Disney makes the jump to light speed in theme park design

ANAHEIM, Calif. — If travel advisors were to evoke Jedi
master Yoda in saying how their customers will enjoy Disneyland’s Star Wars:
Galaxy’s Edge area, they would say, “Like it, guests will.”

The 14-acre Galaxy’s Edge, the largest single-theme
attraction Disney has ever introduced, is located in the northwest corner of
Disneyland here. An almost identical Galaxy’s Edge will open Aug. 29 at
Hollywood Studios in the Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

“I think this is a home run,” said Sue Pisaturo,
founder and president of Small World Vacations in Washington Township, N.J. “I
can’t wait to tell our guests about it.”

Beci Mahnken, president and CEO of MEI-Travel and Mouse Fan
Travel in Issaquah, Wash., agreed.

“The Disney Imagineers have truly raised the bar in
terms of an immersive experience,” Mahnken said. “The amazing creative
detail gives a new perspective on a familiar environment from the movies, and
it is refreshing.”

Both advisors lauded Galaxy’s Edge, which is set in Black
Spire Outpost, a shady spaceport on the planet Batuu. 

The planet has yet to be seen in a “Star Wars”
film. That was a deliberate decision, according to Scott Trowbridge, creative
executive with Walt Disney Imagineering. Disney, he said, wanted to build a new
place that guests could use as a backdrop to their own adventures. The land was
also designed to be an attraction in itself.

Referencing Disney’s original ticketing system in which
guests would purchase tickets for attractions labeled from A to E, with A being
the tamest rides and E being the most adventurous, Trowbridge said, “You
can think of [the land] as its own E ticket attraction.”

“I thought it was mind-blowing, I really did,”
Pisaturo said. “The creative genius that went into it went down to the
most minute detail.”

Things like cast members with their own “Star Wars”
back stories and interactive retail experiences throughout add to the immersion
at Galaxy’s Edge.

First look: Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disneyland

The Millennium Falcon beckons at Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge, the new land that opens on May 31 at Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif. Galaxy's Edge at Disney's Hollywood Studios will open on Aug. 29.
The Millennium Falcon beckons at Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge, the new land that opens on May 31 at Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif. Galaxy's Edge at Disney's Hollywood Studios will open on Aug. 29.
Set on Black Spire Outpost on the planet of Batuu in the Outer Rim of the Star Wars universe, Galaxy's Edge is Disney's largest single-themed land expansion.
Guests will be able to wander the marketplace of Black Spire Outpost and encounter a collection of merchant shops and stalls filled with authentic Star Wars creations.
Guests will encounter an X-wing Starfighter located at the Resistance Mobile Command Post.
Stormtroopers greet guests at Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge.
Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge is the first land within a Disney park designed to integrate with the Play Disney Parks mobile app, which debuted last year. After downloading the Play Disney Parks app, users will be able to transform it into their very own Star Wars: Datapad.
"Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run" takes guests through parts of the ship before entering the ride that allows riders to take control of the "fastest ship in the galaxy."
Right on opening day, guests can take off on the "Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run" attraction. The "Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance" attraction is set to open later in the year.
On the ride, guests will channel their inner Han Solo and Chewbacca to take the controls.
The main hold lounge is one of several areas guests will encounter inside "Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run."
A close-up view of the main hold lounge aboard the Millennium Falcon.
Kylo Ren stands guard near the Millennium Falcon.
The Weequay pirate, Hondo Ohnaka, gives guests their mission prior to boarding "Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run."

Mahnken said, “I spent the majority of my time just
wandering and discovering the details that pulled me further into the
experience, from just taking in the rich environment to talking to the cast
members, who created their back stories themselves, to building my own
lightsaber. It was all so entertaining and emotionally engaging that the
four-hour reservation time was not nearly enough.”

Through June 23, guests must have a reservation to visit
Galaxy’s Edge in Disneyland. They are admitted to the land in four-hour
increments. Mahnken and Pisaturo, who were there on opening day, both gave
Disneyland high marks for organization and a good overall system.

Bob Chambers is the founder and co-CEO of the Producers
Group, a company that offers consulting and design services to theme parks and
produces attractions around the world. He said Disney is a leader in the
industry and is consistently good at sharing its intellectual property over as
many channels as possible. 

“Galaxy’s Edge is an extension of that,” Chambers
said. “It’s a synergy from the fact that they bought Lucasfilm. They are
fortunate enough to have done Star Tours rides in the old days with Lucasfilm
and had that history. But then to take this and go to the next level, it’s a
brilliant use of their intellectual property.”

Chambers said Galaxy’s Edge represents a next level of
immersion for Disney, the likes of which the theme park world first saw with
Universal’s “Harry Potter” lands.

“What makes it kick up a notch is the number of staff,
the live-actor engagement,” he said. “You’re now introducing better
technology storytelling through mobile and the interactivity, which is amazing.
So it’s almost like they took what’s been done and said, ‘How do we take it to
the next step,’ which is a big deal for them.”

Chambers added, “Their other lands have not been this
integrated and have not been this immersive, so this is a big deal not only for
them but for the whole industry. It’s another milestone, basically, a benchmark
that we now all have to figure out if we can meet or exceed.”

The land also holds the appeal of a popular franchise
spanning generations. 

A fan of “Star Wars” since she was a teen, Mahnken
said the land “exceeded my expectations.” She enjoyed walking the
corridors of the Millennium Falcon and piloting the legendary spaceship as part
of the Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run attraction, and her experience in the
land was amplified with its food and beverage options (including the franchise’s
iconic blue milk) and the cast members who play the role of residents of Batuu.

“You almost forget you are in a theme park, especially
because the sightlines to anything outside the experience are pretty well
hidden,” she said.

Galaxy’s Edge isn’t just for die-hard Star Wars fans,
though. Pisaturo said she doesn’t count herself among the film series’ superfans,
but she enjoyed the land nonetheless.

She recalled, “I thought, ‘Am I going to be left out of
the story because I’m not the greatest Star Wars fan?’ But I really felt that I
could get into the story. They made it easy enough for the average guest to
engage without knowing every [facet of the story]. … I felt like it was
really fun.”

Galaxy’s Edge isn’t just a one-time thing for Disney. In
both the area in Disneyland and the area that will open in Disney World at the
end of August, a second ride — Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance — will open
later this year. Disney has called that ride its most technically advanced
ever. There will also be a Star Wars hotel opening at Walt Disney World.

Guests can also use the Play Disney Parks app to further
immerse themselves in Galaxy’s Edge, using it to translate languages, interact
with the world around them and even gain a reputation depending on their
performance on Smugglers Run.

“Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge has set a new bar for
attention to detail,” Mahnken said. That started with projects like Cars
Land in its California Adventure park in 2012 and Pandora — The World of
Avatar in Disney World’s Animal Kingdom in 2017. Those, she said, “were
certainly on that trajectory, but the added components of the citizens’
stories, the immersive story and the app that lets you scan items and even hack
into systems have created a new watermark for what’s next.”

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