This week, with the opening of a new attraction, “Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge”, the theme park land in Disneyland, California, is finally here in its awe-inducing entirety. (The “Rise of the Resistance” attraction opened at the nearly identical land in Walt Disney World, Florida, in December.)
“It’s something I’d really waited my entire life to experience,” David Sparks, a business attorney and blogger, told me, of the land. Mr. Sparks was nine when he was first swept up by “Star Wars”, in 1977. “Galaxy’s Edge” did not disappoint him. “For me it is about the immersion more than the attractions. I want to feel like I’m in ‘Star Wars’.”
“Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge” whisks visitors—no motion sickness-inducing hyperspace travel required—to Black Spire Outpost, an alien settlement on the remote planet of Batuu. Exploring its 14 acres, it’s easy to feel a bit like the intrepid hero conjured by the mythologist Joseph Campbell (whose writings inspired “Star Wars”), venturing forth into “a region of supernatural wonder” and “fabulous forces.”
There are rocky formations inspired by the likes of Arizona’s Petrified Forest National Park, buildings and structures that suggest Byzantine Brutalism with a touch of sci-fi scrap yard, and characterful, thoughtfully sourced vegetation throughout. Look even closer, and you might spot blaster scorch marks in walls, droid tracks, the footprints of space rodents, or an alien eye peering out of the tank that feeds the water fountain.
There’s such a richness of place it’s easy to forget it’s all plaster and pretend, painstakingly contrived by Disney’s artists.
In the central marketplace, inspired by the souks of Morocco and Istanbul, you might hear extra-terrestrial pop songs emanating from overhead apartments (around 1,000 pieces of audio play on hidden speakers), or meet a Batuuan with a (remote control-operated) Kowakian Monkey Lizard perched on her shoulder.
At Docking Bay 7 Food and Cargo, an eatery inspired by Tsukiji fish market, if the “tip-yip” tastes like chicken, that’s because it is chicken—albeit cut into alien and unfamiliar shapes, thanks to what must have been weird negotiations between Disney Parks’ culinary team and its meat providers. Fizzy drinks come in battered, grenade-shaped receptacles, adorned with alien hieroglyphs that sort of resemble the Coca-Cola logo. There’s even a buzzing nightspot, with specialty cocktails like the Dagobah Slug Slinger and the Bespin Fizz, and a couple of miserable-looking creatures in two grimy backbar aquariums. “That’s Kevin,” a bartender tells me, over the din of Jawa hip-hop. “He’s our wortt frog.”
Can a theme park land be art?
“If we define art as a creation that invites a response, or reflection, I think it absolutely can,” says Scott Trowbridge, the creative portfolio executive at Walt Disney Imagineering and principal creative force behind the project. “This is a land that invites you to engage,” he says. “If you just want to be a spectator, and enjoy it as a sculpture, that’s fine. But it also leans forward and says, ‘Hey, do you want to play Star Wars?’”
The two main attractions in “Galaxy’s Edge” are a turbulent Millennium Falcon ride and the new, sprawling, elaborate experience called “Rise of the Resistance”. Populated by animatronic characters and comprising a variety of cutting-edge ride technologies, they are, simply put, two of the most ambitious and astonishing theme park attractions in the known universe—like four-dimensional video games.
But arguably the most enjoyable part of “Galaxy’s Edge” is the least high-tech: meeting the locals. All the “cast members” I encountered—Disney’s cutesy name for its park employees has never seemed more appropriate, by the way—were happy to regale me with stories of their lives on Batuu. One Black Spire resident gloomily divulged that she’d recently crashed her parents’ podracer, while another looked puzzled when I enquired about the most Instagram-friendly cocktails at Oga’s Cantina. “Instagram? Is that like a holocron?”
It’s extremely silly and utterly delightful.
There’s souvenirs galore, of course: Jedi tunics, Porg plushies, an MSE-6 Series Repair Droid Souvenir Popcorn Vessel (it holds popcorn). Hardcore fans will want to customize their own lightsaber—and, while they’re at it, pick up a stand, display case, shoulder carrying case and/or belt clip attachment for it too. Plus, there’s the slightly startling sense that you’re wandering around a monumental advertisement for a franchise already worth an estimated $68 billion. On the whole, though, “Galaxy’s Edge” is aimed more at your sense of wonder than your wallet.
The expansive Star Wars universe turns out to be a perfect fit for a Disney theme park: if Walt Disney made rides that felt like movies, George Lucas pioneered the making of movies that felt like rides. Batuu and its goings-on may feel like a galaxy far, far away from Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, but, as an enthralling act of make-believe, it’s very much in keeping with Walt and his audaciously imaginative spirit.
But what of the “Star Wars” neophyte? They exist—and some of them are bound to find themselves on Batuu at some point.
One can only imagine, I guess, that it’ll feel like being on another planet.