Disney’s Star Wars land is unlike anything else at its plethora of theme parks across the world. It doesn’t feel like you’re in a theme park, even as people queue across the courtyards of Batuu for a chance to get to fly the Millennium Falcon. But as fascinatingly unique as that is, it already feels like it’s going to become a bit of a headache for Disney.
After months of gawking at pictures like a very weak-willed idiot, I finally had the chance to visit the Disneyland iteration of Galaxy’s Edge last week in California. As a huge Star Wars nerd, I loved it. I did the whole shebang: I made my own lightsaber. I built a droid. Adopted a porg. I drank milk, both blue and green (everyone’s wrong, the green is so much better). I spent the most time I’ve ever spent in a bar in my life to sample the various boozy spectacles of Oga’s Cantina. I flipped off an A-Wing. I flew the Falcon enough times that I could probably legally change my name to Han Solo. It was lovely.
But what charmed me the most about Galaxy’s Edge wasn’t even anything that was there as a structured experience, or even something you could buy (there was plenty of that too, much to the chagrin of my wallet). It was how genuinely alien it felt as an environment to be in, in a manner that no pictures could really do justice.
Batuu, the Lucasfilm-created planet Galaxy’s Edge is set on, is a quiet world where civilization is sparse and people from all walks of life come to be hidden away from the grand struggles of the galaxy far, far away. It’s spectacular how literal that feels: everything is meticulously crafted to make you feel like you’ve not just walked through Frontierland or Sleeping Beauty’s castle to get to the place where the Star Wars is. It is designed to make you feel like you’ve been transported to another world far removed from the realm of Mickey and Minnie Mouse.
Unlike the ridgid structure of the rest of Disneyland—themed lands spoking off of the central hub that is Main Street and the castle—getting to Galaxy’s Edge is weirdly difficult without knowhow. There are no signs pointing the way, no cast members in BB-8 Mickey ears or what have you offering maps and advice. Winding paths and cleverly-planted flora hide your approach and exit to and from any of the three entrances, making it not just feel like a strangely distant trek but also masking anything that could remind you that there’s a theme park a couple minute’s walk in the opposite direction. You can’t see out of Galaxy’s Edge when you’re inside it: all there is is Batuu, for seemingly as far as the eyes can see.
Star Wars music is sparse in the land itself—a new suite composed by John Williams plays only in the entrance areas. Within Galaxy’s Edge itself, the sounds of kids shrieking on Splash Mountain are completely covered by the soaring engines of First Order TIE Fighters and cargo freighters above you. Hidden here and there in all those meticulously positioned bushes are sounds of alien creatures eating and chittering. In the marketplace, a radio station plays Star Wars-y tunes and occasional messages for the locals advertising deals on scrap or DJ Rex’s new set at the Cantina.
Outside of the fact that Smugglers Run is a theme park ride, there isn’t anything particularly theme-park-y about Galaxy’s Edge. You can grab a bite to eat or do some shopping, sure, but they’re all enmeshed in this fiction to the point that it doesn’t feel like you’re at a gift shop or a food cart. You can’t queue up to meet Rey or Kylo Ren like you could Anna and Elsa, they’re just...there, wandering around living their lives, like you. The sense of place is so different to wandering through the likes of Adventureland or Tomorrowland.
These are all small things, but coming together with the scope and detail of the land’s structural design itself, they have an entirely disarming effect of drawing you into the heart of a completely alien world. Every time I wandered out of Galaxy’s Edge while I was on vacation (especially in the dim lights of the evenings), there would be this moment of dissonance where, on one of those winding paths as the starship engine and alien wildlife noises faded away, I’d genuinely be unsure of where I was. Only rounding a corner and being hit with the sight of Fantasyland’s King Arthur Carousel, or the rocky spires of Big Thunder Mountain, would hit me with the realization: Oh, I’d think to myself. I’m in Disneyland.
It was jarring, but in a way that felt utterly magical. What Disney has crafted in Galaxy’s Edge is something that feels genuinely transformative. But the other thing I noticed the most on my visit was that, for all the environmental touches that swept you away into the Star Wars universe, it’s almost too overwhelming: and it seems like Disney is starting to realize that not everyone who wants to go to a Star Wars land really wants that kind of immersive experience.
At Docking Bay 7, Galaxy’s Edge’s sole sit-down eatery, the food on the menu has been renamed to have more plain descriptions in comparison to the Star Wars-themed titles it debuted with: gone is the Endorian Yip-Tip, now it’s just Endorian Roasted Chicken Salad. Some of the more interestingly esoteric flavor profiles that have proven to be unpopular with tourists typically accustomed to nothing but pure sugar while on a Disneyland vacation—like Kat Saka’s multicolored sweet-and-spicy popcorn or the intriguingly floral notes of Bubo Wamba’s green milk—have been joined by more traditionally flavored variants. For the milk, there’s always been the better-recived, A New Hope-style blue version, which simply tastes like sweetened coconut milk, but in the popcorn’s case, there’s now a new chocolate-coated mix with a very minor sprinkling of “Crait” salt.
The Batuuan terminology used by cast members for real-world conventions has slowly but surely faded out—going to one of the stalls in the marketplace might still get you a “Bright Suns” instead of a “Hello,” but you’ll be asked if you’ve got an Annual Pass discount instead of a credit reduction these days. If you’re looking to find Savi’s workshop, the place where you can build your own lightsaber, castmembers no longer engage in the sly wink that all the workshop sells is “scrap,” in order to mask its true purpose from the watchful eyes of patrolling Stormtroopers. Instead, they’ll just tell you the Lightsaber Shop is thataway and it’s 200 bucks plus tax for the pleasure.
It’s easy to see why these changes are happening, even just six months after Galaxy’s Edge opened. Your average Disney or Star Wars fan isn’t coming to Disneyland to do the sci-fi equivalent of dressing up at a Renaissance Faire. They wanna ride the ride, buy a t-shirt with Baby Yoda on it, and maybe eat one of those sausage wraps they’ve heard so much about (Ronto, what’s a Ronto?). They want to be in a theme park, like the rest of Disneyland, not necessarily within a galaxy far, far away. The theming is nice, but having to engage with it on the level Disney first envisioned Galaxy’s Edge with—some of which has yet to materialize, like a reputation system built using the Disney Play app’s functions throughout the land that would see cast members react differently to you depending on who you were aligned with—is an abrupt ask for people, especially considering nowhere else in Disneyland operates like that.
It’ll be interesting to see what happens to Galaxy’s Edge in the wake of not just the arrival of Rise of the Resistance (the second and currently final ride being added to the land) but with the release of The Rise of Skywalker film as well. With the hype of the movie out of the way—and with Galaxy’s Edge’s point in the Star Wars timeline (sometime between The Last Jedi and Rise of Skywalker) becoming a moment frozen in the past rather than the imminent present—where will Galaxy’s Edge path take it? Will it continue to try and push forward this alien setting, or will Star Wars’ impending time away from the box office lead to an acquiescence to the demands of a theme park and its regular visitors to lure in more than just the diehards?
For now, Galaxy’s Edge is a bit of an alien outlier, in ways good and bad (well, bad depending on if you’re one of the people that has to care about Disney’s bottom line). How long that vibe stays, remains to be seen—but it’ll be sad to see some of that Star Wars magic fade away. It’s a strange kind of magic, sure, but it’s what makes a trip to the galaxy far, far away really worth it.
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