Price" book, which further helps set up the Smugglers Run story, so follow that link if you'd like to explore that for additional clues and insight.

Within the land, six people will sit in the Falcon's cockpit, each charged with specific tasks to fly the ship and complete the run. (One Theme Park Insider reader described the premise as "Mission: Space meets Star Tours.") The full-sized Falcon will stand on an exposed docking bay in the land, but Disney undoubtedly will use some misdirection within the queue and pre-show are to route you to one of the many "Falcon cockpit" ride vehicles within the show building. (The Nautilus walk-through at Disneyland Paris is Disney's best use of this type of misdirection, leading you to believe you are entering a show vehicle when you are actually going into a much larger, hidden show building elsewhere.)

The other ride in the land — and the one for which more Theme Park Insider readers have expressed their enthusiasm — is Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, a trackless dark ride. At Destination D, Chapek confirmed the premise that visitors will be cast a members of the Resistance who have been captured and brought aboard a First Order Star Destroyer, from which they will have to escape.

This attraction does not appear to have the interactive elements of the Millennium Falcon experience, and might best be described as a Star Wars-themed Indiana Jones or Transformers ride. The Orange County Register revealed more than a year ago that the ride would feature 18 scenes, including "a major space battle, elaborate props such as AT-ATs, gunners, and a possible encounter with Kylo Ren... before leaving in an escape pod."

Chapek said at Destination D that the land will employ the Play Disney Parks app to help connect visitors' experiences in one part of Galaxy's Edge with interactions elsewhere in the land. The often-cited example at this point is how your performance on the Millennium Falcon ride will affect how you are greeted by Galaxy's Edge characters after your ride. It is not yet clear exactly how the app will do that, or what actions you will need to take to make that happen, though Chapek and others have said that this interactivity will be optional.

A potential clue? Disney last month launched an interactive experience with Disneyland's animatronic storytellers, using the Play Disney Parks app. I have no direct inside information if that is related to what you will experience in Galaxy's Edge, but it does establish a precedent for the use of that app with animatronic characters in the parks.

A story in Barron's today provides a more detailed description of the character interactions within Galaxy's Edge:

There will be another shop presided over by Dok-Ondar, a collector who is briefly mentioned in Solo. This character, likely animatronic, will be set apart in a booth from the rest of the staff, not unlike the dispatcher Louie De Palma in the old ABC sitcom Taxi. Cast members might interact with Dok-Ondar, asking him what he's willing to let certain items go for.

That story also includes what appeared to be informed speculation that the Disneyland installation of Galaxy's Edge would open in June, which matches with our earlier speculation of a June opening for the land. (Update: In another Barron's post, Bob Iger said the land will open in June.)

Walking through Black Spire Outpost will feel like a next generation tour of an otherworldly version of Epcot's Morocco pavilion or Animal Kingdom's Harambe Market — rich with detail and intimate in scale, where potential interactions await at every turn. The Barron's story confirms what we've heard several times before, that merchandise will not be branded to "Disney Parks" or even to "Star Wars," but will be packaged to not break the theme of a remote, outpost planet.

The Oga's Cantina bar will feature a familiar DJ — the former Captain Rex from Star Tours — and serve themed drinks from non-dairy, non-alcoholic "blue milk" from the first Star Wars film to several alcoholic concoctions. Seating will be minimal, to encourage high through-put in what promises to be as popular a destination as the two rides.

The Register story from 2017 also mentioned a full-service restaurant in the Galaxy's Edge plans, in addition to the Cantina, though we've not heard any significant additional news about that since then. Perhaps some news about that will be within whatever new dribble of information Disney is planning to share with us next about Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge.

Buckle up!

Replies (5)

January 5, 2019 at 7:35 AM

If the full-service restaurant does come to fruition... I assume a reservation there would guarantee you entry to the land? If so, that could prove to be the real hot ticket of all of this.

January 5, 2019 at 10:33 AM

I don't want to KNOW - I just want to go!!!! ;) Is the line forming yet?

January 5, 2019 at 9:34 PM

Eh Im already over it. Disneys new Star Wars trilogy is boring to say the least. It was so creative of them to kill off the original characters only to introduce new characters that do relatively the same thing that the old ones already did. The story ended at 6. Im ready for Nintendo world and the Forbidden forest.

January 6, 2019 at 3:45 AM

As Disney has demonstrated with Pandora - The World of Avatar, a land doesn't have to have any emotional connection with an audience to be wildly successful and wholly immersive. It matters not an ounce whether the latest incarnation of Star Wars is as good, worse than or better than the originals. It doesn't matter whether people warm to the new characters or not. Heck I don't even expect to meet or see any characters I recognise. But I do expect to be blown away by the detail, the realization of an alien place and transported, convincingly, Somewhere Else. At the end of the day that's all Theme Parks are about and frankly Disney could call these new lands 'Space Land' and it wouldn't detract from what they are creating.

January 8, 2019 at 5:52 AM

(Standing and Applauding)

Well said, David Brown!

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