Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is the newest themed land in Disneyland, and soon, an identical version will debut at Walt Disney World. In this review, we’ll visit Star Wars Land’s planet of Batuu and Black Spire Outpost, with a photo-filled look at whether Galaxy’s Edge lives up to the hype and the wait based upon experiences at the media preview.
For years, a Star Wars land has been anticipated among Disney fans. Well before it was officially announced nearly 4 years ago, there were rumors of the expansion. Even before Disney acquired Lucasfilm, there was the expectation that plans were in the pipeline for more Star Wars attractions, thanks to the popularity of Star Tours and Star Wars Weekends.
Then came the announcement that Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge would be the largest land expansion ever at 14 acres, and would transport guests to the new planet of Batuu. That kicked the hype machine into high gear, and with a slow trickle of information and concept art over the intervening years, anticipation among Star Wars and Disney fans–and even the general public, for that matter–is pretty much maxed out. Now, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is finally here!
Stepping into Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, especially through the entrance in the heart of Black Spire Outpost and rounding the corner to see the big reveal of the Millennium and towering spires behind it is like entering Cars Land from Pacific Wharf for the first time.
It’s jaw-dropping. Mesmerizing. Wow-inducing. Incredible. Insert your favorite superlative, it’s probably applicable. Your senses are heightened as you breath the rarefied air of Batuu. In our Photos & First Impressions of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge post, I indicated that I was going to collect my thoughts before writing a review so it was not just a string of superlatives, but my second impression (at night!) was even stronger than my first.
Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge overloads your senses and emotions in the best possible way. As with both of those lands before it, Star Wars Land transports you well outside of a theme park in the middle of Anaheim, California. It’s cliche, but you really buy into the notion that you’re left Disneyland and entered a galaxy far, far away.
While terms like the “planet of Batuu” and “Black Spire Outpost” may carry little weight prior to entering Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, the land’s sense of place is forged and reinforced as you wander the environment and explore the trading post. Longtime fans have probably tired of Imagineering’s use of the term “story” but this is truly the pinnacle of organic storytelling through themed design.
Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is divided into two sections: the Resistance Forest, where the Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance attraction is located (and will be opening later this year–not 2020–as was reiterated several times yesterday during panels), and Black Spire Outpost, which is the main trading port where you’ll find the vibrant marketplace.
All of this is set amidst towering 130-foot spires inspired by Petrified Forest National Park. This might be alien rockwork, but it’s convincingly real and has tremendous detail and texture. It showcases renowned Imagineer Zsolt Hormay (who previously worked on Pandora, Tree of Life, Cadillac Mountain Range in Cars Land, and Mysterious Island at Tokyo DisneySea) at the top of his game. You don’t hear Zsolt Hormay’s name as much as the celebrity Imagineers, but he’s arguably more deserving of that status than anyone.
The environment of Galaxy’s Edge is further enhanced by a variety of details; foreign etchings, carved symbols, and colorful minerals protruding into walkways culminates in an environment that immediately resonates as Star Wars. There are fun gags all over the place, including in drinking fountains, toy stores, and in the restrooms. You don’t need to be fluent in Star Wars to appreciate most of this–a fondness for cute aliens will suffice.
Star Wars Land brilliantly achieves a lived-in sense of place. With winding pathways and narrow alleys to offset the sprawling main courtyards and lush greenery, Galaxy’s Edge is an environment that’s begging to be explored. It also puts its 14 acres to good use, with varied settings and surroundings that never feel redundant.
There’s no wasted space–nowhere you want to breeze through to get to your destination. During the day, Resistance Forest comes close to feeling this way (especially without Rise of the Resistance open), but at night it’s blissful. It also has more personality when performers are giving it a sense of life.
Black Spire Outpost is dotted by several vendors rather than a central gift shop. Each is a distinctly-themed location, a Star Wars take on Marrakech’s souks (an idealized version of which you can find at Epcot’s Morrocco pavilion). These stalls sell toys, food, drinks, and otherworldly items.
We’ll have separate reviews for several of these, but as a teaser, you’ll find unique sandwiches at Ronto’s Roasters, popcorn at Kat Saka’s Kettle, a Blue Milk stand, and counter service meals at Docking Bay 7 Food and Cargo. Nearby Oga’s Cantina is the first public location to sell alcohol inside Disneyland. All of this is the heart of what we’ve dubbed “Space Morocco” for non-fans of Star Wars.
While these obviously serve the functional role of selling merchandise and food & beverage, each of Space Morocco’s marketplace kiosks makes the land feel alive. These areas have a palpable kinetic energy, and are every bit as important to reinforcing the ‘outpost’ theme as the the gigantic Millennium Falcon.
As for the nearby souk, each of the shops in this area is bursting with details. The kind that will draw guests to them, as things like the droid cook at Ronto Roasters, taxidermied Wampa in Dok-Ondar’s Den of Antiquities, droid parts cycling around the entire shop in Droid Depot, and Loth-Cat sleeping inside the Creature Stall are part of the show.
The problem with this is that each marketplace stall is incredibly small. In the controlled scenario of a preview, this isn’t a major issue. The marketplaces are simply awesome and offer so much more than shopping. However, it’s easy to foresee these becoming a major headache once any sort of real crowd is introduced to the land. It seems like a sense of intimacy could have been retained while conceding that operational realities dictate better capacity.
This is something we’ll have to report back on once we have experience in the operational land, but it’s hard to imagine most of the stores and dining options even coming close to offering the capacity necessary to meet demand. This could explain why multi-hour lines were reported for Oga’s Cantina during Cast Member previews–which was a limited attendance event.
It could explain why so many of the prices throughout Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge are eye-popping. I’ve only had a chance to sample a few food items thus far and generally liked what I had, except the non-alcoholic drinks at Oga’s Cantina, which were mostly just sugary concoctions (more food reviews to follow once we actually buy the full-size items).
One thing I did notice is that the menu prices on the outdoor vending carts were high even by Disneyland standards. For example, Blue Milk is $8. Even though I liked it (reactions are super polarized–it’s a love it or hate it thing), I can’t justify that price tag. Docking Bay 7 doesn’t seem as bad given the quality of its menu.
Beyond the souk, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is just alive in general. There are no meet & greets in the land, and it’s all the better for it. Instead, everyone gets to enjoy the rich experience of seeing characters like Chewbacca engage with the land and its fleet, First Order officers interact with Kylo Ren, and more.
From my perspective, seeing the “real” characters as atmospheric entertainment is far better than having them present as a “living photo op.” This reminds me a lot of the old Star Wars Weekends streetmosphere, and I hope it’s built-up over time. (It’s rumored that a decent amount of entertainment has been cut from day-one due to the operational realities of heavy crowds.) The Star Wars universe of characters is conducive to great, spontaneous interactions.
The soundscape of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is an unexpected surprise. Most people expected the new John Williams score to add a lot to the land…and it does in the places where it can be heard. I don’t think what many people anticipated is that entire land is like being inside a Dolby Atmos theater. I was among the last guests out last night, and it was loud even with no one around.
You hear droids communicating with one another, the bass of ships taking off, aliens conversing in their native tongues, and the relaxing sounds of nature back in the Resistance Forest. If you’re visiting Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge before Rise of the Resistance opens, my strong recommendation would be to spend some time back here. It’s unlikely that you’ll totally escape the crowds in the forest, but it’s probably the least-crowded you’ll ever find this area–and it’s blissful and serene when few people are around.
Everywhere you go, there’s something. Parked ships, including a land speeder, TIE Fighter, and X-Wings are scattered about. Denizens of the Star Wars universe wander around, interacting with (or ordering around) guests. Pretty much everything is interactive in one way or another; it feels very much like Imagineering has spent some time in the Wizarding World(s) of Harry Potter, and learned a few things in the process.
On the attraction front, the Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run is an excellent attraction, but only a good to very good ride. This is to say that even here, the star of the show is the themed design, rather than the ride experience. In this regard, I’d liken it to the Tower of Terror, where the build-up is also better than the ride itself.
I’m trying to keep this relatively spoiler-free, so I’ll withhold further commentary on Millennium Falcon until I have the chance to fully review that. I will say that as the ‘supporting attraction’ (which is what I believe Smugglers Run is), it’s the best of the recent single-IP lands. (Meaning it’s better than Navi River Journey, Toy Story Mania, and Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree.) It is not superior to the marquee attractions in Pandora or Cars Land. George Lucas called Millennium Falcon “Star Tours on steroids,” and he’s not wrong.
Speaking of which, theme park fans love comparisons, so I’ll revisit another topic from my first impressions post. The obvious ones here are Cars Land and Pandora, plus Diagon Alley in the aforementioned Wizarding World of Harry Potter, as well as Arabian Coast at Tokyo DisneySea.
I don’t like the idea of comparing Star Wars Land to Wizarding World of Harry Potter. No matter what answer I give, I’m going to anger hardcore fans of one of those universes. (There’s also the added wrinkle of Universal v. Disney; another debate I dislike.) As to which is best, the easy answer is that they’re all great in their own ways, and such comparisons are ultimately pointless.
That’s not really a satisfying answer, so I’ll indulge the unnecessary. For Star Wars fans, Galaxy’s Edge is obviously going to reign supreme. That’d be the case even if Batuu and Black Spire Outpost were half this size with far less texture and detail. That speaks to both the land’s current quality…and fan bias.
For more casual park-goers, I think the answer remains the same. Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge takes the wow-factor, mountainous elements of both Cars Land and Pandora, iterates upon them, and presents an imposing natural landscape. While it doesn’t have the mesmerizing floating mountains of Pandora, there’s more dynamism to the environment.
As for the comparisons to Diagon Alley and Arabian Coast, these come into play with the developed areas and marketplaces of Black Spire Outpost. While clearly built to handle colossal crowds, it has areas reminiscent of the back alleys each of these lands or even the Morocco pavilion at Epcot. All of this plus some starships culminate to make this, in essence, Space Morocco.
The ability to get lost in the marketplace gives Galaxy’s Edge an intimate, lived-in sensibility that is immensely important, especially as a balance to those craggy peaks and giant spaceships. With a land so big, there was the danger of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge feeling imposing but impersonal. Instead, it’s a balanced and harmonious environment.
As far as this comparison goes, the end result is Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge offering an amalgamation of the best aspects of each of these superlative lands found around the globe. It’s at once marvelous, domineering, intimate, and detailed. If this isn’t the best themed environment, it’s certainly top 5. (Oh, and to appease Harry Potter and/or Universal fans, I’ll say this: I don’t think Galaxy’s Edge would be what it is without Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley. Truly.)
For many longtime Disney fans, there’s the question of how this fits Disneyland. I’ve long been a critic of the choice to plop Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at the back of the park rather than making it (along with Marvel) the anchor of a third gate in California.
I maintain my position that Galaxy’s Edge is going to cause operational headaches and the demand it induces is simply too much for the 60+ year old infrastructure of Disneyland. (I’m now starting to believe we won’t see this play out until June 24, so don’t expect this prediction to be immediately fulfilled.)
In terms of theme and scale, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is obviously very different from the rest of Disneyland. Every other land in the park has a more disarming and inviting vibe, whereas this aims for and achieves grandiosity. Unlike the generalized concepts of adventure, fantasy, the American frontier, etc., Galaxy’s Edge has a specific setting. (To be fair, so do New Orleans Square and Toontown.)
Honestly, this is less of a problem than I anticipated. While the land is an odd fit when viewed in the abstract and surrounded with Star Wars marketing, in a real-life visit to Disneyland, it feels like the ‘space frontier’ (or Space Morocco). It’s much more open-ended in practice than anticipated, and there’s nary a mention of the words “Star Wars” within the land. It also helps that Galaxy’s Edge is given sufficient breathing room from the rest of the park. The transition from Critter Country or Frontierland is ample and convincing, and Batuu itself is pretty well cordoned off from Disneyland’s other lands.
Once you’re inside Galaxy’s Edge, you’re transported from Disneyland to Batuu, much in the same way that Main Street USA transports you out of modern day Anaheim. If it helps, think of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge less like a new themed land and more like a separate park of its own (albeit one with two attractions). In terms of compartmentalization, that’s how Star Wars Land works.
In Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, you temporarily forget about the rest of the park, and aren’t reminded of its existence until you exit. Going back to the quaintness of Walt’s park from the epic Galaxy’s Edge is actually a bit surreal. At that point, you have a sensation did that really happen–was I really there?, or at least I did. In any case, the presence of Star Wars Land is not really felt elsewhere in Disneyland. (Well, except in terms of crowds and merchandise.)
This is sure to be a controversial take among the Disneyland diehards, but I think the addition of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge was a net gain in terms of theme and space in the rest of the park. I’d first point to the Rivers of America, which I think looks better than ever following that (also controversial) project. The black mountain spires towering in the distance create an illusion of depth from the riverfront.
Then there’s Project Stardust, which has been a place-making and crowd-flow project. Some would argue that this has removed some of the charming details with important historical legacies at Disneyland. I wouldn’t necessarily disagree. However, there’s also the undeniable reality that Disneyland attendance has soared since the Diamond Celebration, and all of this would’ve been an inevitability, regardless.
With Project Stardust, we saw these changes to occur as part of a comprehensive vision for improving the look and congestion of the park. Were this not a concerted, all-at-once project, it would’ve occurred (albeit perhaps over a longer timeline) in a piecemeal approach borne of necessity. In that scenario, less time and thoughtfulness would’ve been devoted to it, with changes made off-the-cuff as operations dictated them.
In other words, some of these complaints are off-base, and there’s a silver lining to the addition’s impact on the rest of Disneyland. Nevertheless, I still wonder how things might be different if Star Wars Land were greenlit after the massive influx of guests for the Diamond Celebration and how a third gate might look. The ship has sailed on that, though, and there’s no sense fixating on what didn’t come to pass. In the here and now, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is a better fit for Disneyland than expected…at least until the crowds show up.
Overall, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is going to be a colossal hit and the environment itself showcases the pinnacle of Imagineering, having learned a variety of great lessons that are expertly applied here. The jury is still out on the attraction lineup, which is incomplete as of opening. The retail and dining is all great and interesting in theory, but we’ll see how that shakes out once the land is full of people and has to deal with the realities of operating in a busy theme park. Nevertheless, the end result is a land that turned out better than I expected, and I cannot wait to further explore Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.
If you’re planning on visiting the new land, you’ll also want to read our Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge Guide. This covers a range of topics from basics about the land and its location, to strategically choosing a hotel for your stay, recommended strategy for the land, and how early to arrive to beat the crowds. It’s a good primer for this huge addition.
What about Star Wars Land has you most excited…or are you not looking forward to it? Excited to pilot the Millennium Falcon…or are you more eagerly anticipating Rise of the Resistance? Planning on trying some of the unique Star Wars foods & drinks? Buying any custom merchandise? Do you agree or disagree with our assessment of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge? Any questions? 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!