Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge is Open at Disney's Hollywood Studios

by Alan S. Dalinka, staff writer

Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge officially opened at Disney's Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World Resort yesterday, August 29, 2019, following Wednesday's dedication ceremony anchored by Bob Chapek, Chairman Disney Parks, Experiences, and Products. Because Disneyland's version of the new land officially opened back on May 31, here at MousePlanet, we already have had ample opportunity to provide you with images of Batuu—the far-off planet at the edge of the galaxy which serves as the setting for the new land—both from California, as well as here in Florida from Cast (with Friends and Family) and Passholder Previews, as well as this past week's Media Event.

I was in California last weekend for D23 Expo and visited Disneyland, and attended a Cast preview, a Passholder preview, and returned to Florida for the Media Event, so I am the first member of the MousePlanet team to have visited both versions of the land. I even took a photo in front of the Millennium Falcon in both parks less than 24 hours apart.

On August 26, 2019, I visited the Millennium Falcon at Disneyland; on August 27, 2019, I visited Disney's Hollywood Studios for the Media Event.

On August 28, 2019, Bob Chapek welcomed the world to Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge at Disney's Hollywood Studios. Video ©Disney.

Star Wars and Disney Parks: A Brief Historical Tale

Probably since Star Wars first debuted on the silver screen in 1977, fans have clamored to visit the universe shown in the film and its subsequent sequels, prequels, and other stories. The first step Disney Parks made toward fulfilling that fan dream was the 1987 opening of Star Tours at Disneyland (and subsequently other Disney Parks, including, almost 30 years ago, what is now Disney's Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World in Florida). Guests boarded a Starspeeder as space tourists on their way to the forest moon of Endor (from Star Wars: Return of the Jedi), piloted by Rex (a new character making his first flight) with assistance from R2-D2, but, instead, ended up in a battle with a Star Destroyer and an assault on a Death Star.

In 2011, Star Tours was updated with new video and technology, in the form of Star Tours-The Adventures Continue, taking guests on a Starspeeder now piloted (accidentally) by C3PO through worlds shown in the prequel films. Up until then, though, Disney worked on the Star Wars properties under a license agreement with Lucasfilm Ltd. Everything changed in 2012 when Disney acquired Lucasfilm and fans clamoring for a Star Wars land got their new hope. As Disney produced and released new Star Wars movies, it added new scenes to the attraction.

In 2014, Disney internally began developing a Star Wars-themed land for its parks, and Chairman and CEO Bob Iger announced at the D23 Expo in 2015 that such lands would be built at both Disneyland in California and Disney's Hollywood Studios in Florida. Construction began in both locations in 2016, and at D23 Expo in 2017, the name Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge was revealed and the model for the new land was unveiled. Not too long after that, Disney even added a scene where the Star Tours Star Speeder landed on Batuu. Star Tours-The Adventures Continue is still open at Disneyland and Disney's Hollywood Studios.

Phase One: The Lands Are Open

While both Disneyland and Disney's Hollywood Studios officially have opened their Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge lands, both openings are only considered "Phase One." At each park, Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge spans more than 14 acres, making it the largest single-themed land expansion in Disney Parks history. Each park contains nearly-identical merchandise locations, food and beverage locations, and the Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run attraction, complete with a full-size Millennium Falcon spaceship docked in the Black Spire Outpost Spaceport and measuring more than 100 feet long. While the buildings and more than 200,000 square feet of rockwork and 260,000 square feet of themed plaster are pretty much the same in both parks (with some color variations accounting for the different sunlight and climate), each land has a slightly different physical layout because of the land available to build on and what is adjacent: for example, at Disneyland, the land has three guest entrances and is adjacent to the Disneyland Railroad, while at Disney's Hollywood Studios, the land has two guest entrances.

Disney says that the lands have been built to invite "guests to live their own Star Wars adventures as they explore a remote planet full of unique sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and other immersive experiences." There are other writers here at MousePlanet that are far more qualified than I to explain the details of the Star Wars universe and what is "canon" (official story) and what is not. Suffice to say here, however, that the land is set in the time period of the most-recent films produced under Disney's ownership of Lucasfilm (though with lots of nods to the Star Wars story's prior history). Characters from those films mix and mingle with guests, as though they actually "live" in the land. In the theme park sense, there are no fixed "meet and greets" in the land, and there is no "background music" as you would find in other lands (even Pandora-The World of Avatar), but, instead, the ambient sounds of the planet. (Personally, I would feel more emotionally connected to the land if it contained John Williams-composed music throughout, but your preference may be the bustling planet's soundscape on its own.)

Character encounters are the main entertainment when wandering the land. Video by Alan S. Dalinka.

I was chatting with #DisneyParksLIVE host Mark Daniel when we encountered Rey who decided to see how well we and other guests could work together in the Resistance. Video by Alan S. Dalinka.

Even the cast members that work at the retail merchandise, food, and beverage locations all are "in story" in that they will tell you that they are from towns on Batuu, and they act and speak curiously if you dare mention other parts of theme park going life (they will use a term for "imaging device" or "scanner" rather than camera or smartphone, for example). For guests that really want to get further into the story themselves, the Play Disney app (for iPhone and Android) offers more ways to interact with the surroundings and even have their experiences during a visit create a reputation that follows them around the land.

The Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run attraction, for example, gives guests a mission. Guests are assigned one of three roles as they get into the cockpit of "the fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy" and have responsibilities that, collectively, affect the outcome of the ride: pilots, gunners, and engineers have different tasks to perform that have consequences. Guests that use the Play Disney app will see those results show up in the app and then follow them throughout their visit. Crash the ship or fail to get enough cargo, and there will be consequences.

Walk the attraction queue. Video by Alan S. Dalinka.

Get recruited by Hondo Ohnaka to fly the "Falcon" after he "borrows" it from Chewbacca. Video by Alan S. Dalinka.

For the Media Event, Disney installed some cameras in the cockpit of the Falcon to capture reporters like me attempting to fly without crashing (much). Video courtesy Disney Parks.

Exclusives: Food, Beverages, and Merchandise on Batuu

For the Food & Beverage and Merchandise offerings in Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge, Disney's Hollywood Studios version of Batuu has the same offerings as those we have previously discussed at Disneyland. Let's recap them here briefly:

Oga's Cantina

At this reservations-recommended location (see the My Disney Experience app), the one time Star Tours pilot Rex is now DJ R-3X (and, yes, still voiced by Paul Reubens), provides musical entertainment and commentary in this venue created to evoke the famous Cantina from Star Wars: A New Hope yet not be THAT Cantina per se. The soundtrack of the room was commissioned by Walt Disney Imagineering with original music, but some of that music's themes are drawn from the famous John Williams-composed music from the cantina scene in the movie. The beverages in the venue are rather exotic and are served in unique vessels (some of which may be purchased separately from the beverages); some of the beverages have alchohol (a first for Disneyland, but not Disney's Hollywood Studios), requiring those consuming them to be age 21 or over.

Learn about the specialty beverages and snacks available at Oga's Cantina. Video by Alan S. Dalinka.

Docking Bay 7 Food and Cargo

Under the transport shuttle is the quick service food location for the land. Fictional Chef Strono "Cookie" Tuggs is said to move "from site to site in a modified Sienar-Chall Utilipede-Transport that becomes a mobile kitchen and restaurant." The "exotic" food offered here are Star Wars interpretations of foods you are probably more familiar with (chicken, is but one example). The food is prepared and presented here as though being offered in your Star Wars story, so be prepared for unusual looking foods with both familiar and exotic flavors. The queue, in particular, is decorated with quite a few alien proteins.

Ronto Roasters

A large podracing engine firing up a barbecue pit marks the quick service counter where guests can order Ronto Wraps (pork sausage on a pita-like bread), spicy or savory turkey jerky, and several non-alcoholic drinks, including Coca-Cola products (though the fountain they are served from is marked only in Aurebesh, the language of Star Wars.) To the side of the podracing engine stands a former smelter droid, turning a spit of rather exotic meats.

Milk Stand

Blue and Green Milk have appeared in Star Wars films from A New Hope to The Last Jedi. This stand has both varieties. At Disney's Hollywood Studios, both varieties are also available with "adult" ingredients or without. They are served here frozen, and are actually non-dairy mixes of rice and coconut milk with different fruit flavors. Guest reaction seems rather mixed. I preferred sampling the Blue to the Green (and I have not tried either with alcohol).

For the Media Event, a smaller size cup of "Blue Milk" than is usually sold was available for sampling. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.

Popcorn Stand and Coca-Cola Products

In the Marketplace, a candy-coated, multi-flavored popcorn mix is available. At beverage carts around the land, the much-discussed, exclusive to Galaxy's Edge style bottles of Coca-Cola products are available. Be aware, however, that these specialty bottles labeled in Aurebesh and English are more expensive and contain less beverage than those found elsewhere in Disney's Hollywood Studios (or Disneyland).

The popcorn stand is in the Marketplace. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.

Merchandise: Lots of Locations

At the core of Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge is an open air Marketplace. Stylistically, it takes its inspiration from marketplaces of the Middle East; the area shares some style with Epcot's Morocco pavilion, but, of course, is more space-alien, with lots of nods to the Star Wars universe in which it exists. The Marketplace has lots of small stalls and shops, like the Toydarian Toymaker and Jewels of Bith, where the merchandise is exclusive to the land itself and cannot be purchased elsewhere in the park or otherwise (eBay resales excluded, of course).

The two extra-cost merchandise experiences found in the land both recommend making reservations (see the My Disney Experience app). The Droid Depot provides an opportunity to custom-build an astromech droid by picking pieces off a conveyor belt and even installing a personality chip. Additional accessories can be purchased separately and the shop also offers pre-built droids.

For those that have always wanted their very own lightsaber, Savi's Workshop is the nearly $200 opportunity to experience crafting your own under the guidance of a master. Those that have purchased these assembly opportunities have raved about the experience (and they get to bring along a guest that can watch). The music and storytelling here have been described as very emotional. If you want to further customize your lightsaber when complete, there are more accessories available at Dok-Ondar's Den of Antiquities, where Dok-Ondar also keeps an eye on everything in his shop (and, unlike Savi's, is open to everyone to explore and purchase his wares). I have not personally experienced Savi's, but I have been to Dok-Ondar's, where looking around is very much an adventure of its own.

Phase Two: Rise of The Resistance

Saving the best for last, the highlight of the Media Event at Disney's Hollywood Studios for me, though, was the guided tour for invited media into just a tiny bit of the not-yet-open Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance attraction. This new attraction, scheduled to open at Disney's Hollywood Studios on December 5, 2019, and then Disneyland on January 17, 2020, is touted by Disney as "one of the most ambitious, advanced and immersive experiences ever undertaken by Walt Disney Imagineering." If the tour I was on given by Scott Trowbridge, portfolio creative executive for Walt Disney Imagineering responsible for integration of the Star Wars properties across Disney Parks was illustrative of the final product (and, indeed, he said it was just a bit of the "middle part" of the attraction, Disney may not be over-hyping it.

Photo released by Disney Parks Blog.

At a briefing for media before the tour, Scott Trowbridge described the attraction's primary ride vehicle as a trackless car that, at a point during the experience, becomes mounted to a motion base (think: Dinosaur at Disney's Animal Kingdom or Indiana Jones Adventure at Disneyland or even the entire combination of seat and room at AVATAR-Flight of Passage in Disney's Animal Kingdom), which later enters into a controlled-drop system. Our media tour, like the attraction itself, began with a look at a full-size transport shuttle. In the story of the attraction, which seems to blur the line between what is "pre-show" and what is the "ride," the transport is captured by a Star Destroyer, and guests end up in the middle of a battle between the First Order and the Resistance, with a faceoff with Kylo Ren before making a harrowing escape back to Batuu.

The room we saw on the tour had more than 50 full-sized First Order Stormtroopers, a tie fighter, one of the eight-guest ride vehicles, a wall-sized (video) view of space and still had enough room it seemed to host a high school basketball court. In other words, this room was immense and Trowbridge said it is just a part of the attraction. We know from publicly released video from Disney that the attraction also includes an encounter with full-sized AT-ATs, which we saw, in part, being built before that show building was enclosed last year!

Imagineer Chris Beatty told me that, in coming up with the idea for the attraction, the imagineers thought about what it would be like if your Pirates of the Caribbean boat included opportunities to get off the boat and interact with the pirates before getting back on for further adventures. Video by Alan S. Dalinka.

The Future: The Halcyon

At D23 Expo 2017, Bob Chapek announced that Disney's Hollywood Studios version of Batuu would also connect to a new immersive Star Wars-themed hotel. At the just-concluded D23 Expo 2019, Chapek and Imagineer Ann Morrow Johnson refined that announcement, describing the Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser, a 2-night "cruise" experience that includes a visit to Batuu. We will have more details on that as they are announced, but, as we have reported, construction on the building next to the park is well-underway. No date has been given for its expected debut, but it is intended to be the most immersive resort stay for someone who wants to live a Star Wars story.