by Jim Denney
I have been to Batuu. I have breathed the air of another world. I have piloted the Millennium Falcon around the galactic rim — and was cheated out of my share of the loot by that scoundrel Hondo Ohnaka.
While relaxing in Oga’s Cantina, quenching my thirst as DJ-R3X was spinning the galaxy’s greatest hits, I saw Walt Disney. He was leaning at the bar, sipping a Bespin Fizz. He looked pale and translucent, and he was outlined in sparkles of blue light. The Force was strong with this one.
“Walt,” I said, rushing toward him, almost spilling my Jabba Juice. “Bright suns, it’s really you! What are you doing here at Black Spire Outpost? I thought you were — Well, never mind. Walt, what do you think of Galaxy’s Edge?”
He raised his glass and was about to speak when —
Okay, I didn’t really see Walt. But I did spend four hours in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. And I really did feel I was on another planet.
Galaxy’s Edge is the most fully immersive, all-encompassing land ever created in any theme park. And if Walt had been there, I know what he would have said: “It’ll work.” Walt was known for being parsimonious with compliments. If he thought his Imagineers had created something spectacularly amazing, his most effusive praise would be, “It’ll work.”
Well, Galaxy’s Edge works.
The illusion of being enveloped by a Star Wars movie is truly astonishing. Though your conscious mind knows you are really at Disneyland, the otherworldly architecture, the petrified trees, the parked space vehicles, and the menacing storm troopers are so perfect that your unconscious mind believes it’s all real. To the emotional centers of your brain, seeing truly is believing. That’s why a movie or a video game can give you an endorphin rush, make you scream, and make your heart pound, even though it’s nothing but sound and moving pixels.
And that’s why Galaxy’s Edge works. When you board the Millennium Falcon and enter the “chess room,” it’s like walking through a movie screen and into a scene you’ve visited hundreds of times over the years. I sat down at the holographic chess board and had the eerie sense I was actually in the room where Obi-Wan instructed Luke while Han Solo scoffed, “Good against remotes is one thing. Good against the living, that’s something else.” The sense of déjà vu is amazingly strong. Your unconscious mind thinks, “I’ve been here before.”
The centerpiece attraction of Galaxy’s Edge is Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run, a simulator that puts you in the cockpit of Han Solo’s souped-up Corellian freighter. As part of the Falcon’s six-person cockpit crew, you jump to hyperspace, steer the ship, and fire the weapons while smuggling dangerous cargo along the outer rim of the Galaxy. Each crew consists of two pilots, two gunners, and two engineers. I rode once as a pilot (much over-steering, many crashes), once as a gunner (I couldn’t hit the broad side of the Deathstar). Incredibly realistic, hyperspeed fun.
A second thrill ride, Rise of the Resistance, opens this summer. I saw a lot of unpurposed architecture around Black Spire Outpost, and my guess is that more Star Wars-themed attractions are in development for Galaxy’s Edge.
There are also several Star Wars-themed eateries. I recommend the meaty, spicy Ronto Wrap at Ronto Roasters, featuring coleslaw-topped sausage and meat that has been spit-roasted over a roaring podracer engine. And be sure to visit the build-your-own droid depot and build-your-own lightsaber workshop.
Some Disney purists wonder if Galaxy’s Edge might ruin Disneyland by turning the Park into Lucasland. I wouldn’t worry. I believe Walt Disney would approve of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. He knew the future is always a moving target, and he wanted Disneyland to never stop aiming for it. “Disneyland will never be finished,” he said. “It’s something I can keep developing, keep plussing and adding to. It will be a living, breathing thing that will always keep changing.”
Walt envisioned Disneyland as a place to stimulate young minds and fire up the imagination. “In Disneyland, people can actually take part in visible, touchable, moving, and dimensional fantasy. They can ride on it, fly with it, measure imagination with it, and glean information from it about the past, the present, and future.” That sounds like the perfect description of Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run.
There was a special place in Walt’s heart for young people. He wanted the world’s youth to believe that their future is bright, that anything is possible. He said, “To the youngsters of today, I say believe in the future, the world is getting better; there still is plenty of opportunity.” Though the Star Wars saga is set “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away,” it is really about the limitless possibilities of the future.
Walt was also enthusiastic about humanity’s future in space, which is why Tomorrowland is one of the four original lands of Disneyland. Walt himself conceived the wildly popular Space Mountain attraction, though he originally called it Space Port. The development of Space Mountain faltered for years after Walt’s death, but it finally opened in January 1975 at Florida’s Magic Kingdom Park.
Star Wars creator George Lucas was a confirmed Disney fan. Lucas once told Entertainment Weekly, “I was at Disneyland the second day it opened.” He was eleven years old on July 18, 1955, and his favorite ride was the Tomorrowland Autopia. Today, attractions based on his Star Wars creations are among the most dazzling wonders of Disney theme parks.
Walt Disney and George Lucas are both innovative, imaginative geniuses who fought for their ideas and changed the entertainment landscape. Disney and Lucas impacted the global culture in ways too profound to measure. They created entertainment that is optimistic, family-friendly, and loved by fans of all generations. In a 2012 interview, Lucas said, “When I first made Star Wars, everybody in Hollywood said, ‘Well, this is a movie that Disney should have made,’”
I’m sure Walt would approve of Galaxy’s Edge. As longtime Disney Imagineer John Hench said, “Walt had one foot in the past and one foot in the future.”
It’s been more than fifty years since Walt left us, yet his optimistic, futuristic spirit lives on at Disneyland and the other Disney theme parks around the world. And yes, his spirit lives on in a place called Galaxy’s Edge.
Jim Denney is the author of Walt’s Disneyland: It’s Still There if You Know Where to Look, a guide to Walt Disney’s theme park legacy. He blogs at WaltsDisneyland.Wordpress.com. Images in this post used by permission of Walt Disney World News.