When Disney acquired Lucasfilm from Star Wars creator George Lucas for $4 billion in 2012, many fans had the same thought: Disney's got to make a theme park set in the galaxy far, far away. It's the peanut-butter-in-chocolate of worldbuilding: The creative minds at Lucasfilm know how to build cinematic universes; Disney's Imagineering team knows how to construct fantastical lands IRL. If the Mouse House didn't build Star Wars worlds at its theme parks, it would be a huge missed opportunity.
Today, nearly seven years later, the first of those worlds opened its doors. Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge is now a fully functioning "land" at Disney's Anaheim park. Its twin will open at the company's Florida resort later this year.
Like Universal's re-creation of J. K. Rowling's Wizarding World of Harry Potter at its theme parks, Disney aimed to make an immersive, themed land set in a specific time and place within the Star Wars galaxy. Galaxy's Edge makes its visitors characters inside the broader story, giving them experiences that let them live their Star Wars dreams. Want a lightsaber? You can build one and get your honorary Jedi credentials. Have a rathtar-shaped hole in your heart? Adopt one. And, of course, you can get your booze in an authentic cantina or fly the Millennium Falcon on a smuggling mission with five of your closest friends.
But let's get right to the point: The place is an escapist triumph and a treat for the senses. Like California Adventure's Cars land or Tokyo DisneySea, Galaxy's Edge is a worldbuilding heaven—exactly what fans hoped for when Disney announced the Lucasfilm merger several years ago.
When guests step onto the planet of Batuu and into the environment of Black Spire Outpost, they're going somewhere within the galaxy that has been carefully grafted into the Star Wars timeline by clever boffins. Since planning and building something like this takes a long time (recall that Galaxy's Edge was announced in 2015, and that groundbreaking only commenced in 2016), the Lucasfilm and Disney teams have been able to plant the seeds for a few years, with Black Spire Outpost getting mentions on the big screen in Solo: A Star Wars Story and as a featured locale in a handful of novels, some of which have yet to be published.
Beyond that, there are Easter eggs and secrets to the park that some fans may spend years uncovering, if they ever figure them out at all. Every vendor and proprietor in the land—even the droid DJ in the cantina—has some level of history. The background may not be evident to visitors, but the crew behind Galaxy's Edge did their homework anyway.
A Kinder, Gentler Hive of Scum and Villainy
Black Spire's backstory goes something like this: Batuu was a backwater stop-off in the pre-lightspeed days of space travel. Now that ships don't need to make layovers as often, Black Spire Outpost is past its prime, the epitome of the Lucasian used future. That means it's an ideal haven for the scum and villainy of the Outer Rim, and a place where traders are constantly delivering the freshest and newest goods from across the galaxy. In terms of Star Wars places, the overall vibe is like Mos Eisley on Tatooine, albeit way less surly. This is still a Disney park, after all, and no one has a good time when dad gets knocked on his ass by alien ruffians right in front of the kids during a family vacation.
As you'd expect, the architecture of the land is esoteric and alien-ish, without quite feeling alienating. The designers nailed the Star Wars aesthetic, blending Doug Chiang's prequel style with the classic Ralph McQuarrie look, putting a realistic level of decay on everything and bolting on retrofits for good measure. And the scale of everything is just big enough, blocking out most of the surrounding theme park, save for the tall spire of Big Thunder Mountain.
Eschewing the Star Wars Aurebesh alphabet, Batuu relies mostly on a stylized English typeface that's perfectly legible after you see it on important signage. Shop doors whoosh open and closed like the optical wipe transitions the Star Wars films famously use. Ambient noises add tremendous depth everywhere you stroll, from the ruins on the outskirts of town to the menacing thrum of the First Order base. Everything from the trash cans to the water fountains are appropriately themed, even if some concessions have been made to make them recognizable to park guests. And, yes, the bathrooms have themes, too.
Late-Stage Galactic Capitalism
If you're heading to Galaxy's Edge and want to be amazed, browse Dok-Ondor's Den of Antiquities. Naturally, there's a wide array of deep-cut references from the entire saga in Dok's private collection—fans will have a field day spotting Star Wars artifacts on his walls—but there's also a range of merch visitors can buy to take home. It's like Disney and Lucasfilm had a brainstorming sesh and said yes to all of the ideas. Clip-in padawan braids, Imperial comlinks, and even a weighty replica of Emperor Palpatine's cane are available for purchase. But, in another savvy worldbuilding move, nothing says "Star Wars" on the front, so it doesn't take away from the experience of actually being in the universe.
Hidden behind Dok's store is Savi's Workshop, where guests can build a custom lightsaber (which, at $200, may make parents regret their decision to visit Black Spire Outpost) in a special ceremony held away from of the prying eyes of lurking First Order forces. Nearby is a droid-themed shop that lets you build mini astromech pals or shop for robot-themed wares. A pet store in the bazaar sells cute and creepy critters galore, from kowakian monkey-lizards to tiny tauntauns.
Galaxy's Edge, of course, also has themed food and drinks—right down to refreshing (vegan) green milk. However, the "locals" in Black Spire might warn you that the locally sourced blue milk was far better than the green stuff that comes from off-world. (I don't know which LA improv school Disney raided to populate Galaxy's Edge, but they take this gig seriously.)
Flight of the Falcon
I wouldn't be giving you a full recap of Batuu without touching on the sole ride, Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run. What Disney has created here is an impressive interactive flight simulator. It's more of a videogame than a ride, with six players flying the ship together, shooting, piloting, and engineering. Your mission is to get fan-favorite character Hondo Ohnaka a shipment of precious coaxium fuel from a cargo train. You get paid more credits for snagging more coaxium canisters and dinged the more you damage the ship.
But even though it can be fun struggling to flip switches or steer while the Falcon jostles you around, there's a lot of added stress. It can feel more overwhelming than thrilling or happy, and I'm not sure nana and pep-pep will love getting yelled at by an alien buccaneer as they bounce through the skies of Corellia—especially if that ride comes after hours of waiting in line. That said, the ride is fully Instagram-ready, so everyone gets a cool picture sitting at the holochess board before being hurled through space.
The Smugglers Run ride is also the perfect illustration of the difference between a typical themed attraction and what Disney and Lucasfilm are doing with Galaxy's Edge. Star Wars doesn't just passively happen to you on Batuu. Like the Force, it surrounds you and binds the land together, making for a cohesive, active experience. Short of having guests exchange US dollars for galactic credits at the entrance, this is about as good as it's going to get.
From cross-media stories and constantly-circulating cast members to architecture and food, Galaxy's Edge is immersive. It is a world built. I can't wait to go back. As they say on Batuu, 'til the Spire, friends.