There are few theme park projects anywhere in the world that can compare with the interest or, even, potential revolutionary nature of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. The new land, which will arrive first at Anaheim’s Disneyland in summer 2019 and then in the (late) fall at Orlando’s Hollywood Studios, looks to up the theming ante in ways both big and small, taking the paradigm-setting nature of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and the refinements of Pandora: The World of Avatar and running with them to the nth degree. Indeed, just to convey the scope of the undertaking, Galaxy’s Edge is 14 acres in size, making it the biggest expansion Disney has ever devoted to just one property, and Industrial Light & Magic, the visual-effects company that writer-director George Lucas started in 1975 in order to help him realize his Star Wars films, has been recruited to help develop the area.
The land’s arrival will also complete a years-long rebirth of Hollywood Studios, resulting in a park that will be one of the strongest – and busiest – at Walt Disney World instead of a half-day stop on the way to other adventures at the resort. In this way, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge will be a massive game-changer for Orlando, specifically, as well as all future themed additions, generally (Universal’s Super Nintendo World, take notice).
Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge – history
Star Wars may have exploded on the big screen in 1977, but it took another full decade before it would find its way to a theme park. In 1986, at the direct behest of Michael Jackson, George Lucas got involved as the executive producer and co-writer of Captain EO, a 17-minute 3D film that starred Jackson, was directed by Francis Ford Coppola, and (originally) played exclusively at Disneyland and Epcot; using this collaboration as a launching pad, Disney pitched the idea of doing a ride themed to that galaxy far, far away (an attempt to salvage a long-trapped-in-development-hell attraction that had originally started life as a Black Hole motion simulator).
Star Tours arrived a year later at Disneyland’s Tomorrowland, marking not only the first Star Wars ride, but the very first attraction in Disney’s history to be based off of an intellectual property not owned by the company itself (a fact which is now somewhat ironic, given that Disney would end up purchasing Lucasfilm – and taking full control of the multimedia franchise – 25 years later). Featuring what was then state-of-the-art technology, Star Tours would prove to be so popular, it eventually spread to three other parks, starting with Tokyo Disneyland and the then-brand-new Hollywood Studios in 1989 and finishing up with Disneyland Paris in ‘92.
Lucas infamously wanted to update first the ride’s tech and, then, once the new batch of Star Wars films saw release from 1999 to 2005, its story, but Disney’s executive leadership at the time was more interested in keeping costs low than refreshing an attraction that was still popular, even if it was aging. All this changed when Bob Iger became CEO in 2005 – almost immediately thereafter, a Star Tours upgrade was announced. Star Tours: The Adventures Continue arrived in 2011 at both Florida and California, with Japan and France following in the years afterward, and it added a few new tricks to the last-generation motion-simulator technology, such as 3D ride footage and the randomization of locations visited in the attraction (something which continues to be updated to this day, as each new mainline Star Wars release has one of its just-introduced planets be included in the roster).
More importantly, however, this new project once again served as the jumping-off point for a further business venture between the two companies. When Iger and Lucas were gathered at Hollywood Studios’s Brown Derby for a pre-opening-celebration meal, the Disney head honcho brought up the possibility of purchasing Lucasfilm, generally, and Star Wars, specifically, from the famed filmmaker. Within the next year-and-a-half, George Lucas agreed to the proposition, and the $4 billion transaction was grandly announced on October 30, 2012.
Although the public’s immediate attention went to the new slate of films that was confirmed alongside news of the sale, thought about how the property could be further implemented into Disney’s parks around the world wasn’t far off; although a number of SW-themed shows, meet-‘n-greets, and fireworks displays had cropped up in the years since 1987, starting with the annual Star Wars Weekends in 1997 and most recently including Star Wars: Galactic Nights in 2018, these were more half-step experiences, not full-fledged, multimillion-dollar attractions. Rumor had it that an entire land would now be devoted to Lucas’s brainchild, one that would represent one of Disney’s biggest investments in its theme-park history.
Those rumors, of course, ended up being true, but it took the company a long time to formally acknowledge them, partially thanks to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley (which, it was reported, sent the project’s Imagineers scrambling back to the drawing board to create a land that was just as detailed and just as immersive as the Boy Wizard’s) and partially thanks to the latest round of Star Wars films (Disney wanted to wait and see how well they were received so as to figure out how heavily to incorporate them into the new themed area). After nearly three years of promises, hints, and teases, Disney finally made “Star Wars Land” official on August 15, 2015, during that year’s D23 Expo.
Construction started at Disneyland on April 14, 2016 (with Hollywood Studios breaking ground shortly thereafter); an initial opening-date announcement of 2019 followed eight months later, which was issued during a quarterly earnings call. Though the company had been releasing a small-but-steady trickle of information on the project’s contents all throughout this time, it really started to open the floodgates during the 2017 D23 Expo, debuting a fully-detailed, 50-foot-long, half-inch-to-one-foot scale model of the entire land; revealing the expansion’s name as Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge; and disclosing the new ride vehicle for one of the two attractions.
Since then, the information stream has been mostly shut back off, but The Walt Disney Company did have one big surprise in store for fans on Friday, November 17: first, it announced that the name of the mysterious world that Galaxy’s Edge is set on is Batuu; then it introduced the ancient trading-port planet as a brand-new location in Star Tours: The Adventures Continue, allowing guests to get just a sneak peek at the future locale.
The next big developments would take several months to arrive. First, late in the evening on May 22, 2018, Disney gave more specific release “windows” for its two versions of Star Wars Land: Disneyland’s would arrive in the summer of 2019, while Hollywood Studios’s would bow in late fall ’19. Then, on July 24, fans got their very first chance to “visit” Batuu in the form of the novel Thrawn: Alliances – a good chunk of the book takes place on the remote planet, offering an overview of its geography, local atmosphere, and, just perhaps, its drink menu (you can find a full analysis of all that in our complete write-up).
Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge – location
Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge will be going into that giant swath of Disney’s Hollywood Studios that originally belonged to the Studio Backlot Tour, which was the very heart of the movie studio-themed park when it first opened in 1989. This giant complex of working soundstages and employee-only facilities had been slowly-but-surely chipped away at during the first two decades of Hollywood Studios’s existence, with Disney eventually creating the Streets of America and Pixar Place lands out of it (along with such attractions as Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show).
The Star Wars-themed land specifically is set to occupy the former Streets of America section, which closed on April 2, 2016 – roughly a year-and-a-half after the stripped-down Backlot Tour itself was axed – in order to make room for that galaxy far, far away. (The leftover portion of Streets of America that Galaxy’s Edge won’t touch has been rechristened Grand Avenue and has been made the new home of Muppet*Vision 3D, the area’s only attraction left standing.)
This, of course, leaves a fair bit of distance between the future Galaxy’s Edge and the pre-existent Star Tours: The Adventures Continue (and its next-door Jedi Training: Trials of the Temple), not to mention the interfering presence of Grand Avenue. It is currently unknown how – or whether – Disney will connect the two areas to make one continuous Star Wars presence; the company could choose to snake a road around the Muppets show to link up with Star Tours, possibly even switching the ride’s entrance around to the other side of the show-building (just as it did with Toy Story Mania, in order to give it an entrance and exit directly unto the new Toy Story Land), although this seems rather far-fetched. Another possibility that has been rumored is the moving of at least Jedi Training to a closer, now-empty soundstage, but the viability of this scenario also remains dubious.
More likely than not, the two older Star Wars attractions will either have to be shut down or, at the very least, to remain disconnected from the new expansion – not only for logistical reasons, but also for narrative and thematic concerns (as we’ll see next).
Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge – backstory
Taking a very big page from The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge inhabits just one specific city from one specific planet: Black Spire Outpost on Batuu (instead of attempting to cram all the familiar locations in together from all eight films). In conjunction with Lucasfilm’s Story Group – the division responsible for supervising the narrative of each and every Star Wars release, from the movies to the novels to the videogames – Walt Disney Imagineering opted to make this new planet of Batuu an original entry in the canon, with an entirely new backstory, culture, and inhabitants; guests are meant to feel as if they’re exploring a fresh chapter of the Star Wars mythology instead of retreading old adventures.
And what a backstory it is! Located in the Outer Rim in the Unknown Regions, Batuu used to function as a vibrant trading post before the advent of faster-than-light travel through hyperspace. Now, interstellar commerce has passed it by, making it one of countless forgotten destinations – except for by those individuals who don’t want to be found, including bounty hunters, smugglers, and rogue adventurers. This planet is now a safe haven for the galaxy’s seamy underbelly, and guests will be able to interact with all of these different groups to various degrees.
And, of course, Black Spire Outpost itself has been thoroughly integrated into this sweeping history. According to Disney:
Widely known for the petrified remains of its once-towering ancient trees, the spires now stand guard across the river valleys and plains and have long captured the imagination of travelers to this planet. To the first settlers, these petrified spires became more than just landmarks – they became the heart of the outpost itself.
Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge – continuity
Given the fully interconnected nature of the new, Disney-owned Star Wars Expanded Universe, Batuu has already begun to be integrated into the canon – thanks to the previously-mentioned Thrawn: Alliances book – and will undoubtedly feature in future releases, particularly given the importance that the Unknown Regions have been receiving over the past few years.
Here’s a (very) streamlined version of what you need to know: Emperor Sheev Palpatine has been obsessed with Wild Space – particularly beyond the galactic rim, where no one has ever managed to venture before – since even before the birth of the Empire, thanks to (1) the possibility of expansion that the Unknown Regions represent and (2) his growing belief that the dark side of the Force itself emanates from there. But there are many dangers lying in wait, ranging from natural phenomena that make hyperspace travel difficult, if not outright impossible, and a number of technologically-superior military threats contained in the region, including the Gyrsks, who have been secretly watching both the Old Republic and Galactic Empire for the past few decades, waiting to launch an all-out invasion. (Batuu features here, as its callous, indifferent populace makes the world a useful staging ground for the shipment of supplies and a recruitment zone for future allies – until Darth Vader and Grand Admiral Thrawn discover the Grysks’ covert operations and forcibly end them just before the end of the Rebels television series and the beginning of the original trilogy of films.)
Although Palpatine, after years and years of trial-and-error, finally manages to plot a safe trajectory through the Unknown Regions and out into intergalactic space, he dies before being able to do so – but he passes on the information to the remaining Imperial leadership, along with the instructions to finish destroying the Rebel Alliance and then start a new Empire in a brand-new galaxy (no one else will ever be allowed to rule his galaxy, after all). The latter part of the mandate ultimately comes to fruition just one year after the end of the original trilogy, with the leftover Imperial remnant declaring itself the First Order as it heads out for greener pastures.
At some point across the next 25 (or so) years, this new New Order decides to return to its roots, coming back to a galaxy now governed by the New Republic (as this story has yet to be told, we’re not exactly certain why this comes to pass). The First Order quietly prepares for a new Galactic Civil War, one meant to topple the Republic and its fledgling Jedi protectors once and for all – what the premise of the sequel trilogy (which began with 2015’s Episode VII: The Force Awakens and will conclude with 2019’s still-untitled Episode IX) and of Galaxy’s Edge both are.
Because of its placement in the Star Wars timeline, the First Order will have a presence in the theme-park land – but so, too, will General Leia Organa’s Resistance, along with the legendary Millennium Falcon (yes, with Chewbacca still aboard).
Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge – layout
Although plenty of concept art (and that big, beautiful model!) has been released, Disney has yet to unveil where all of Galaxy’s Edge’s rides and experiences will be located in the land – with one possible exception, that is.
On Sunday, May 27, 2018, Disney threw one of its occasional Galactic Nights after-hours parties at Hollywood Studios (this time to coincide with the theatrical release of Solo: A Star Wars Story), and, during the event, it handed out several trading cards for attendees to collect. More than just being a nice souvenir, all of these cards formed a type of map of Black Spire Outpost when gathered together – and while we’re not sure how topographically accurate it is, it at least provides us with a general sense of where everything could be located.
Here’s the completed Galactic Nights map, thanks to Twitter user (and, apparently, massive Star Wars fan) Nick Tierce:
The main entranceway, located in the bottom right-hand corner of the map, will lead to Black Spire’s marketplace, which may or may not technically include Black Spire Station (where “Salju will help you find the part you need”). Disney has said that this section will be exotic, will be comprised of low, circular buildings, and will offer up all manner of merchandise, including illicit items from the galaxy’s black market. This bazaar will also constitute visitors’ first exposure to Batuu’s various denizens, which will consist of aliens, droids, and animals.
Straight up the right-hand side of Galaxy’s Edge is Merchant Row, which we’re assuming will form the heart of the marketplace, with Smuggler’s Alley and the Cantina located behind that (while we’re not certain what the former will entail, the latter is the land’s main restaurant). They sit side-by-side with Docking Bay 9, the area that doubles as the First Order’s main base of operations in the city (and where the first of the land’s two attractions will be situated).
Moving to the left, in the center of Galaxy’s Edge, we come across the Black Spires (what the outpost is named after) and Docking Bay 7, which appears to be a counter-service venue. Behind it, next to the Cantina, is the Spaceport; here one can find Hondo Ohnaka, a recurring character from the Clone Wars and Rebels animated series, and the Millennium Falcon, where both character meet-‘n-greets and the second ride will be located.
Finally, all the way on the other side of Black Spire Outpost is the Resistance’s secret base, hidden among the Ancient Ruins.
Surrounding the land will be a giant berm, in order to shield Black Spire Outpost from the prying eyes outside, making it as secluded and immersive as is Diagon Alley (where Disney picked the trick up).
(Want an in-universe overview of Black Spire Outpost’s geography? Be sure to read our in-depth feature.)
Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge – attractions
Once again like The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and Pandora: The World of Avatar, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge will have fully-realized experiences all across the board, from shopping and dining to the rides themselves. It looks as if visitors will be able to get lost in their favorite space opera for hours at a time – exactly what both the fan base and Disney’s accountants are excited for.
As previously stated, the land’s two rides have only been spoken about in vague terms by Disney, more hints than actual descriptions – for instance, although the premises of the attractions are known, we have yet to receive official names for them. Still, when coupled with the copious amounts of speculation from the themed community, we start to get an idea of their scope and potential impact.
First up is the Millennium Falcon ride, which has six guests sit in the cockpit of the famous ship and pilot her on a series of missions for the Resistance. At least a few of the riders will have one specific job function, whether that be manning the quad guns or prepping the navicomputer for a hyperspace jump, and how well they perform these duties will follow them out onto the streets of Black Spire Outpost, informing how certain individuals will react to you.
Before you can make your way to the cockpit, however, you’ll first need to climb through the Falcon‘s hatch and walk her legendary halls. As the following photograph shows, Disney is really sparing no expense when it comes to immersing guests in the Star Wars experience.
What may perhaps be even more interesting than the ride mechanics themselves is the attraction’s backstory. Hondo Ohnaka, that old space pirate, has approached Chewbacca, the inheritor of the Millennium Falcon, to use the legendary vessel on some sort of secret undertaking – one that requires the two familiar faces to round up a new flight crew. This is a perfect example of Disney attempting to fully ground Galaxy’s Edge in the Star Wars Expanded Universe – and also attempting to make the ride vehicle a full part of the narrative, as well.
The battle escape attraction, as it’s currently known, is a dark ride that sees guests get trapped right in the middle of a skirmish between Supreme Leader Snoke’s First Order and General Organa’s Resistance. Although we do know that this will be located inside of a tall show building, most likely to fit such sets as a Star Destroyer launch bay and such items as AT-ATs, we’re not certain about practically any of the ride’s other details; rumors indicate that there will be tons of audio-animatronic stormtroopers and also hint at the possibility that part of the attraction will have passengers disembark from their ride vehicle, hoof it on foot through a section of the battle, and then re-board another vehicle (possibly a different one from before), but all of this remains to be seen, of course.
One concrete detail we do have, however, is what that ride vehicle will look like and how it fits into the franchise’s canon. Called a First Order fleet transport, its official description reads:
Within the First Order fleet, troops, officers, and personnel traverse the interiors of massive ships using small transport vehicles. Piloted by astromech droids, these vehicles are programed with ship schematics and security access codes.
Various meet-‘n-greet opportunities will also be on-hand. Although Chewbacca, R2-D2, BB-8, Kylo Ren, Hondo, and Nien Nunb (Lando Calrissian’s co-pilot in Episode VI: Return of the Jedi) are the only confirmed ones thus far, Disney has stated that several familiar faces will be present in the land; presumably, given the alien-planet premise, it’ll be extremely easy for the company to trout out nearly any character for limited appearances when he or she is “in the interstellar neighborhood.”
You can look for the Chewie encounter to be stationed at – where else? – the Millennium Falcon.
The major eatery is called Oga’s Cantina, so named because of its proprietor, Oga Garra, who is an “intriguing” alien. She attempts to keep the pilots, bounty hunters, smugglers, locals, and galactic travelers that she calls her clientele in check by implementing a strict code of conduct, but it seems like trouble still is able to find its way in (and, we’re assuming, regularly).
Oga’s will, of course, brandish a menu filled with exclusive food and beverages, including something called “Blurrgfire”; Disney is already promising that these “famous concoctions” will be fashioned out of exotic ingredients, crafted using otherworldly methods, and served in “unique vessels.” (Yes, some of these drinks will be alcoholic, which is a particularly big deal for the Disneyland version, as it represents the first time that the original Disney theme park will serve libations to the public.)
And then there are the cantina’s inhabitants, who will include both brand-new additions to the Star Wars universe and some familiar faces from it, such as the occasional First Order stormtrooper patrol and none other than RX-24, who was originally introduced in the first version of Star Tours before making a quick cameo appearance in Rebels – and who now is Oga’s self-styled DJ (the joint’s music will be just as unique as its gastronomical wares, Disney has said). An audio-animatronic chef, who will supposedly provide fun reactions when he’s tipped, is the only other character officially confirmed to appear in Black Spire Outpost’s watering hole, but it sounds as if a rotating cast of special appearances will also be on hand to add a certain element of surprise to guests’ meal experiences.
Finally, the possibility of live entertainment has also been floated, although nothing conclusive has been stated one way or the other.
(Keep on the lookout for a giant podracer engine that has been repurposed as a stove, and other such wink-and-nudge references to the greater Star Wars galaxy.)
Other tasty treats will be found over at Docking Bay 7, where food freighters constantly come and go with fresh wares, and Bantha Tracks, some sort of vendor in Black Spire’s marketplace, which is where guests will be able to try – at long last! – Star Wars‘s signature dish, blue milk.
The only shop to get a (somewhat) in-depth reveal by Disney so far is rather illustrative of the level of thought and detail that the company’s Imagineers are putting into every nook and cranny of Galaxy’s Edge. Toydarian Wares is a toy store that will be designed to look like a street market and that will be presided over by – of course – a Toydarian vendor, presumably in audio-animatronic form (Toydarians, for all those who don’t remember, are the flying CG-rendered aliens first introduced in Episode I: The Phantom Menace; Watto, Anakin Skywalker’s slaveowner, is one such being). Look for the location to carry a wide range of items that are exclusive to the themed land and which are designed to look hand-crafted by “local artisans,” such as the figures seen here:
Given the veritable flood of Star Wars merchandise that has inundated store shelves over the past four decades, taking such an apparently Pandoran approach makes perfect sense – and will undoubtedly result in a huge financial win for Disney World.
The final attraction in Galaxy’s Edge is, arguably, the most exciting – and, certainly, the most revolutionary. User customization is set to play a big role in the land, and it seems the chief method for determining this level of interactivity will be guests’ fictitious bank accounts: turning back to the Millennium Falcon ride as an example, riders will be rewarded for their good results by being issued galactic credits (the Star Wars universe’s currency); if they do poorly, not meeting the mission’s criteria or damaging the ship, they’ll be docked money. This, in turn, will influence how the trading outpost’s denizens will respond to you, whether they put a bounty on your head (for owing more money than what you currently have) or, possibly, attempt to sidle up to you to get some of those credits for themselves.
(Don’t worry – those visitors who don’t want to engage in all these extra layers of content won’t have to, though Disney has yet to specifically detail how, exactly, they can opt out.)
Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge – hotel
Yes, being able to have an individualized experience on a brand-new planet in the Star Wars mythos – all while being able to take rides on the Millennium Falcon, to boot – is exciting… but, as it turns out, that’s not even the best part of Galaxy’s Edge.
The Star Wars Hotel is coming – eventually – to Walt Disney World, and it’ll be placed directly adjacent to Hollywood Studios property, marking the very first time this has happened in the resort’s history (the exact location will be on the south side of the park, just east of World Drive). Themed as a giant starship, this new venue will “depart” from Earth and “arrive” on Batuu (a current trend in the experience business that is referred to as land-based cruising); guests will be able to book a package (two nights is currently believed to be the minimum) that will include “travel time” to the planet, special access to Galaxy’s Edge (thanks to a private entrance unto the land), and then “travel time” back home.
Along the way, patrons will become “active citizens of the galaxy” as soon as they set foot in the door; they’ll be able to get fully into character by dressing up, undergoing specific “training” (such as for espionage or lightsaber combat, depending upon what disposition they choose for themselves), undertaking certain missions, and interacting with a whole host of individuals that hail from all across the Star Wars Expanded Universe. In other words, guests will be as fully enmeshed in that galaxy far, far away as is humanly possible – or, as Disney itself puts it, the hotel “will combine luxury with complete immersion into an authentic Star Wars story.”
It is believed, though not confirmed by the company as of yet, that food will be included in the price, consisting of buffets for both breakfast and lunch and Disney Signature meals for dinner (which would feature live entertainment that would rely more heavily on audience participation – if you chose to do so, of course). The hotel rooms, meanwhile, are themed to starliner cabins, with every single one of them including views out onto (hyper)space instead of boring parking lots back on Earth.
How much will these Star Wars Hotel vacation packages cost? A survey that Disney ran prior to officially announcing everything suggested $900 per person as the starting price – and we have absolutely no doubt that there will be sold-out accommodations nearly every single night for the property’s first year of business, at least.
This type of vacation concept has been labeled by the company as a “Disney 360” experience, so named for having every second of every hour be totally immersed in a narrative (think live-action role-playing games, but on a much grander scale). Such a program description, of course, entails the existence of other such theme park/hotel/storytelling combinations, and, indeed, we’ve already heard from our sources that Disney is contemplating rolling out similar experiences for such properties as Indiana Jones and Frozen.
Needless to say, this may very well represent the future of all theme parks across the globe for decades to come.
Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge – expansion(s)
One final, quick note to end our comprehensive coverage of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge on: it has already been suggested that Disney is saving space at both Hollywood Studios and Disneyland for at least one expansion, should the new area prove to be as successful as the company clearly thinks it will be. Rumors currently indicate that such an addition would consist of one new street, one new E-ticket attraction, and one new restaurant, although those contents could easily be switched up if fan demand or park operations finds that one particular facet of the experience needs to be expounded on.
This may yet prove to be yet another way that Disney’s Galaxy’s Edge is analogous with Universal’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter – the two properties could continually see updates and refreshes for a full decade, at least, after their original openings.
Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge – index of articles