On Friday, Disneyland will unveil the largest land expansion in its 64-year history, the $1 billion Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, a 14-acre immersive environment that blasts park-goers into a galaxy far, far away.
The new land, located in the back of Disneyland Park between Big Thunder Mountain and Mickey’s Toontown, is the product of four years of planning and construction, and thousands of hours of collaboration between Walt Disney Imagineers and Lucasfilm scenery, merchandise and scriptwriters.
Even veteran “Star Wars” composer John Williams created an original score that’s piped through hidden speakers throughout the land, which is called Black Spire Outpost, a thousand-year-old village on the planet Batuu at the edge of a distant galaxy.
With the opening of Disneyland in 1955, Walt Disney pioneered the theme park as we know it today. He transformed the traditional amusement park into a fantasy walk-through environment where no detail was overlooked, no matter which way the visitor turned, be it on Main Street, U.S.A. or in the lush landscape of the Jungle Cruise.
Now comes Galaxy’s Edge, which is unlike any theme park land in the country, if not the world. Surrounded on all sides by rocklike spires and towers up to 138 feet in height, it’s designed as a “living land.”
There are no signs in the land, at least in English (the indecipherable Star Wars language seen everywhere is Aurebesh) and there’s no references anywhere to Star Wars, except on the tiny tags on clothing and toys in the shops. After all, in a real Outer Space village, the words “Star Wars” mean nothing.
Visitors are meant to simply wander through the outpost’s meandering alleys, duck inside market stalls, ask for directions from costumed villagers and explore the surprisingly expansive and enveloping property.
Galaxy’s Edge designer Doug Chiang — who has designed “Star Wars” film scenery for Lucasfilm since 1995 — said Wednesday that it was a joy creating a three-dimensional permanent environment that can be seen from all perspectives, rather than just that of the movie camera.
The land’s look was inspired by trips Chiang and other designers took to the Far East. Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia Mosque inspired the land’s tallest building, which towers over a 100-foot model of Han Solo’s “bucket of bolts” ship, the Millennium Falcon.
The hodgepodge street markets of Marrakesh inspired the outpost’s marketplace, where visitors can shop for Kowakian monkey-lizard dolls and stuffed porgs, spend $300 on an Obiwan-style cape, leggings and tunic ensemble, nibble on braised shaak (beef) or Endorian tip-yip (chicken) and sip Luke Skywalker’s favorite beverage, blue milk (a fruity shake made with rice and coconut milk).
The Outpost has a Coca-Cola stand selling custom-designed spherical plastic 13-ounce containers of Coke with the famous logo written in Aurebesh. There’s even a Black Spire Outpost radio station, which you can sometimes hear in the bathrooms.
Oga’s Cantina is a dimly lit bar with a droid DJ, serving up bubbling cocktails, both virgin and alcoholic. Visitors can build their own droids or lightsabers in a pair of hard-to-find workshops. And true collectors can visit Dok-Ondor’s Den of Antiquities, where they can spend $3 on a Sith inspiration stone, $109 on a replica of Darth Vader’s lightsaber or $2,000 on a re-creation of Princess Leia’s necklace from the original 1977 Star Wars film, “A New Hope.”
Since the Outpost is said to be 1,000 years old, it was built to look weathered. There are rustlike stains on the floors and ceilings of the bathrooms, blast gun damage on the walls and tangles of aged-looking power cords hanging overhead in the market. Even the aural soundscape that’s mixed with Williams’ score is a cacophony of clanging pipes, rusty exhaust fans and rumbling old machinery.
Most Disney park “lands” are instantly familiar to visitors, like Cars Land at Disney California Adventure, which is a walk-through re-creation of the town of Radiator Springs in the animated “Cars” films. But Galaxy’s Edge was designed to be a place in the Star Wars universe that’s unfamiliar to fans of the films. There are new characters, new stories and new landscapes. But fans will recognize familiar droids, creatures and spaceships tucked here and there around the land.
Scott Trowbridge, Star Wars portfolio creative executive for Walt Disney Imagineering, said Wednesday that this allows visitors to make the land their own.
“You can see yourself here. Be who you want to be. Tell your own story,” he said, in a panel discussion.
Inside the land, visitors can use the Play Disney Parks app on their cellphone to side with either the good guys of the Resistance or the baddies of the First Order in a multiplayer game. There are also First Order costumes and toys for sale. And costumed Stormtroopers are a not-always-benevolent force patrolling the grounds and interacting with guests. Disney officials said there are more fans than you might guess who are attracted to inhabiting the dark side, if only for a day.
Black Spire Outpost has a backstory and all of the Disney cast members who work in the shops, restaurants and rides are either smugglers, members of the Resistance (like heroes Rey, Poe and Finn) or members of the First Order, the dark force leaders (like Kylo Ren) and their enforcers, the Stormtroopers. At any time, members of the Resistance may approach park-goers to whisper secret plans for an uprising and there’s First Order graffiti here and there on the walls.
Cast members were invited to write their own origin stories and they stay in character at all times, no matter how much park visitors try to wheedle them out of it. Merchandise, like the build-your-own BB-8 droids, cost 99 “credits,” not dollars. The battery-operated creatures in the shops are “lifeforms,” not toys. The dishes on the restaurant menus have names like kaadu ribs and mustafarian lava roll with no easy explanation of their more Earthly ingredients.
The Play Disney Parks app will come in handy here. Visitors can use it to guide them through the land, translate Aurebesh phrases, examine the contents of cargo packages and more.
For now, there is just one ride operating in Galaxy’s Edge, Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run. It’s a mix between the virtual reality space ride Star Tours and a hands-on video game where six riders in a pod push buttons and pull levers to collect more smuggled cargo in a ride that lasts four to six minutes. While each ride experience is similar, the performance of the pilots, gunners and engineers on the flight can change the trajectory and smoothness of the flight.
Later this year, a second ride will open, Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, which will mix ride, actor and technological elements in a battle scenario billed as the most ambitious, advanced and immersive experience ever undertaken by Walt Disney Imagineering.
At the land’s dedication ceremony on Wednesday night, Disney Chairman and CEO Bob Iger was joined by Star Wars creator George Lucas and original cast members Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill and Billy Dee Williams. While Lucas, who sold the Star Wars franchise to Disney in 2012, famously grumbled about one of Disney’s Star Wars films, he had only praise Wednesday for Galaxy’s Edge.
“It could have gone very bad but it didn’t,” Lucas told the crowd. “It’s Star Tours on steroids at a level you can’t possibly believe ... This thing is amazing, it’s really something you couldn’t dream about 20 years ago ... I think it will change your life.”
Because of public interest in the new land, access to Galaxy’s Edge is by reservation only through June 23. After that, crowd control methods will be used to control visitorship and hours spent in the land. A time limit may make it frustrating for visitors on a schedule because Black Spire Outpost is not designed for a speedy visit by checklist. It’s a place to get lost in, and that’s just what its planners envisioned.
For details on visiting Galaxy’s Edge, reservations and tickets, visit: disneyland.disney.go.com/faq/parks/star-wars-galaxys-edge-disneyland-reservation/