My Disney Top 5 - Things to Love about Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge at Disney's Hollywood Studiosby Chris Barry, contributing writer
For me, the wait is officially over. I have been to the promised land that I've been waiting for since I was a little kid. Two weeks ago, we spent a weekend in Walt Disney World doing all the classic things that we have loved for years. This time, though, we experienced Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge at Disney's Hollywood Studios and I'm still smiling from ear to ear.
As I write this I'm 51 years of age. 42 years ago, in the summer of 1977, I was a 9-year-old boy who had just seen the greatest thing of his entire short life in a movie theater in Flushing, New York. I can remember as clear as a bell sitting in the grand old RKO Keiths theater with the huge stage and ceiling adorned with puffy white clouds. The lights went down. The curtain opened and BAM! The opening crescendo of the original Star Wars theme screamed out of the speakers, the famous crawl scrolled up and disappeared into space and that opening shot of the massive star destroyer overtook the screen. Everything changed. Star Wars became the center of my 9-year-old life and to a certain extent, all these years later, that hasn't changed.
I wouldn't call myself a Star Wars fanatic. I mean, I haven't slept on Star Wars sheets in a long, long time and I don't have one of those Wookie-fur sweatshirts. But I'd say I'm a pretty die-hard fan. The Star Wars universe makes me happy. I love the movies. I read the comics. I play the video games. I couldn't wait for Disney to open Galaxy's Edge. I knew I wouldn't be able to be there on opening day, but I planned on getting there in the first few months, and that's just what I did.
My goal was to take advantage of the four-day Jewish holiday weekend, see the Halloween party at the Magic Kingdom, wine and dine my way through Epcot, and most importantly, my boys and I were going to get over to Batuu at Hollywood Studios and disappear into the Star Wars universe. Forty-two years ago my best friend Louie and I set up the folding lawn chairs and "flew" the Millennium Falcon. Now, I was going to be able to actually see a full size version of the best hunk of junk in the galaxy and then I was going to "fly" it. So... you're telling me that I'm going to sit in the cockpit of Han Solo's Millennium Falcon, steer the thing, make the jump to light speed, and all the while feel like I'm actually careening through space in a battle with tie fighters and Imperial or First Order forces? Yes. Say when and I'll be there.
We spent our first morning, as per tradition, at the Magic Kingdom, went back to Riverside for a swim, and then made our way over to check out "Star Wars Land" for the rest of the evening and night. The next day, we managed to pull off something pretty stellar with regards to visiting any Disney park; I got my teenage boys to wake up at 5:00 a.m. and make it to the Disney buses in time to arrive at the Studios for a 6:00 a.m. opening. It wasn't easy, but it happened and it was a first for us walking into a Disney Park that early in the morning while it was still dark. That morning we spent about two to three hours wandering around Black Spire Outpost. How did I feel about this park I waited 42 years for? Let's find out with my Top 5 things to love in Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge at Disney's Hollywood Studios.
5 – Shopping in the Market
I'm a collector of Disney stuff for sure, or as I've been told, I'm an accumulator of Disney stuff. I couldn't wait to get down there and see what sort of stuff I could bring home from the Star Wars universe. The shopping market on Batuu did not disappoint. First of all, it looks incredible. It looks worn in, like it's been there for generations. There are Star Wars details everywhere you look. I spotted this Wookie carving with some Porgs above.
I spotted this blown out R2 unit in the same "shop." It looks like he's being used as some sort of grill.
Then there were these panels everywhere. I don't care what they are and whether or not they do anything. They look like Star Wars to me. All the buttons are useable, and the lights flash and I love the fact that just about all of them have the port that R2-D2 can plug into to save the day.
The main attraction though is the shops. They did an awesome job making this not feel like a theme park gift shop area. It looks and feels like a bazaar that you might expect to find in places like the Middle East or Africa or, for that matter, on a planet in a different solar system. They don't feel like Disney shops. Mickey is nowhere to be found. The tags on the merchandise don't look like Disney Parks tags. You can only buy things here that an actual shopper on Batuu might find. Here are some chance cubes...
...some Jedi robes...
...and even though it's not holographic, you can bring home your own Dejarik board game.
Once again, the cool thing is this isn't like Tatooine Traders, the gift shop that you enter after disembarking Star Tours. It looks and feels like an authentic shop. The toys aren't Disney toys. There are toy Corellian freighters and TIE fighters that are carved out of wood as if they were handmade here on Batuu. They're toys that a kid from Batuu might play with, not a toy that you can find anywhere else on property. If you buy a Porg stuffed animal, it comes in a cage, as if you're actually buying a pet. They hit it out of the park with this area. It totally reinforces the whole sense of immersion that they were going for and I could spend hours just in the marketplace.
4 – The Ships
One thing you simply can't appreciate from the photos or online videos out there is the size of the ships that are scattered throughout the land. We're talking full size replicas of vehicles from the Star Wars universe. As kids we played with our X-Wings and TIE fighters and the closest thing we Star Wars fans have ever had to physically look at was the speeder bike and AT-AT walker out in front of Star Tours. I'm not complaining mind you. I've always loved sitting on the speeder bike and walking under that walker. But this is different. You can get close to a full size X-34 landspeeder like the one Luke used on Tatooine.
...a First Order TIE Fighter...
...and, of course, the big Kahuna, a certain infamous Corellian freighter which I'll talk more about later. As a fan, these are geek-out moments for sure. What makes it even better is that from time to time you will see Chewbacca up next to the X-wing working on its engines, as if he's not a character that you can get in line and meet, but just a Wookie that happens to live on Batuu going about his business. The presence of all of these ships helps drive home the storyline of Galaxy's Edge and are a real treat for fans to see up close.
3 – Characters
While walking through Galaxy's Edge one of the cooler aspects was the fact that much like Chewbacca mentioned above, a few Star Wars characters are simply walking around the land. They're not stationed in a spot, with a handler and a queue ready to take photos and sign autographs. They're part of the show, walking around at random, acting as if they live and belong there. Yes, there is definitely a Disney cast member following them around or nearby acting as a character handler. Yes, you can stop them and ask for a photo to be taken. But, for the most part, they're supposed to be existing within the space because remember, you're not in a theme park land, you're on Batuu in the Black Spire Outpost.
We also saw Rey...
...and there's always a duo of Stormtroopers walking around on patrol making comments telling you to, "Keep it moving."
We didn't spot him but apparently Kylo Ren comes out near the TIE fighter and from what I understand, he walks around as well. There are also quite a few beeping and bleeping droids out there that are always contained to the same spot so you won't miss them. It's quite cool.
Disney was going for total immersion and that's what you get when you're here. I hope it stays that way and there's never a character meet and greet spot in Galaxy's Edge. That would just ruin the whole show for me.
2 – Oga's Cantina
We got ourselves into Oga's Cantina around 7:30 in the morning. The cool thing is that I had no idea where it was. I wasn't following the map at all. We were just wandering around. I spotted a small line forming, only about three or four families, so we hopped on and, lo and behold, it was the cantina; no reservations needed. We were inside after about 10 minutes.
When we stepped inside, I hit the jackpot because at that very moment, a version of the original cantina song from Star Wars: A New Hope was playing. That was a hell of a moment for me. No, it's not the original cantina, which so many out there online have lamented, but who cares? It feels like a Star Wars cantina. It looks like one. They're serving strange food and drinks—my Tarine Tea and Mustafarian Lava Roll were both quite good. There are weird aliens that are moving in tanks above the bar. It's really beautifully done. I felt like I had stepped into the movies even deeper and that's what this is all supposed to be about.
1 – The Millennium Falcon
Here's the thing I loved most about Galaxy's Edge. The thing I was most excited about seeing was the Millennium Falcon. However, when I walked in from the Toy Story Land side, I didn't see the Falcon. We went left and walked along the perimeter, checked out some of the aforementioned ships, and still no Falcon. We then turned into the shopping bazaar and when we exited... still no Falcon. Once again, I refused to follow any kind of map. I wanted to explore. I'd have to say we were walking around for about 30 to 40 minutes before we made a turn and discovered the massive ship and the attraction adjacent to it.
At 14 acres, the land really is huge and lends itself to discovery. Our jaws all kind of dropped when the ship was finally revealed in front of us. Once again, as I said above with the other ships, there's just no way to get a sense of size of the Falcon from pictures or video. Once you're standing there, right in front of it, it's pretty mind blowing just what they built here. I walked around it and snapped photos and smiled ear to ear when it made noises and blew out steam from vents on the bottom just like in the movies. I was that 9-year-old kid again except I was old enough to really appreciate the whole thing and it was even better than I thought it was going to be. The Falcon's boarding ramp was really my favorite. How many iconic shots of Han and Luke did we see firing blasters as they headed up the ramp to make their always unlikely escape? Then I looked up and spotted the cockpit up close and got pretty darn happy. All this, and I hadn't even been on the attraction yet.
Once I was in the attraction queue I was extremely impressed by the details all around me. Droids. Engines firing. We moved up the ramp and got a whole other view of the rear of the Falcon, a classic view that we've seen of the ship in the films so many times. And then you "board" the ship and you are totally in familiar territory. You're excited to get onto the ride but who wants to leave the area of the ship with the holochess board. If you look carefully in the background, you can see the Jedi Training Remote used by Luke in Episode IV.
As I said we got there pretty soon after the 6:00 a.m. opening and the posted wait time quickly rose to 55 minutes. However, we were walking into the cockpit in about 40-45 minutes so all things considered that was pretty good for a Sunday morning. I was firing away on my iPhone camera as I walked into that cockpit. The pictures are blurry but they're those "live" photos and if you hold down your finger on the image it plays a couple of seconds of video. The giddy chuckle you hear coming out of me as I take my seat in the pilot's seat in the Millennium Falcon cockpit and my son's, "Oh my God!" are all you have to hear to succinctly define the moment. I wish I could see my face when Hondo, the narrator of the ride, tells you to, "Make the jump to light speed!" and I enthusiastically shouted out to my son Alex, the other pilot, "Alex...make the jump to light speed!" I could tell that I have the same face on right now just thinking about it. Once again, Disney turns me into a happy, giddy child again. The ride is just awesome. I loved the whole experience from start to finish.
A lot has been said and written online about Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge and not all of it has been positive. There are Star Wars fans out there that are annoyed that the original films aren't represented enough. They wanted to walk into locations from the films, much like the experience that greets Harry Potter fans over at Universal. There's no doubt that Disney was influenced by the truly amazing job Universal did with Harry Potter over in the Wizarding World. When you head into Diagon Alley or Hogsmeade, you're walking straight into the films and it's pretty amazing. So, the Star Wars fans biggest gripe is that they wanted the same in Walt Disney World and Disneyland when it came to their beloved films. They don't care for the notion that Disney decided to create an entirely new location with Batuu. I understand where they are coming from but I couldn't disagree more.
What Disney did here was extend the Star Wars universe much the same way the video games, comics, animated series, and novels have. Why not create a whole new place that completely fits into the Star Wars universe and tell that place's story? It's a bolder move. In my eyes they pulled it off and they pulled it off incredibly well. I've seen enough of Star Wars to know what it should feel like and Galaxy's Edge reeks of Star Wars. It looks, feels and tastes like another world to me and to my sons and I'm quite sure, it feels that way to many other Star Wars fans out there.
I like to believe that George Lucas had faith in Disney's storytelling legacy to forever entrust his Star Wars universe to them. To that end, and let's not forget that I'm a child of the original trilogy of films, I'm a big fan of The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi, Solo, Rouge One and I can't wait for The Rise of Skywalker and The Mandalorian. From my point of view, the more quality Star Wars content, the better. Galaxy's Edge is a true delight for this old Star Wars fan. It seemed to be a big thrill for my 17-year-old Star Wars fans as well, so from this household's point of view, it's a huge hit and we can't wait to go back and explore Batuu some more. I truly can't wait to see what they do with Rise of the Resistance, and the new hotel as well.
My advice, go see it for yourself. Carve out a nice chunk of time because the land is huge and it's bursting with details to enjoy. Shop the market. Build a droid. Have a drink at Oga's. Take a photo with Chewie and Rey. Interact with the stormtroopers and they will interact with you. Take your time and wander around and appreciate just what a massive undertaking this all was. The details, the props, the rockwork, the foliage... it's all just extraordinary. It's Disney... and Star Wars at its best.
That's all for this Top 5. As always, I'd like to hear what you have to say. If you've been to Galaxy's Edge or you just want to comment on this list, click on the link below, let me hear your thoughts and I'll see you next time with another Disney Top 5.