My Advance Preview Adventure at Disneyland's Long Anticipated Star Wars-Themed Land—Galaxy's Edge
Everyone's asking how I managed to score a preview of Disneyland's eagerly awaited Galaxy's Edge, the Star Wars-themed land within The Happiest Place on Earth. If you really must know, I was smuggled in via a hidden cargo hold on a Corellian light freighter which can handily make the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs. Is that enough of an explanation for you, old man? Sorry, okay, it's just that I know the right people, that's how I got in.
This is but one detail in a much more interesting adventure which began with sealing up any visual recording devices like cameras and smart phones in a vinyl security envelope. There was to be absolutely no photography or video allowed during the preview period. However, the Park was generous enough to deploy a small army of Nikon wielding souvenir photographers standing by to take complimentary photos with Star Wars universe characters, full scale starships or breathtaking, fully immersive bustling scenes of the Black Spire Outpost on the planet Batuu. The docked Millennium Falcon is absolutely the photo opp highlight, essentially the Sleeping Beauty Castle of Galaxy's Edge.
Advance tip: the Frontierland and Fantasyland entrances are the points of entry with the most epic scenic impact. Once you pass through the tunnel, an otherworldly landscape underscored by alien peaks and spires reveals itself in dramatic fashion (cue John Williams score) and you are transported to a far off place both strange and familiar. With rugged architecture integrated into a craggy habitat of earth tones and dust redolent of Tatooine, the Niima Outpost on Jakku or Jedha City, Galaxy's Edge feels like Star Wars and you are living in it. Suddenly the distinct roar of an incoming starship grabs your attention, enough so, in fact, you reflexively duck. However, there is no starship landing; it's more like the zillion point surround sound system in Galaxy's Edge that's immersing you in its sonic universe. Chewie, we're not in Disneyland anymore.
However, I entered through Critter Country where the preview entrance was. It was fairly lackluster with very little Star Wars aesthetic. For the most part, it felt like an extension of Critter Country or Frontierland. This sole entrance was used mainly for security purposes on my preview date. Don't enter here on your first visit.
Certain parts of Galaxy's Edge (although most people are still referring to this new section of Disneyland as Star Warsland and likely will for some time) are dedicated to the Resistance aka Rebels and other areas have a bigger showing of the First Order aka the Empire. So depending on where you find yourself wandering, you'll notice shops selling different souvenirs. A shop specializing in First Order propaganda gear sits next to a life size model of Kylo Ren's command shuttle where a show starring Kylo also takes place. (There's nothing more entertaining than a Sith guy air choking an Imperial officer. Good times.)
Speaking of shops, at moments strolling through Galaxy's Edge can feel more like strolling through an elaborate Star Wars-themed mall. Buildings that appear to house attractions of some sort end up being shops. A handful of these places have serious lines. One of the longer waits is for the lightsaber shop called Savi's Workshop. However, to gain entry you'll need to cough up 200 credits (or real world $200). At this early preview juncture of Savi's Workshop, there appears to be an inconsistency on whether guests who do not purchase a light saber are allowed admission into Savi's. Some were, some weren't. The policy was unclear.
As with Ollivanders for magic wands at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, there is a show involved with the light saber building process complete with a music soundtrack. Apparently the conclusion of the experience strikes an emotional chord as all guests who purchased a light saber raise and ignite them in unison (again cue John Williams score). Goosebumps, baby. But be prepared to spend more than a couple of hours at Savi's.
Alternatively, there's a more low-key option for custom souvenir building at the Droid Depot where you can create your very own droid. (Envision Build-A-Bear but with astromech unit parts.) A full-sized, chirping R2D2 wheeled about the store among shoppers adding to the droid vibe. If you're a Star Wars paraphernalia junkie, Galaxy's Edge is your ultimate souvenir store.
As much as I didn't care for the glut of shops, my jaw did drop when I entered Dok-Ondar's Den of Antiquities. Dok-Ondar is an Ithorian (hammerhead) who collects the rarest and most outrageous treasures, illicit and otherwise, from all corners of the galaxy. His shop is where you go to track down those highly coveted Star Wars collectibles—the good stuff! This souvenir shop is a dream come true for Star Wars geeks. Mounted on walls are trophies of wampas, tauntauns, and other creatures. Blasters and blades alike line the shop like an armory. There is quite an assortment of relics and artifacts both for sale and display only. Dok-Ondar's Den of Antiquities doubles as a museum, which earns points in my book. No need to purchase anything, window shopping is satisfying enough. But if you're in the market for kyber crystals, this is the place.
Dok-Ondar himself is perched high in a caged booth, counting money and mumbling indecipherable Ithorese under his breath. While perusing his den, I got a good long look at this state-of-the-art animatronic masterpiece that is Dok-Ondar. His movements are smooth and lifelike. Subtle facial expressions regularly articulate across his angled visage. True to Disney Imagineering form, intricate features of Dok-Ondar and his booth (basically anything below his waist), although not visible to most guests, are still fully built-out. This attention to detail is what separates Disney theme parks from the rest.
As far as food, Galaxy's Edge runs with the Star Wars theme here too. An example: Ronto Roasters serves an herbivorous beast of burden native to Tatooine, usually domesticated by Jawas, called ronto that supposedly tastes amazing. Slowly roasted on a spit with the help of a giant jet engine from a podracer while rotated by a slave droid, this meat is actually cuts of pork and sausages.
Is there Blue Milk? Totally! Blue Milk is available at the Milk Stand. This fabled beverage (and Luke Skywalker's favorite treat) is made with a blend of coconut and rice milk and entirely plant-based. (Even ruffians on the Outer Rim are going vegan.)
By far the most popular establishment for some food but mostly beverage is Oga's Cantina. It's also the only place thus far to imbibe anything boozy in Disneyland (besides private Club 33). The queue on the day equated to a 45 minute wait. It will easily be twice or thrice that when the general public is allowed entry. There's a selection of kitschy, themed drinks—both alcoholic and non—that puts TGIFriday and most tiki bars to shame. I was given a beverage menu by a cantina castmember. The prices are what you'd expect to pay at a ritzy bar or fine hotel, in other words, expensive. Yub Nub is the priciest drink at $42 and comes with a souvenir cup while Jedi Mind Trick is the strongest and will make your head spin, naturally. Furthermore, guests are limited to 45 minutes of cantina time as well as two alcoholic drinks per person. You don't have to go home but you can't stay at Oga's!
Also, is it just me, or did Disneyland blow an opportunity here to sell Boba Fett boba drinks? Well, Disney, it's not too late. You can thank me with free Boba Fett boba whenever I visit Galaxy's Edge. You're welcome.
Oga's Cantina is strikingly similar in appearance and layout to the famous (or infamous) watering hole found in Mos Eisley—right down to the blaster burns cratered into a wall. (Yeah, Han shot first.) Attracting scum and villainy from all over Anaheim and beyond, guests are led in and seated at specific tables or hightops. Revelers are free to wander around the cantina once drinks have been delivered. Disappointingly, for now at least, there was no Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes (Cantina Band) to entertain the scoundrels. Instead, Oga recruited (and Disneyland repurposed) REX the former Starspeeder 3000 pilot droid from Star Tours. Now known as DJ R-3X, he's in command of the playlist.
However, the biggest letdown of the cantina was the absolute lack of wretched hive of intergalactic weirdos. My drinking mates were pretty much other humans looking around the bar for aliens or geriatric Jedi knights itching for a fight. No Ithorian, no Defel, no Arcona, no Rodian, not a single Bith, not even a weird human—zero cantina characters were to be found. After a grueling 45 minute or longer wait, it'd be nice to do shots with a Jawa at the very least. (My hope is that the reason for this omission is this was only the castmember preview.)
To be fair, outside of the cantina First Order Stormtroopers interacted with waiting guests. The troops were searching for a Resistance spy in the outpost while also slyly checking for guests sneaking photos with their smartphones by inquiring if anyone was on their "data pads."
The Millennium Falcon is arguably the centerpiece of Galaxy's Edge. Situated at the far end of the land, she stands majestically and by no means resembles the "piece of junk" insult hurled throughout the saga. This starship is beautiful. Visitors will be in awe at her mighty mass. People are so used to seeing the Falcon on screen that there's an automatic intimacy when experiencing her at Disneyland. It's an unforgettable thing to examine this celebrity ship from all angles and at such close proximity. The Galaxy's Edge Millennium Falcon is the best thing to happen to Star Wars fans since Kenner's toy version of the ship.
Perhaps just as awesome is the Millennium Falcon attraction named "Smugglers Run" because now you get to board the ship. Located in the building next to the full scale model is the Falcon's flight simulation ride. The mission is commissioned by Hondo Ohnaka, a Weequay pirate. Guests are briefed on their mission to acquire (steal) an important energy source by a very realistic animatronic Ohnaka. Once the assignment is accepted, guests board the Falcon. (Chewbacca has ambivalently agreed to allow the ship to be used for the heist.) Upon boarding, each guest is given a role: pilot, gunner, engineer. Two of each role is given for a six passenger total in the Falcon's cockpit. The pilots navigate and take us into light speed—awesome! The engineers are in charge of repairing the ship on the fly as well as collecting the all-important energy source. The gunners, well, blast whatever is a threat (or not). I was a gunner. Pew, pew!
While waiting for the okay to takeoff, guests hang out in the main hold of the Falcon. Tremendous detail was given when Imagineers painstakingly recreated the Millennium Falcon's interior. Everything from the secret compartments for hiding illegal cargo to the legendary holographic dejarik table where the chess-like game is played was on display and available for guests to examine. As I waited for my group to be called, I sat at the dejarik table fantasizing that I was playing a friendly game against Chewbacca and, of course, letting the Wookie win. It was pure heaven.
"Smugglers Run" was like playing the ultimate video game. Everything was very realistic: video, motion simulation, and set design. Above all, playing the Falcon's crew was an unbelievable geek dream come true. Technically the gunner positions aren't in the cockpit, and all we had to do was repeatedly press a red button to fire, but it was still fantastic.
"Rise of the Resistance" is slated to open later in the year. This attraction, based on episodes 7-9, has a harrowing storyline of a botched Resistance mission. Featured will be full-scale starships and war machines along with multiple animatronics. It's highly interactive involving key character like Rey (seen as a hologram) and several locations. Sounds worthy of Galaxy's Edge.
Disneyland, as Walt Disney himself proclaimed, will never be completed. The same can be said of Galaxy's Edge. It's a work in progress. (In fact, the paint was literally still drying on a wall in the "Smuggler's Run" queue.) As the Star Wars saga evolves, Galaxy's Edge will follow suit. This is but the beginning.
The land dedicated to Star Wars, however, would do well populated by more characters from its beloved intergalactic universe. I did see Chewbacca, Rey, Kylo, a couple of Stormtroopers, and an Imperial officer. However, the lesser, obscure characters or even Star Wars extras can breathe more life into the streets, alleys, and establishments of Galaxy's Edge. But, I have a feeling this will eventually happen, and what I experienced was scaled down for my preview day. Fewer stores and more attractions would be nice too. Fingers crossed.
And remember: it's called Galaxy's Edge not Star Warsland.
Galaxy's Edge officially welcomes the public—for those who stay at Disneyland Resort Hotels and have Galaxy's Edge reservations—starting May 31 to June 23. Starting June 24, the flood gates open to all guests.
Until then...May the FOMO Be With You! Hopefully for not too much longer.