Bright suns! Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Walt Disney World is now open. We arrived at Disney’s Hollywood Studios just before 4 a.m., and were inside the blockbuster new land shortly thereafter. Suffice to say, it’s already been a fun (and long!) first day, but we wanted to share some photos and offer first impressions now that we’ve spent some time in both versions. Before we get going, we should caution that 95% (or more) of Star Wars Land at Disney’s Hollywood Studios is identical to “Batuu West.”
We’ll also warn you that what follows here is mostly assorted geekery, including how things differ in Batuu East, good and puzzling design decisions, and various things to expect from Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge in Disney’s Hollywood Studios. If you’re expecting big revelations about the Walt Disney World version of Galaxy’s Edge, you’re going to be disappointed…
One thing we will not be doing is re-reviewing the land or discussing the decision to utilize an original planet over existing settings from Star Wars films, and how that might’ve contributed to why it wasn’t an immediate smash hit at Disneyland.
I do think this is potentially an interesting topic, but one for December or later. However, it’s premature and the debate around this has already become exhausting. I see little reason to revisit this topic until late this year or early next; until then, it’s just endless back and forth speculation.
Another thing we won’t be doing is talking crowds. It’s absolutely packed in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge right now–considerably busier than what we’ve ever seen at Batuu West–but it’s also the first morning of the first day. This always happens with new attractions and lands they day they open at Walt Disney World.
What will be interesting is to see whether the current 300 minute posted wait for Millennium Falcon Smugglers Run is normal or whether it settles into a more ‘average’ range in a week or so. (Although with Hurricane Dorian approaching Florida, it could be a weird week for crowds/wait times.)
One thing I do think is interesting about Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is the design difference between the two coasts…
In John Hench’s Designing Disney, the Imagineering legend discusses color choices for the various parks in California, Florida, Tokyo, etc., and how the different skies and sunlight play a role. Most notably, he discusses how Florida’s deep blue sky have led to warmer color choices. Although his analysis was retrospective, I think the same could be fairly applied to Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.
The Disneyland version version is monochrome, which gives it an uninviting quality. The ornate details and grandiose landscape make it compelling and interesting, nonetheless, but it doesn’t have that welcoming and reassuring quality that Disney’s best, romanticized environments possess.
Batuu at Disney’s Hollywood Studios presents a partial correction to this. It’s further assisted by the adjacent Toy Story Land with its poppy colors and whimsical sensibility, which offers a surprisingly nice contrast to Galaxy’s Edge. On the other side, a richly-themed Muppets land next door to Galaxy’s Edge would’ve been the perfect bookend. Alas!
The warmer, deeper, and more varied color palette used on Batuu in Walt Disney World was a wise move. This is a step in the right direction, and I’d be willing to bet that over time, more splashes of color are added to both versions of Batuu. Simply put, Batuu East looks better and is more visually appealing. That’s right, for once Walt Disney World is getting the better version of something!
In several areas, the layout of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge has been tweaked and condensed in Florida. This is an ironic twist, as Disneyland is short on space and Walt Disney World has the “blessing of size,” but it’s evident in several spots. Most notably, the long approach from Critter Country leading into the Resistance Forest is gone.
Even though, you’re going from Downtown Los Angeles to Resistance Forest, which are two disparate environments, I think the condensed layout works better. Perhaps I’ll think differently when Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance is open and this area is overflowing with people. For now, I prefer the tighter staging of Florida’s version.
There is also one fewer entrance to Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Walt Disney World, which means you have an awkward dead end on the First Order side. That’s about the only downside to the differences between the coasts. On balance, I’d still say Walt Disney World comes out ahead. It’s not a huge advantage, as again, the two lands are ~95% clones.
Other layout tweaks were made throughout Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at DHS, but these will be imperceptible to most guests.
One adaptation that was not made is to account for differences in weather between California and Florida. After Toy Story Land was lambasted for this last year, you think Disney would’ve scrambled to address any such issues with Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. Apparently not.
The blame for this is often laid at the feet of California-centric Imagineering, but I have no clue whether that’s true. When it comes to Toy Story Land, there are (uncorroborated) tales of Operations (in Florida) fighting to cut a lot of things that would’ve served as shade or shelter. There’s also the reality that those California folks have managed to successfully design for the rain and snow of Paris and Tokyo.
Whatever the cause, it’s baffling that more shade and shelter wasn’t built into Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. The shade part of this isn’t as big of a problem, but there are still plenty of umbrellas set up throughout the land.
Shelter is more perplexing, as putting a concealed glass ceiling above the marketplace would’ve been such an easy fix.
This is hardly a revolutionary idea. Imagineering built exactly this for similar environments at Casbah Food Court at Tokyo DisneySea and the Morocco pavilion in Epcot. Let’s not forget: Star Wars Land is Space Morocco!
Shade and shelter are operational realities, and some degree of ‘umbrella action’ is going to happen regardless, but why the land wasn’t designed for this is a bit disappointing.
One of the biggest intangibles of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is the characters that inhabit the land. In addition to doing little skits (fixing ships, battling, etc.) there’s an overarching storyline of Galaxy’s Edge that unfolds in the streets around guests.
The idea is that the First Order, Stormtroopers, and Kylo Ren are constantly in search of Rey, Chewbecca, and the Resistance. In the simplest possible terms, it’s like a constant game of hide and seek, with guests placed in the middle (it’s way cooler than that sounds).
There has been a lot of fear online about how these free-roaming characters would translate to Walt Disney World. I find this to be justifiable because, frankly, guests at Walt Disney World have no chill.
Free roaming characters are a staple of the Disneyland experience, and all (literally) of the park’s best moments with characters unfold in an organic and spontaneous manner as characters like Mary Poppins, Peter Pan, or the Evil Queen wander the park.
The ‘culture’ around characters is very different at Walt Disney World. Recently, I saw Prince John and Friar Tuck walking around Main Street in Magic Kingdom after they finished their last set.
A couple was sitting down playing checkers when the characters “interrupted” them to offer strategic advice. It was a sweet, natural interaction and was something special–both for the guest playing checkers and onlookers.
That is, until another guest tried to corner the characters for a posed photo, at which point Prince John and Friar Tuck bailed, and the guest became irate with a nearby attendant.
I’ve seen similar versions of this same scenario play out many times. Last year during Incredible Tomorrowland Expo at Magic Kingdom, I saw free-roaming characters cornered over by the restrooms on multiple occasions. (Don’t ask why I’m spending so much time by the restrooms!) This usually ends with characters rushing backstage and a yelling guest.
I’m not totally sure what drives this. It could be planning obsessives who have to get the perfectly-posed photo, it could be all of the online resources devoted to character tracking, it could be the Florida heat & humidity pushing everyone to the brink.
All I know is that Disneyland guests are generally more laid back, and this is doubly so when it comes to character encounters. This is too bad for Walt Disney World, as free roaming characters add a ton to the atmosphere of the park.
Thankfully, the Star Wars characters are free roaming in Disney’s Hollywood Studios (for now) just as they were in Disneyland, and guests seem to be reacting well (for now) to this approach. I really hope things remain this way, and guests can stay cool when it comes to the roaming characters, because they’re such an essential component of Galaxy’s Edge.
Perhaps I’m too much of an optimist, but I’d love for Walt Disney World guests to see just how superior of an approach this is to staged/posed meet & greets. It’d be great if all character encounters trended in this direction.
I don’t think this is as unrealistic as it might sound. Younger generations prefer organic experiences and photos/videos that appear candid.
Plus, a ton of content like this from Galaxy’s Edge at Disneyland has already gone viral on social media, making this kind of character engagement is better (free) marketing for Disney.
I’m also optimistic that the roaming droids, impromptu performances, and original characters that Imagineering originally intended to populate the land will appear in the not-too-distant future. These are mostly quick and easy additions that would give Batuu an even greater lived-in feeling, and could work wonders as way to give Galaxy’s Edge a shot in the arm whenever it might need one.
Overall, this is a long-winded way of saying that, for better and worse, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is mostly the same land at Walt Disney World as it is in Disneyland. Some tweaks have been made that I’d construe as improvements, while others, frustratingly, have not been made. There’s still room for future growth, and it should see a big boost when Rise of the Resistance opens.
In the meantime, I stand by my original assessment that Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is a land like no other. Although it offers an amalgamation of the best aspects of each of these superlative lands found around the globe, it’s unlike anything you’ve experienced. It’s at once marvelous, domineering, intimate, and detailed. If this isn’t the best themed environment, it’s certainly top 5. Even if you’re not a Star Wars fan, go in with an open mind and appreciate Space Morocco for all that it offers.
What do you think of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge? Are you excited to visit the Walt Disney World version, or does this not interest you? Planning on braving the crowds to go right away, or waiting? Do you agree or disagree with our assessment? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback—even when you disagree with us—is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!