Like all 90s kids, I have intense feelings about Star Wars. I used to watch Return of the Jedi every day after school, and was predictably into Ewoks, Princess Leia’s outfits and that moment when Bib Fortuna says “no Jabba no botha.” Today, the young people I know admit that they have a soft spot for the much maligned Jar Jar Binks just cuz *childhood,* and we all wonder how the new releases will affect generations over time. So far, I’ve been 100% down with Rey, Kylo Ren and the new movies.
It makes sense for this franchise to have its own theme park, a la Harry Potter, especially as Disney starts eating up all media entities everywhere. Because my husband is 100% obsessed with theme parks, especially of the Disney variety, he insisted we check it out this fall. Here’s what I thought about it. (Note: I mostly used Neil’s pictures because he was shooting with the new iPhone with a wide angle lens, and you kinda need that type of lens here.)
Galaxy’s Edge is set on a planet called Batuu, which is apparently controversial in the theme park circuit. It’s not in any movies, and no one really cares about it. Texturally, Batuu is pretty dismal. It’s like a sand planet for trading, sprinkled with a few trees. The space is a lot bigger and calmer than the chaotic “Wizarding World of Harry Potter” at Universal Studios, which I appreciated. But it was hard not to compare it to Pandora in Animal Kingdom, which is devoted to a shitty movie (Avatar) but incredibly psychedelic and weird and even awe-inspiring. Pandora also has arguably the best ride, Flight of Passage, where virtual reality and a few multi-sensory tricks make you feel like you’re flying on a winged dinosaur on acid.
The “Imagineers” behind Galaxy’s Edge really leaned into the rundown feeling of Batuu, to the point where I saw two women wondering if it was safe to drink water out of a drinking fountain that was covered in fake rust and dirt. It definitely gives you the impression that living in the Star Wars universe sucks, a vibe I’ve never really seen a theme park put out on purpose.
The park was supposed to have all kinds of actors playing characters, but it mostly just had stormtroopers marching around. One came up and asked me if I knew anything about the rebellion, and I couldn’t stop giggling. If I hypothetically did, why would I just tell him straight out? Then he went up to a baby in a stormtrooper dress and thanked her for her loyalty.
The red flags of the First Order were actually a bit chilling. Even weirder were the little kids, usually boys, who wanted First Order shirts or merchandise. Is even fictional fascism cool? I guess I bought a Stormtrooper toy, so maybe I’m guilty of this, too.
The merchandise had a pretty cool handmade feeling, and the markets where you could shop were very considered down to the very last detail. Neil said he could have spent a whole day just in the store.
The Millennium Falcon is the centerpiece of the park, and also the entrance to its only ride, Smugglers Run. We waited about an hour to get into the ride, and I tried to use the app to translate the “Aurebesh” letters all over the place. The language seemed lightly lifted from Japanese katakana symbols, and was pretty easy to pick up as an alphabet. I found a few real words hidden places, but a fair amount of nonsense, too. The app itself was incredibly complicated and overwrought.
Smugglers Run was not a ride I particularly enjoyed. Yes, you get to control the ride, and I even got to pull the lightspeed switch, which Neil envied. But the experience of trying to fly it with strangers was stressful, and there were very few stomach drop fun feelings that, to me, define a ride. It reminded me of the Iron Man ride, which was too conflict-based to be very fun. But I like thrill rides and don’t like interactive rides, so I imagine someone like my video game-addicted nephew would love it.
I had to try blue milk, just like I had to try butterbeer. It was about $8 and tasted more like a tropical virgin cocktail than milk. It was a bit frozen and very refreshing. (Note: it is dairy free.) I got halfway through and started developing a headache from the sugar content and also my annoyance that there was no alcohol for that price. I would say, it’s better than butterbeer. That stuff was odd in texture and taste.
Neil shelled out cash for the $200 “make your own lightsaber” class. We hung around outside for about 30 minutes beforehand, and we watched the actors hiding the fact that they were making lightsabers from stormtroopers. It was sort of cool to feel like it was a secret.
The class itself was in a very cold hidden cave, where teachers let you pick the color of your saber and all of its materials. They give a speech about Yoda and other Jedis and it was actually kind of emotional. The kid next to us picked red for his lightsaber, and also picked the First Order-inspired handle design. What a stone cold evil kid! Neil picked green.
A couple in the class was clearly very, very obsessed with Star Wars, and they cried the moment that they got to turn on their lightsabers. I’d definitely recommend it to true Star Wars nerds, or people who have lots of money and want to get out of the heat.
My favorite part of the day was visiting Oga’s Cantina. We couldn’t get in until 10 p.m., but that was ok because that was prime drinking time anyway. We’d been at Disney Parks for 14 hours and really needed one.
I’d noticed throughout the day that the music in the park was quite charming. The best place you can listen to it is in the bathroom, which Neil said they, questionably, call the “refresher.” At one point, they introduced a song that had been “banned across the galaxy” and it kind of sounded like Shakira singing with a bunch of Ewoks. I was into it.
The music finally took center stage in the cantina, thanks to DJ R3X, a fun little dancing droid. I would highly recommend checking the playlist out on Spotify. I listened to it for a few days afterward and am still convinced that one voice either is Shakira or is inspired by her. It’s Disney, they can really afford to hire whoever they want to make secret alien robot music. Another song sounds like it could have been made by Flight of the Conchords, and another by Daft Punk. Maybe I’m speculating too wildly. They’ve kept the actual musicians involved under lock and key.
The cantina was pretty crowded but cleared out around 10:45 so we got to take more pictures. We ordered a couple drinks, and remembering the headache I’d gotten from a sugary drink at Trader Sam’s the night before, I went for a cider. Both drinks were too sweet for our taste, but it was still a really fun experience.
Neil left very impressed by Galaxy’s Edge. He said it gave him many “goosebumps-inducing” moments, especially when the actors played along with the scripts. I liked it, and was glad that it was so spacious, because Star Wars is a huge franchise that deserves its own “galaxy.” But I also would agree with criticism that its pretty half empty right now, and missing convincing actors and rides to make the magic come to life.
I couldn’t help but think of Pandora, which is dense and disorienting and really does feel like an alien planet. I wished that Galaxy’s Edge had a few “neighborhoods” themed like different Star Wars moments. How cool would it be to hang out in a bog on Dagobah, or imagine yourself in a race through the trees on Endor? Disney definitely took a big bet on the newer movies, leaving behind a fair amount of the charm of the old settings and characters. A folksy Yoda ride along the lines of the E.T. ride at Universal Studios would have been incredibly cool. Galaxy’s Edge has a lot of potential, but hopefully in the future it focuses more on the heart that makes those movies so timeless.