Now that the dust has cleared and I've had a few days to reflect on my experiences at Disneyland's new attraction Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge, I can comfortably say that I am impressed by what Disney's Imagineers have created. Going into the park I was afraid that the environment wouldn't be entirely convincing, that having only one ride would give crowds little to do and that an emphasis on selling high-ticket items would leave me feeling hustled.
So let's retrace the steps that I. along with my co-worker Larry D. Curtis, took.
It's not hard to get lost in the magic realism of the Black Spire Outpost. The streets are worn and pocked, the walls blemished with rust and blast burns and its people modest and kind. The Millennium Falcon sits at the center of the spaceport, docked for repairs. It too shows signs of wear and tear, but these scars are part of what makes seeing the seeing the legendary ship a majestic experience. Wednesday I walked its hallways, a familiar passage made real for the first time, I tried to not let the moment overwhelm me. I had hoped to be moved, but my emotions are racing and I'm trying to reel myself in.
Sitting down behind the dejarik table where Chewbacca roared in disgust as R2-D2 played to win, rather than simply giving the Wookiee the victory he wanted is almost too much. I'm a professional about to interview Robin Reardon, the Walt Disney Imagineering Executive Producer who help to steer Galaxy's Edge into being. I'm also a Star Wars fan who wanted, but never expected to find myself aboard the Millennium Falcon.
Sensing a disturbance in the Force (or simply correctly reading my daze look and exaggerated smile), Reardon pries the excitement out of me. We talk about the immersive experience that allows visitors to the Black Spire to create their own Star Wars stories. Then I get carried away playing with the switches and set off the ship's alarms. It's a game, but a fun one where I could be the one who broke the Millennium Falcon before Galaxy's Edge was open to the public.
Despite my clumsiness, I'm allowed to steer the ship itself alongside Casey Ging, a Walt Disney Imagineering Senior Concept Designer, and veteran co-pilot. It's my first time flying the Millennium Falcon from the cockpit, rather than running wildly with the ship in my hands through the backyard of my childhood home. Han Solo would never let a novice like me sit at the controls, but Hondo Ohnaka, the space pirate from the animated series "The Clone Wars" and "Rebels," is desperate for coaxium and at the moment I'm the only option he has. Larry mans the guns while locals handle the engineering duties. I'm not a natural, but at least this gives me the opportunity to get the cockpit to rattle and shake. I tend to overthink everything, never existing in the moment as my mind races ahead to finish this article or that review. For a moment, I forget that none of what I am experiencing is real. I'm there, flying the Falcon.
With some credits in my pockets (we were able to get snatch two coaxium crates), I'm taken to the market where Brad Schoenberg, one of the big decision makers when it comes to deciding what merchandise gets made and sold in the shops of the Black Spire, walks me through Black Spire Outfitters, the Toydarian Toymaker and the Creature stall. I'm most interested in the clothing and Schoenberg's dive into the Star Wars archives, but the wooden toys and the Kowakian monkey-lizards. Disneyland's "no costumes" policy is going to be a little problematic for those who buy a cloak and want to blend in with the people of the Black Spire.
Next to the market is Ronto Roasters, a restaurant built around a re-purposed pod-racing engine. I'm excited to talk to the chef about how he went about picking the look, taste and texture of treats from another galaxy out of terestrial food, but my interviewee wants to roleplay as a alien cook and I'm not about to get in the way of his imagination. I am, however, interested in trying the blue milk. It's far more tropical than I would have guessed.
We have a few extra minutes to burn before I need to be escorted to the First Order's corner of the Black Spire to talk with Ann Morrow Johnson, Walt Disney Imagineering Executive Producer and Creative Director. Our guide taks us into Dok-Ondar's Den of Antiquities, a shop that is far more akin to a museum than just a place to buy lightsabers and Princess Leia wigs. There are a variety of mounted creature heads, an abundance of helmets, weapons, an Ithorian working behind the counter, a sarlacc display and dozens of other nick nacks to catch your eye.
I'm led past Savi's Workshop, around the Droid Depot, constantly distracted by this robot or that small detail that I can't believe they bothered to sneak into the surroundings before meeting up with Johnson to talk about the craftsmanship and the reasoning behind creating a new planet and spaceport for Galaxy's Edge location. Things, however, go quickly awry as I attract the attention of the local First Order enforcers. I asked for it. Literally asked for it. Maybe it says something about me, but when I was asked what I wanted the stormtroopers to do I immediately asked if I could be arrested. I may look like a Sith, but I've always had a rebel's heart.
At this point I'm placed on a shuttle and transported back to California to write a quick reaction piece to have ready to post before heading back to the Black Spire for a less-structured taste of a the fully-operational Black Spire. For as much fun as it was to talk to some of the minds behind the creation of the Galaxy's Edge experience, what I really wanted was to experience the park as a normal guest would.
There were dozens of locations that I hadn't visited on my initial tour and an opening ceremony that promised a few surprise guests. It was early evening when I returned and the darker the night became the more amazing the Black Spire looked. Small details were highlighted, the building glowed in various shades. There is also a narrative playing out around us that sees the First Order searching the city for Vi, a member of the Resistance. Through the Play Disney App you can play along as a member of either side. We're so distracted by taking in the atmosphere that I never get around to testing it out. For as convincing and enjoyable as the Black Spire had been in the daytime, it was twice as so in the dark.
The ceremony took place in front of the Millennium Falcon and featured Bob Iger, Disney's CEO, and George Lucas who genuinely appeared to be impressed with what he saw. Star Wars legends Billy Dee Williams, Mark Hamill, Chewbacca (presumably not Jonas Suotamo) and a bearded Harrison Ford.
For the next three or so hours I simply wandered through the crowds, taking in all the details, stopping to sample a variety of bizarre-looking treats. I hadn't been allowed into Oga's Cantina, which turned out to be a lot smaller than I expected. It's a fantastic environment, but undoubtedly, as one of the few places where guests can buy alcohol, its size will ultimately prove to make this be one of the hardest places to get into.
Heading into Droid Depot I was worried that it would just be a hard push to get me to buy, assemble and accessorize a droid. I was surprised by the amount of non-merchandise that there was just to look at. Bits and pieces of various droids, familiar and new, scattered along the walls, moving on conveyor belts and dangling from the ceiling.
Returning to the market I discover numerous details that I had missed during the afternoon. I was particularly fond of the Toydarian Toymaker. It was also amusing to watch Ashley Eckstein scoop up an armful of Ahsoka Tano dolls while Sam Witwer stood in line to make a purchase.
With the crowds thinning, Larry and i made our way back over to the Millennium Falcon for one more run. This time we are able to take in Hondo Ohnaka's pitch to borrow the Falcon from Chewbacca in exchange for repairs before proceeding into the cockpit. Larry took over piloting duties while I button mashed my way through as a gunner. There's less responsibility, but I'm able to take in more of the experience rather than simply focusing on not crashing into the numerous obstacles that get in spacecraft's way.
We're only able to secure one coaxium crate, but leave the park still riding the euphoria of the experience. We didn't do or see everything there was to see. I'll have to return to try out the interactive games on the Play Disney app and visit Savi's Workshop to see lightsabers being built and dine in the food court Docking Bay 7. In retrospect, its amazing that I walked into Galaxy's Edge with a pessimistic attitude, expecting something along the way to keep my visit from being the realization of my childhood daydreams. There have been times in the past where Disney didn't quite live up to the hype. As a life-long Star Wars fan, they exceeded my expectations by providing a dense and immersive world that doesn't require visitors to buy expensive add-ons to enjoy the experience.