To be certain it's very clear up front, there are some spoilers in this review. Wherever these spoilers might detract from your personal experience there are [Spoiler Alert] warnings. You can scroll past these until you see the [End of Spoiler Alert] tag. Don't worry, there is still plenty of opinionated, non-spoiler Geek content available if you decide to pass over those few sections.
What If Geeks also did a special podcast episode covering Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. There’s a lot of overlap in the content, but for those that want to listen to us talk about it for an hour plus, the option is available.
Now that the disclaimers are out of the way, let's move onto the reason for this post: A Geek discussion about all things Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge!
A few weeks back, Eric visited the Galaxy’s Edge in Disneyland while John attended the Cast Member sneak preview at the Galaxy’s Edge in Disney World. The two lands are very similar, boasting the same rides, shops, food and drinks, experiences and general atmosphere, but in a slightly different layout. So we decided to cover them together in a single blog post.
If you're a lifelong Star Wars fan like us, we'd say the odds are pretty damn good that you'll thoroughly enjoy the newest addition to the theme parks. The scenery is incredible, the props are fantastic, the ambiance is immersive, the food is respectable (despite being somewhat "alien") and the cast member costumes are first-rate. To top it off, even the cast members that aren't playing recognizable characters are still fully in character - from janitors to line attendants to cashiers.
Although this land is based on the third Star Wars Sequel Trilogy, fans of the original films will still find plenty of nostalgic reference and seemingly familiar elements. Stormtroopers, rebel starfighters, droids of all sorts, Kowakian monkey-lizards and the Millennium Falcon - just to name a few. You can find most of these elements in the newer movies, of course. But we want to assure any hesitant fans of the original Star Wars trilogy that it's not mandatory to see the newer films in order to thoroughly enjoy this experience. It is unequivocally and undeniably Star Wars.
Eric: The first time I entered Galaxy’s Edge, I walked through the entrance that leads to the First Order base. I passed through a large tunnel cut out of some unremarkable red rock formation. I couldn’t see anything in Galaxy’s Edge from this vantage. But as I walked down the short winding path from the tunnel, I ran into the first, very obvious bit of Star Wars scenery. It’s a towering wall made of sand-colored concrete and metal, with a large archway in the center. There are antennas sticking up from parts of the structure and tattered banners hanging from the top of the wall. Just through the archway, I can see my first glimpses of what they created. Although it isn’t modeled after Mos Eisley, I certainly felt like I was about to walk right onto that set. It was pretty awe inspiring and I must have taken thirty pictures as I walked up to that archway. How about you, John? Which side did you enter on and what were your first impressions?
John: We entered through the opposite side. In Disney World, you come through Hollywood Studios to enter Galaxy’s Edge. As this was a Cast Member preview (thanks to my daughter), they funneled us through to a single entry point. Something I noticed after our experience, but bears discussion now: the entrance we went through was camouflaged by some hedges and planters, so I didn’t even know what to expect as I walked around them to the tunnel. Also, once you get through the tunnel, you no longer hear anything from the rest of Hollywood Studios for your time on Batuu. Like you, we came through a rock tunnel, that curved around and opened up into a generic desert area. You don’t initially realize that you are on the Resistance side, but you absolutely get that distinct Star Wars vibe. As you continue on, you come to an A-Wing on your right and an X-Wing on your left. From the maps we have, I see that is one minor difference between the parks. In Disneyland, they are both on your right as you walk in. As we’ve talked, I see that these minor variances seem to be the only ones so far. I do have very short video clips of the initial walk-through because as I entered, I became an 8 year old and was way too busy taking it all in for myself (sorry, not sorry).
A brief walk-through of the Resistance side entrance area at Disney World
Welcome to the Black Spire Outpost
For a little background, this attraction is set in and around the Black Spire Outpost on the planet Batuu. It's not a place you would have seen in any of the films. It's first canonical 'appearance' was in the second book of the Star Wars:Thrawn series written by Timothy Zahn. Batuu is one of the farthest inhabited bodies in the Outer Rim, just outside of 'Wild Space' and at the very edge of the former Galactic territories. Incidentally, that was the inspiration for the area’s name: Galaxy's Edge.
The spires on Batuu are not actually rocks, but extremely large petrified trees. And the Disney Imagineers have surrounded the area with some massive and incredibly realistic rock work that blocks your view to the rest of the park attractions. There’s a noticeably darker spire in the center of the outpost, which is the main feature the outpost is named after. And at night, the lighting really adds to the ambiance of the place.
Zsolt Hormay, the Disney Imagineer behind Pandora and the Tree of Life, led the landscape design and creation at Galaxy's Edge. He did a short video interview for the Disney Blog where he discusses the process in a bit more detail and gives a few sneak peeks of the Galaxy's Edge scenery. You can watch it below, if you're interested.
Aside from the book series, most of the lore surrounding Batuu and the associated Outpost lies in the first five issues of the Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge comic book miniseries that's tied to the new park attraction. Without diving too deep into the lore, let's just say that this planet is something of a safe haven for smugglers, shady traders, wandering adventurers and those wishing to avoid the First Order. Unfortunately for everyone, the First Order have recently established a presence here.
Eric: The great part is you don't have to know any of the backstory to appreciate what's happening when you’re walking around the Outpost and surrounding areas. On the side I entered, the First Order presence is apparent. There are red 709 Legion banners draped over the buildings; pairs of stormtroopers patrol the perimeter and upper catwalks; and if you utter the wrong resistance-friendly phrase, or pull out your smartphone for a picture, you might find yourself being harassed by the soldiers about the contents of your 'data pad' and your suspicious activities at the outpost. If you hang around the First Order base long enough, you might even come face to face with a certain Knight of Ren. But the entrance on the other side has a whole different feel about it. What did you think, John?
John: You definitely don’t need to have any knowledge of the backstory or even much history of the Star Wars franchise itself to actually enjoy this park, but it definitely helps. People who have barely had any exposure to Star Wars (what Outer Rim planet have YOU been on and why are you reading this? LoL) can enjoy the immersive feel of this new world. However, true Star Wars fans will literally feel like they have landed on a planet within their favorite universe. As we went through the Resistance area, we found all sorts of nods to the lore within this world. From ships and droids to artwork and statues, I found loads of hidden tributes to everything I grew up with.
Stormtroopers harass everyone. Yes, everyone. Even children are not safe, apparently.
Immersive is the Word
Every Disney Cast Member is costumed and in character at Galaxy's Edge: guides, servers, line attendants, cashiers, hosts, janitors - literally, all of them. They speak in decipherable code while they guide you towards areas like Savi's Workshop for “scrap” (more on that later) or the “refreshers” (a.k.a. restrooms). They use Batuuan phrases like "bright suns," "rising moons," or "til the spires" - the respective equivalents for good morning, good evening and farewell. Even buying food or souvenirs from the shops has been made into a decidedly Star Wars-minded experience.
Eric: This is where Disney gets so much right. They genuinely try to immerse you in the experience. It's not just fun rides, themed scenery and a few costumed characters. The entire cast tries to make you feel like you are part of the unique Star Wars story that Disney has created. When I approached a cashier at the end of an alley about a toy Kowakian monkey-lizard sitting on a table, she pretended like it was a real pet and gave me the price in 'credits' not dollars. This kind of interaction happens at every vendor stand in Galaxy's Edge. Every transaction is handled with 'credits' but you still pay with cash or card like anywhere else. In general, it seems that they kept everything as thematic as practical.
John: Even for Disney, this was ridiculously detailed. Something my family and I always loved about Disney is their attention to detail and dedication to the utmost customer experience. My wife always says, “Disney costs more and people complain about it, but you absolutely get what you pay for.” This is even more true in Galaxy’s Edge. In other Disney parks, the Cast Members, while typically amazing at their customer service, are still simply representatives of the park as a whole. However, Galaxy’s Edge doesn’t have “Cast Members”, they are all an intricate part of this world. As you said, they have their own phrases and names for things, but they don’t feel forced, just a natural extension of life on this planet.
Disney went so far with their immersion efforts that they even decided to commission special Coca Cola product bottles, complete with Aurebesh script in place of the standard alphabet. Actually, you won’t find any of the standard drink or snack fare that you can buy elsewhere in the park - or elsewhere on Earth, for that matter. Because if it wasn’t obvious already, this takes place a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.
Eric: I know this probably seems simple but it still kind of blew my mind. It's one thing to redo everything Disney owns, but to get another company like Coca Cola to completely change their branding and do a stylized, Aurebesh-based logo for four different drinks is a pretty amazing feat. I imagine Disney didn’t get that done without putting some monetary investment into the project, though; and that might explain why the re-branded drinks are $5.50 apiece.
John: Yeah, the collaboration on this was awesome. I loved how not only did they change the logos, but even came up with a new style of bottle for this world.
Food and Drinks Galore
The restaurants and food stalls have seemingly alien items, as well. The dishes are based on common foods, but Disney didn't just slap a catchy name on them. They actually played with the flavor pairings, ingredients and spice combinations to make it seem like you are eating something unfamiliar.
Eric: I found this to be a welcome touch. If you've eaten in The World of Avatar at Disney's Animal Kingdom, it's a very similar culinary concept. There’s not much on the menu that’s going to be perfectly familiar to your taste buds, but nothing is too far off to be unrecognizable. At the main eatery, Docking Bay 7 Food and Cargo, I tried the Smoked Kaadu Ribs (sticky pork ribs), Yobshrimp Noodle Salad (chilled shrimp over noodles) and Fried Endorian Tip-Yip (boneless fried chicken). I thought all of them were pretty good except the chicken. But I’m an adventurous eater. My kids were not as fond of the unexpected flavors. Did you try anything you really liked, John?
John: We walked into Docking Bay 7 Food and Cargo, but decided to skip it. The food looked great, but it was pretty pricey and I was trying to stretch my funds for some souvenirs. We decided to drop back into Ronto Roasters and eat there. We had the Ronto Wrap, which was a grilled sausage with a peppercorn sauce and slaw wrapped in a pita. It had a very mild kick, but was really good. I washed it down with a Trandoshan Ale. The true enjoyment of Ronto Roasters comes from the set decor. As you check out the area, the main set piece has a droid operating the grill. However, this “grill” is a re-purposed podracer engine. Star Wars fans will recognize this droid, too. He’s the “torture droid” from Jabba’s palace, who can be found branding the feet of a screaming power droid in Return of the Jedi. All told, this spot was very enjoyable.
Disney didn’t limit their efforts to food and Coke products, though. They created some unique plant-based milk drinks (no, that's not a typo) and alcoholic beverages. They even contracted with some well known breweries for four exclusive Galaxy’s Edge brews. If you’re a beer lover, this might be reason enough to visit the area. Blue Point Brewing crafted the Gold Squadron Lager (a gold lager); New Belgium came up with the Gamorrean Ale (a red ale); Ballast Point Brewing is responsible for the White Wampa Ale (a hefeweizen); and Sierra Nevada concocted the Bad Motivator IPA (you guessed it, an IPA).
Eric: Speaking of food and beverages... Yes, there is a Cantina. Yes it serves alcohol. And yes, it is very much reminiscent of the Mos Eisley Cantina on Tatooine. They've changed it around some, with more open booth areas, a more modern looking bar and a DJ R3X droid in place of the Bithian Figrin D'an and the Modal Nodes band. But it still gives off that Mos Eisley desert cantina vibe. The couple of cocktails I tried were a bit sweet for my liking, but maybe there are better options. There were several custom craft beers on the menu from well known brewers, as well. Unfortunately, I didn't get to try much - there's a two drink and 45-minute limit, due to the high demand. The service was honestly slow and poor, but that's about what I'd expect from a shady black market outpost on the outer rim.
John: I was mad that I didn’t get to see the cantina, but for the Cast Member experience we had to choose between that or creating a lightsaber. There wasn’t really a “choice” there. What I have learned since researching the two parks is that there are more areas to find alcoholic beverages at the Disney World location than there are in Disneyland. During our trip, we found drink options at Ronto Roasters, Docking Bay 7, the cantina that I didn’t go into, and a stand that sold the blue and green milk. I also believe there was at least a drink stand that I spotted that was selling “ale”. For the milk stand, those two flavors came with or without alcohol. Another cool attention to detail was that they even used different shaped cups to differentiate between them: rounded for the non-alcohol and squared for the alcohol.
Literally Everything is Star Wars Themed
It seems like there are only a few non-themed elements in the entire Galaxy’s Edge land, most of which are practical necessities. The standard alphabet is used where it's needed - for example, marking restrooms and other points of interest, as well as food and drink menus. The 'Exit' signs and fire alarms have not been obscured or themed at all, but that's probably due to code requirements rather than a lack of effort (because the fire sprinklers and emergency lighting were themed). They even put a facade on all the point of sale machines to make them match the vibe of everything else.
Eric: The attention to detail is mind boggling and I can hardly even begin to imagine the level of effort it must have taken for the Disney Imagineers and designers. Were there any particular themed elements that really impressed you?
John: The thing that mostly stood out to me was how well-versed in the story every Cast Member was. From the credits instead of dollars, to the lingo used on-world, everyone makes it feel like you literally stepped into an ever-evolving story. With the First Order occupation of Batuu, the Resistance continuously moves in secret. When I first saw Chewbacca, he was surrounded by a group of guests. At first I didn’t know what was going on, because he was hunched over in the center of all of these people who had their arms raised in the air. I looked around and realized that they were following a squad of First Order Stormtroopers and he was asking the people to help hide him, in case the troops turned around. Another example is how no one mentions the word “lightsaber”. We had a 6:05 “appointment” at Savi’s Workshop to build my lightsaber. When we could not find the shop initially, my daughter approached a Cast Member and asked, “Where do we go to build the lightsaber?” The Cast Member immediately moved closer, as if conspiring with us and said, “We don’t use that word here. If the First Order hears, they’ll be all over this place. We just say scrap metal.” Unfortunately, my daughter apparently is a very slow learner and continued to say the word lightsaber throughout our visit, resulting in her continually being hushed. You can’t help some people.
Rides are a Full-blown Experience
Believe it or not, there are only two rides in Galaxy’s Edge and one of them - the Rise of the Resistance - has yet to open. This is true in both parks. Based on Disney’s latest estimates, the Disney World version should open on December 5th, 2019, while the Disneyland version is set to open on January 17th, 2020. It will be an epic 20+ minute ride that involves multiple different vehicle types, a walk-through segment, and several hundred animatronic figures. Whenever the Geeks get back to Galaxy’s Edge, we’ll definitely cover it. But for now, you’ll just have to use your imagination.