Earlier today at the main state of Star Wars Celebration, the massive fan event being held this weekend in Chicago, Illinois, the team behind Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, the sprawling expansion coming to both Disneyland and Walt Disney World this summer (in May to Disneyland and August to Walt Disney World), took us behind the scenes of the only experience that will actually transport you to a galaxy far, far away.
The panel was hosted by Josh Gad, who began with a very tongue-in-cheek video with him trying to get past security at Disneyland to take a peek at Galaxy’s Edge. (It reminded me of the opening-of specials that they used to run constantly in the 1980s and 1990s, when a star would come in contact with a cantankerous security guard.) After the video ran, the panel of Imagineers was introduced, and away we went. We weren’t visiting Batuu, a planet that head Imagineer Scott Trowbridge described as a “remote trading port” that has fallen into disrepair after hyperspace made it easy to bypass, as much as we were peering at it from an incredibly powerful telescope.
Time and time again the word “immersive” was used to describe the new land and it’s two “big anchor attractions” (in Trowbridge’s words) – Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run and Rise of the Resistance (which will not be opening this summer but they promised will be open “later this year”). With Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run, you’ll get to be “a part of the flight crew” in the iconic ship, which different assignments being dished out depending on where you sit in the cockpit (there are two pilots, two gunners and two engineers). At the end of the attraction, when you’re walking down those instantly recognizable halls of the Millennium Falcon, how well you do on your run will determine the shape of that hallway. If you do lousy, then lights will be broken and sparky. But if you do well, it will look pristine and beautiful. With Rise of the Resistance, Trowbridge said it was “the biggest attraction we’ve ever built,” and said that Rey, Poe, and BB-8 all make appearances. Apparently you run afoul of the First Order and are captured on a Star Destroyer. So, you know, the usual.
What was perhaps most fascinating was how story-driven this land is, which shows itself in a couple of different ways. First of all, while you’ll encounter different characters you know and love from “Star Wars” mythology – including, they revealed today, a vocal cameo from Frank Oz as Yoda – the emphasis will be placed on you. You are the main character in this land, and the things that you do or accomplish will affect how you are treated in Galaxy’s Edge. If you survive your encounter with the First Order, “you’re going to be celebrated throughout the land.”
How this is tracked was finally revealed in depth. It all has to do with the Disney Play app, an app which up until this point was primarily used to deliver location-specific games that you can play while waiting in line, but takes on an entirely different dimension in Galaxy’s Edge. There are four different areas in the “data pad,” the first is hacking, which you will call up when you see blinking lights, ships, or droids, and hack into their device. The scanning device allows you to see inside certain cargo containers. A translation function allows you to unscramble everything printed in the alien language, and the tuning tool will let you tap into satellite dishes and, perhaps, become more on the wavelength of The Force (it’s our guess this is where you’ll hear Oz). Imagineer Asa Kalama described a scenario where you’ll be flipping frequencies, either for the Resistance or the First Order (since, at Galaxy’s Edge, choosing your allegiance is a big deal). It’ll become a game until a tipping point is reached and a victorious side chosen … then it’ll start all over again.
If Disney Play was formerly something you did while whittling away the time before you entered the Haunted Mansion, these new exploratory experiences will help to fully envelop you in the world of Galaxy’s Edge.
The other element of story that was really played up was how the Galaxy’s Edge narrative is embedded into everything else going on right now in “Star Wars.” Apparently one of the major characters in Galaxy’s Edge was already mentioned in last summer’s “Solo,” and there is an aggressive series of publishing tie-ins that have already begun fleshing out the world, in both novels (including a young adult title meant to establish why Hondo is piloting the Millennium Falcon circa Smuggler’s Run) and comic books. Matt Martin, a member of the Lucasfilm story team who has been helping out on the Galaxy’s Edge project, even gave a lengthy explanation for how Rex, the droid who formerly piloted your Star Tours vehicle before its flashy redo in 2011, wound up as a DJ in the cantina in Batuu. He created a 16-page document that gave the necessary backstory: “Rex flunked his way out of Star Tours. In the final battle of the Galactic Civil War on Jakku, in a very epic TIE fighter chase, he ends up crashing on Batuu. He was repaired and made into a DJ.” Oh. (By the way they played some of the music Rex likes and it is incredible.)
If you can’t tell, everything about Galaxy’s Edge helps reinforce the narrative that is unfolding before your very eyes. And this extends even to what you drink. They teased some of the food and drink offerings in the land (including, yes, blue milk!), but the big reveal was that Coca-Cola products will be available in Galaxy’s Edge. (This wasn’t a foregone conclusion; in the JK Rowling-regulated Wizarding World, you can’t buy a Sprite.) But it’s not just any Coca-Cola product. This is Coca-Cola product in specially designed packaging that somebody on stage likened to a “thermal detonator,” the device Leia threatens Jabba the Hutt with in “Return of the Jedi.” And what’s more – the logos, while clearly identifiable thanks to their graphics and design, will be written in Aurebesh, the alien language prevalent in “Star Wars.” It sounds dumb but it’s so cool.
It’s hard to have your mind blown while sitting inside a giant arena at 11 am in the morning. But sitting there, soaking in all of the little details (like how they traveled to Africa to record the original voice actor who did Nien Numb in “Return of the Jedi”) and thinking about all the hardwork and cutting-edge technology the Imagineers put into this experience, it was kind of hard to not be totally floored. Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge isn’t just going to be a fun place where you can ride in the Millennium Falcon and drink Coca-Cola out of a nifty bottle, but it is going to revolutionize the world of themed entertainment across the entire universe.
Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge opens on May 31st in Disneyland and August 29th in Walt Disney World. Book your tickets now.