I’ve been eager to visit Galaxy’s Edge since it first opened in May last year, so I came in with very high expectations.
The new Star Wars attraction, reported to have cost around US$2bn to build, is a dream come true for fans of the franchise. Like Universal’s Harry Potter experiences, the Black Spire Outpost on Batuu offers a chance to explore a real-world made from a beloved IP . Unlike Harry Potter, this isn’t a recreation, this is a completely new Star Wars experience.
There are two nearly identical versions of the land – one at Disneyland in Anaheim, California and the other at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Orlando, Florida. My visit was to Hollywood Studios.
A cinematic experience
Entering from the side closest to the Hollywood Studios entrance, you walk through a large tunnel. As you advance through the tunnel, the hustle and bustle of Hollywood Studios fades away. Rounding the corner, you are greeted by the iconic X-Wing as the centrepiece of an alien vista. Welcome to “the last stop before reaching uncharted Wild Space” – the Black Spire Outpost on the planet Batuu.
When I visited, Rise of the Resistance hadn’t opened yet. The entrance to the ride is on the left-hand side as you enter. As it stood, the area had a few merchandise stands and closed drink stands but remained relatively quiet apart from visitors to the land pausing to take a selfie with the X-Wing.
Galaxy’s Edge acts as an invitation to explore. There isn’t one single way round, you make the choice of where you want to go. The majority of signs are in Aurebesh – the language of the Galactic Empire – which is amazing in terms of immersion and exploration, but a challenge in terms of navigation.
My first stop was at the Marketplace – a retail area on the outside – an engrossing and immersive experience on the inside.
Retail experiences probably make up a good 50 per cent – alongside rides and dining – of what’s on offer in Galaxy’s Edge. Featuring “vendors showcasing wares from across the galaxy”, nothing on sale at the Marketplace looks like it wouldn’t belong on an alien planet. The first store I entered was an animal store (selling soft toys and animal figures). In the middle of the store was a cage featuring an animatronic Loth cat, while on the shelves were purchasable animals including porgs, tauntans, wampas and more.
A running theme is that everything on sale felt hugely overpriced. A porg soft toy, for example, would set you back US$44.99, while a kowakian figure was a whopping US$69.99.
The next vendor sold handmade toys that looked as though they had been hand made ‘on-planet’, while the Black Spire Outfitters offered Star Wars clothing. Anyone older than 15 cannot wear their Jedi robes in the park with the official line from Disney being they think cosplayers will be mistaken for actual cast members.
Dining is an experience which can often be overlooked in terms of the overall picture of a themed attraction but that was not the case for Galaxy’s Edge.
The snack stand in the market was a prime example of attention to detail and making no elements seem out of place. It still sold brands such as coke but the logos had been artfully translated into Aurebesh, making it recognisable and alien at the same time.
With the lack of English signposting, I completely missed the Ogoa’s cantina, which is a lounge/bar, but I did see Ronto Roasters, a fast food joint which came with a giant towering wheel being used to cook alien meat, and Docking Bay 7, which is where I chose to get a taste of the Black Spire Outpost.
Right in the heart of the action, the restaurant, as its name suggests, looks like a converted spaceship hangar, with everything from the menu to the bowl I was served my food in creating a story behind my dining experience.
Of the several options available I went for the Endorian Fried Chicken Tip Yip (fried chicken and mashed potatoes in gravy). The presentation was excellent and for fast food, it was good quality, though at US$20 for a meal and a drink, it felt slightly overpriced.
The main event
After eating, I went to the star attraction – the famous Millennium Falcon, which is home to Smuggler’s Run – a simulator offering guests the chance to fly the famous spaceship.
The queue for the ride was more than two-and-a-half hours, so I opted for the single rider queue to speed things up. The wait was still around an hour.
After spending quite some time engrossed in Galaxy’s Edge, I found myself standing on a flight of stairs next to a fire exit, waiting to ride the big new attraction. There were some games available on the Disney app but not enough to keep someone entertained for that long.
The experience offers three different roles – pilot, gunner and engineer. In the final boarding area – which brings you inside of the Falcon – groups of six are given their role. I was handed the role of pilot. Single riders are assigned empty slots in odd-numbered group. I was sent into the waiting area and told to have a look around. It was only after a minute or so of looking, that I realised there was actually a boarding queue here with groups of six standing together to go on the ride. After a little confusion, I found the group I’d been added to and headed for the cockpit of the Falcon.
Queuing aside, the ride experience – a four-and-a-half-minute interactive “smuggling mission” – is phenomenal. There were two people working together for each of the three roles. As the pilot, I was in charge of flying up and down, while my co-pilot was flying left and right. We also had moments during the ride where we had to press certain buttons and pull certain levers to, for example, go into hyperspace.
This is probably the closest anyone will ever get to flying the Millennium Falcon for real. It really feels like you are in control and that your actions matter. If you fail to turn or pull up, you will bump into things, if you don’t destroy an enemy ship, you’re going to take damage and feel the impact. At the end of the experience, you get a score based on flying, shooting and repairs, breaking down how well each rider did in their role.
The Dark Side
Venturing on, I came across an area occupied by the evil First Order. Of course, there was a store, kitted out to look like a military depot. Prices varied, with a top of the line stormtrooper helmet costing in excess of US$500.
Parked in this area is one of the First Order’s TIE Echelon starships, which in Star Wars canon are used for troop and cargo transport. The area also acts as a live action stage, where Kylo Ren arrives on Batuu in order to track down Rey.
Dok-Ondar’s Den of Antiquities was one of the best examples of retail meeting entertainment. Doubling as a Star Wars museum, this “junk store” is filled with treasures and iconic objects from across the entire franchise. A large tank features a baby dianoga – better known as the trash compactor monster from the original Star Wars film. Other items on display include an array of helmets, a stuffed Wampa and even an easter egg in the form of the Arc of the Covenant from George Lucas’ Indiana Jones for really eagle-eyed visitors.
Among the purchasable items visitors can get their hands on are impressive-looking holocron cubes for both the light and dark side.
Nearing the end of my exploration of Black Spire Outpost, I came across the Droid Depot. In this store, guests can purchase and build their own unique droid, with more than 280,000 ways to create an R-series or BB-series using all the available pieces. It features a conveyor belt with different parts that guests use to build their droid before selecting a personality circuit and taking it to an activation centre.
A sense of wonder
The mystery of Galaxy’s Edge is both a compliment and a criticism. Unless you are thorough in your exploration, you can very easily miss something.
Savi’s Lightsabres for example – an experience where you assemble your own lightsaber – is hidden in the land for a reason. In the story of Galaxy’s Edge, the Resistance don’t want the First Order to know of its existence. Sadly however this meant I too was unaware and missed it.
Navigation can be improved by deciphering the Aurebesh language, which can be translated using the Star Wars: Datapad app but if you haven’t done your research in advance, there’s a good chance you won’t know that this is on offer. I downloaded the app on the day, but couldn’t get to grips with it (I seemed to be stuck in the Disney Play part rather than the Datapad part) and quickly dropped it in order to focus on the land rather than my phone.
Simply put, this is the best immersive visitor experience I have ever seen. Harry Potter was going to be hard to top but Disney has succeeded with their attention to detail in creating this masterpiece.
The value for money is the only thing that lets it down. Considering the US$100 per person price tag alone to enter the park, you’re looking at an expensive day to live out a full Star Wars fantasy. It may have been a costly project but pricing out a park ticket, buying a meal, getting my own lightsabre, building a droid and investing in jedi clothing – what I would characterise as the “full” experience – would have cost in excess of US$600. Indeed, there are more than 700 unique items for sale through the land. I dread to think what the combined total of all that would be.
Of course, spending is optional once you’re inside Galaxy’s Edge and even without spending a penny, you can still have a great time. With the land however set out largely as a retailtainment experience, you will probably want to splash the cash when you get there.
The addition of The Rise of the Resistance has certainly added to Galaxy’s Edge. The ride was a couple of weeks from launch when I visited, but reports suggest the queuing experience is much more engaging than Smuggler’s Run. If you’re a Star Wars fan with a nice bit of change in your pocket, I highly recommend visiting Galaxy’s Edge. You definitely won’t be left disappointed.