Disney's new 'Star Wars' theme park lands coming to a galaxy near you
"Adventure. Heh! Excitement. A Jedi craves not these things," Yoda instructs Luke Skywalker in "The Empire Strikes Back."
But theme park guests do crave those things. And if they're "Star Wars" fans, they crave a kind of travel excitement that is as canonical as it is aesthetically specific.
The long wait -- which may have begun with "playing" "Star Wars" as a kid on the school playground -- is almost over. A large and ambitious storyland opens this summer at Disneyland, in California, and at Disney World in Florida in the fall. Opening dates have not been announced, and the two locations will be nearly identical.
The new hope and promise is to do the one thing that 10 (and counting) feature films, shows, books, games and more have never been able to deliver: a fully physical and immersive experience with the look, feel, sounds, smells and even tastes of "Star Wars." It's a detailed and architecturally accurate 14-acre playground with character interactions, unique food and shopping you won't find outside the parks. And of course, rides.
Like a film review, this preview of Disney's largest single-themed land expansion in the parks' history contains spoilers. If you want to enter the park without knowledge of the destination's backstory, its design and some of its Easter eggs, save this story for after you go for the first time.
For now, you can go to sleep on your vintage "Star Wars" bedsheets, reassured that many smart and talented Lucasfilm, Disney Parks and Imagineering (the creatures and rides division) superfans were recruited for the planning and execution of what will be the parks' most immersive experiences, built to delight and inspire the hardcore "Star Wars" lifers as much as the visitors who don't know their Jabba from their Jawa.
Let's start with where this place is located in the far, far-away galaxy. The park is calling the expansion Galaxy's Edge, and like all the films, it will introduce most of us to a new planet.
This one is called Batuu, an Earth-like planet full of giant ancient petrified tree stumps (up to 135 feet in the parks), located in the uncharted Outer Rim. Its main town, Black Spire Outpost (named after one mysteriously dark tree stump), was once along the main trade route but has now become more of a haven for smugglers and traders.
The First Order has also just arrived, looking for evidence of the Resistance. A theme park attraction doesn't normally require a story or timeline -- and for some guests, it won't matter -- but this is "Star Wars," which is, foremost, an epic myth. To be authentic, a fictional destination like Batuu needs to fit on a galactic map and within the established narrative timeline. In this chapter, however, you are invited to be a character.
Calling all smugglers, rebels and troopers
There will be two interactive attractions (aka "rides") at both parks that combine and propel the tech mastery of Lucasfilm and Disney into hyperspace. Each is massive in scale.
One is called Rise of the Resistance, and it's a "cinematic experience" with a ride inside, as Disney Executive Creative Director John Larena described it. Your adventure will take you inside the corridors of a rebel base in ancient sacred caves (shades of the base on Yavin 4) and onto a troop transport ship where you will be captured by a Star Destroyer and then thrown in a prison cell block, where you belong, rebel scum.
Many of the surprises of Rise are still under wraps, but cameos include Rey, Poe, Finn, Kylo Ren and BB-8, a John Williams score, those classic blue Rebel light panel battle maps, a full-size AT-AT transport walker and a massive Star Destroyer hangar bay with a window looking out into space. It will be one of the longest rides in the park and require Disney's cast members to join in the action.
Ticket prices at Disneyland in California are increasing ahead of the company's much-anticipated Star Wars expansion.
The other attraction, Smugglers Run, will let you pilot (dramatic pause for the biggest spoiler) the Millennium Falcon on a cargo mission. The most selfie-d part of Galaxy's Edge will no doubt be with the docked, full-scale, 100-plus-foot-long, movie-perfect Falcon that can be viewed at all angles, even from above.
Even a casual "Star Wars" fan will get all the feels stepping into the famous white Chiclet-paneled corridors of the Falcon and then into the main hold, where you can sit at the holographic "Let the Wookiee win" dejarik (aka chess) board.
Is that the flight helmet with blaster shield Luke wore when he first felt the Force? Next to the training remote he was practicing with? The only thing more moving than all that is stepping into the most famous cockpit in history (real or imagined), where touching controls is not encouraged, it's required, starting with the jump to lightspeed.
This Smugglers Run mission is directed by a next-generation animatronic Hondo Ohnaka, a "Star Wars" character who's only ever been rendered in animation ("Clone Wars" and "Rebels" TV shows), books and games. As a crew of six, you fly a mission on the Falcon, which is fast enough for you, old man.
The level of your collective success is determined by how well you pilot and shoot your way out of trouble. To reward getting back in the queue, Smugglers Run has so much variability that, like a video game, each ride will be unique.
Why is everyone trying to get to Batuu?
As much as riders may want to take a speeder bike through the forest moon of Endor, do a pod race on Tatooine or mount a tauntaun on Hoth, the team behind Galaxy's Edge decided, rather than retread old storylines, they would build a new planet where the narrative could move forward.
And yet, it's all very familiar because "Star Wars" has its own aesthetic that is recreated in detail in Black Spire Outpost, a delicate balance between the recognizable and the new. The architecture is rounded. The doors angle out. The buildings are battle-scarred and strewn with pipes, ducts, airshafts and wires. The Arabic-ish (called Aurebesh) alphabet font from the films will be translated to guide you to bathrooms or FastPass lines.
Aside from the Resistance and First Order areas, the town's look and in situ design is reminiscent of Mos Eisley and Jabba the Hutt's lair on Tatooine, and Takodana from Episode VII, as much as of real world cities such as Marrakesh, Istanbul and Kathmandu.
The medina-type layout is complete with a marketplace souk and vendor stalls selling Batuu-exclusive souvenirs.
Black Spire Outpost will be as bustling as city-planet Coruscant, not just because of all the guests but because of everything else the park will supply: special effects, animatronic droids and creatures acting out, and Disney cast members who will embody local characters.
Everyone working in Galaxy's Edge will be able to mix and match costume elements by personal taste from a variety of designs, a Disney Parks first. The black, brown and gray palette and fashion would fit in the background of any film scene.
And there are so many Easter eggs. The keen-eyed fan will spot familiar vehicles, weapons, droids and creatures and revel in others they've never seen before. One classic creature will be easy to spot: a dianoga, the one-eyed water serpent from the trash compactor scene in Episode IV, will make an appearance above a water fountain.
Further immersion will be available through a new Galaxy's Edge mode of the Disney Play app.
Guests are encouraged to create a profile and use the app to hack open doors, translate alien languages and receive missions and messages from characters. The app, with its easy games and transmissions to monitor, can keep any guest waiting in a long line busy -- "in universe" and off Facebook.
These are droids, lightsabers and other souvenirs you're looking for
The vendor stalls won't look or feel like a typical shop. Toys will appear handcrafted, and your new knitted Rey doll, cantina instrument or fuzzy roaring tauntaun won't come in a plastic box.
A creature-only shop is where you can get your own talking, flapping porg, among other alien pets. I'm personally hoping for replicas of Jyn Erso's dolls from "Rogue One."
There will be Star Wars-looking clothes for sale, but T-shirts that read "Star Wars" will more likely be sold outside Galaxy's Edge. You get it? People in "Star Wars" don't know about "Star Wars." Of course, you can wear whatever you want (though nothing that looks like a blaster, per park rules).
Among the specialty shops, one will be a den of rare and exclusive antiquities from around the galaxy, such as classic lightsabers and items that honor the old Sith and Jedi lineages.
Another shop will let you custom-build a remote-controlled mini (about a foot tall, give or take a few inches) BB unit or R2 astromech droid of varying colors. Elsewhere, you can build a lightsaber from various designs and kyber crystal colors.
Forget astronaut ice cream
Don't expect to find french fries or nachos sold on Batuu.
The "in-universe" menu, created specifically for Black Spire, includes kaadu sticky ribs (this animal, which Jar Jar Binks rode on screen, tastes like pork) and fried Endorian tip-yip (chicken). And the hummus, pita and spicy vegan meatballs made by the Earthlings at Impossible Foods is out-of-this-world delicious. No Boba Fettucini on the menu, though.
Blue milk, first seen in Episode 4, and green milk, less-than-appetizingly introduced in "The Last Jedi," will be on tap, a creamy and fruity concoction made from a plant-based milk. Other nonalcoholic drinks include an Arnold Palmer-esque Tatooine Sunset, a refreshing sweet and sour Sarlacc and Moof Juice.
And because we're in an Outer Rim space port, there's a cantina. Don't expect wanted men or lightsaber limb dissections.
Oga's Cantina is an elaborate bar that's also family-friendly, serving blue milk and cookies for the kids and playing an '80s-meets-Bollywood playlist spun by DJ R-3X -- a former pilot droid known to many fans from the older Star Tours ride (which is not going away).
But if you want to take advantage of the one exception to the otherwise nonalcoholic Disneyland, you can have a Fuzzy Tauntaun, a Yub Nub rum punch, an Outer Rim margarita, a blue Jedi Mind Trick and a cloudy, bubbling pink Bespin Fizz, among others, in the cantina.
All this detail adds up to something quite epic.
When Black Spire Outpost is fully operational, the experience for its visitors promises to grow the ever-expanding "Star Wars" universe in a new dimension, with all the humor, adventure and excitement we've been enjoying for 45 years.
Disney and Lucasfilm's onion-skin strategy of immersion will delight fans at all levels, which is basically the definition of great art and storytelling.