Even though Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is opening while not 100 per cent complete, everywhere you look there’s something to see, something to explore, or something to do. And the best thing about Galaxy’s Edge is really the land itself. You walk in, and you instantly feel like you’ve left Disneyland in Anaheim, California and become immersed in the Star Wars universe.
Though the one ride open so far is not a home run, for me, just looking at the Millennium Falcon parked there is worth the price of admission. Easter eggs from not just the films, but the books, TV shows, and more, are scattered in every nook and cranny. All the Disneyland cast members are truly that: cast members. They’re in character as citizens of the remote planet of Batuu rather than Disneyland park employees. They greet you with “Bright Suns!” during the day or “Rising Moons!” in the evening. They may ask you to complete tasks on the sly or help you hide from the First Order if a few Stormtroopers are walking down the street. Even the bathrooms, somehow, feel like Star Wars. And let me tell you, it’s both a little weird and exceedingly fun to pee in this world.
Galaxy’s Edge finally opens today at Disneyland (minus one out of its two rides, and only for fans who have reservations), and here’s what we thought of the highly anticipated theme park expansion.
If there wasn’t a single thing to do in Galaxy’s Edge, and it was just a glorified film set, it would still be worth recommending. It’s that gorgeous and impressive to walk around in with a completely different vibe than the more traditional theme park it’s a part of. Thankfully, though, there are a good amount of things to do, with a few of those standing above the rest.
My very favourite thing was visiting Savi’s Workshop, which is a store/building experience where you get to assemble your very own custom lightsaber. However, it’s not for everyone. It costs $US200 ($289) to get in (which includes your saber and some accessories) and you can only bring one friend along to watch. It’s not like the experience at Olivander’s in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios where anyone can watch a wand ceremony. Plus, only about 14 people can do it at a time, and it takes about 15 minutes total, so wait times are sure to be long. But, if you really love Star Wars and/or lightsabers specifically, the experience is downright spiritual. It was for me.
Without spoiling every single detail, you pick one of four disciplines. Based on that choice, you are presented with a unique set of pieces. You’re then taken through the fascinating tale behind this “workshop” before being guided through construction. There are even be a few little surprises along the way too. Finally, your custom hilt is placed into its blade, those blades light up, and everyone holds their fully functioning lightsaber in their hands. After the investment of time, money, and emotion, it’s a powerful moment, unlike something you’d normally experience at a theme park.
Next door to Savi’s is a store called Dok-Ondar’s Den of Antiquities. And while all of the merchandise in Galaxy’s Edge is cool, Dok’s is the standout. Dok-Ondar (who sits at the center of the store as a very impressive animatronic character) is a collector of rare antiquities, and the store is filled with his “collection.” The room is filled top to bottom with relics from everything Star Wars: there are pieces from the movies and shows, a helmet and staff from the upcoming Disney+ series The Mandalorian, and so much more (like an Indiana Jones Ark of the Covenant, another George Lucas creation) that theme parks fans will spend hours trying to catalogue everything. You could probably spend a good chunk of your day in the shop looking at the amazing items that decorate it.
That’s important, though. Everything in the top half of the store is just decoration. The bottom half is all the buyable merchandise—mostly equally cool, random Star Wars prop replicas and accessories you probably never thought you’d get to own. There’s a USB key shaped like the one Poe gives to BB-8 in The Force Awakens. Hera Syndulla’s family Kalikori from Star Wars Rebels. Jedi Holocrons, Sith Holocrons, Kyber crystals, and high-end replica lightsaber hilts from the likes of Luke Skywalker, Kylo Ren, Asajj Ventress, and Ahsoka Tano, just to name a few (which range in price from between $US120 ($174)-$US200 ($289) and can be upgraded with blades of various sizes, display stands, you name it). The list goes on and on. Again, if Galaxy’s Edge was just this shop, you’d probably walk away happy. Broke, but happy.
So that’s the best of the best, but before I talk about more good things, I have to address some other things that didn’t quite live up to my expectations. Unfortunately, that has to start with Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run.
Smugglers Run is the only ride in Galaxy’s Edge as it opens and it will be that way for at least a few months. That said, it has a lot to live up to, and on paper, it should. It gives you a chance to do something you’ve dreamed about doing your entire life: fly the Millennium Falcon. And yet, maybe you won’t.
Six people ride Smugglers Run at the same time: two pilots, two gunners, and two engineers, all assigned at random by the cast member who organizes the party of six (you can trade positions if you want, though). The gunners push buttons to fire and engineers press things when prompted to fix the ship. Why do they need to fix the ship you ask? Because of the pilots. One pilot controls the vertical movement of the Falcon; the other, the horizontal. Two different people controlling two different movements is like two people trying to control opposite sides of a puppet. If those people aren’t comfortable communicating with each other, the Falcon is going to crash. A lot. And while crashing into stuff can be fun and leads to some funny scenarios, being so dependent on others for your enjoyment of the ride, especially if they’re not in your party, can be incredibly frustrating. Especially if you waited hours to ride, which is very likely.
After personally riding Smugglers Run three times, performing each job once, I learned a lot. The Engineer is the easiest job and, maybe, the best, because you can just sit back, hit a few buttons, and enjoy the ride for the most part. Gunner is a little more subjective because you can select “manual” for a more intricate experience or “automatic” for a more laid back one. Then there’s the Pilot, which is absolutely key. It can be incredibly cool to pull that lever back and jump to lightspeed, or to expertly manoeuvre through a tight space, but it will take practice and the teamwork of everyone in the ride to do it well.
If you can, go in with six people you know. The more random the group, unless you have some experts, it’s likely to be a bumpy ride. Oddly though, on our three rides, we found if you had a particularly bad flight and ruined your hyperdrive, you got a longer ride. Once you escaped the planet in question, if you do well, you just fly home quickly. But if that hyperdrive has been damaged, there’s a whole other sequence flying through an asteroid field.
That variety has its blessings and curses. Once a group of us got the hang of it, the whole thing instantly got more interesting. Maybe not more fun, but there was a unique, heightened sense of stakes. It also seemed the more people you talked to about the ride, the more every person had their own unique story. It’s almost as if you can never experience the same exact ride twice—and for someone who visits Disneyland a lot, that’s a bonus.
The fact of the matter is, though, Smugglers Run feels like more of an arcade game than a theme park ride. Maybe it’s the most elaborate, expensive, and impressive arcade game ever, but that’s not likely what most people attending are signing up for. The immersion throughout the ride is absolutely incredible but, ultimately, even as a super-crazy Millennium Falcon fan, I got a bigger adrenaline rush seeing the Falcon outside than flying it.
The non-ride nature of Smugglers Run leads into to my other big gripe with Galaxy’s Edge. With only Smugglers Run open, the park feels oddly incomplete. A massive section, maybe even as much as half, of the land, is dedicated to a second ride, Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, which won’t be open for a few months. From everything we’ve heard, it’s going to be impressive. Most impressive. Without it, though, Galaxy’s Edge winds up feeling half empty instead of half full. Sure, literally everything else is open, but the size and layout of the land make it very clear it was designed to function with two rides, instead of one. Check out the map below, which has blue marks for things you can do, and guess which side Rise of the Resistance is going to be on.
You can almost perfectly draw a line down the middle there between Rise of the Resistance’s half of the park and the busier other half. Basically, until that opens, a massive, beautiful section of the park serves as little more than an entrance way with a few photo ops. Undue pressure is then assigned to Smugglers Run to anchor the whole place in a way it was never meant to. It’s currently the heart of Galaxy’s Edge when it was clearly meant to share that duty.
Why Disney opened the park without Rise has yet to be fully confirmed but most believe it’s simply because the company promised fans the land would be open this summer at Disneyland. Since everything else was done, and demand was so high, the company knew it could get the ball rolling without its biggest attraction, only to get another bump when that opens later this year.
What this boils down to is, once you pay to get into Disneyland, wait to get into Galaxy’s Edge and ride Smugglers Run, everything else physically in the themed land costs extra money. The only other thing you can do that’s free is play with the land’s app integration (which I, unfortunately, did not have time to do during our admission-free press day). Again, everything we’ve heard about that experience is promising, but who knows if a family of four will feel that way once they get off the ride and are trying to save money?
What about the rest?
So we’ve hit the “incredible,” we’ve hit the “bad,” and now it’s time for everything else. That means all of the amazing things you can buy, drink, and eat in Galaxy’s Edge—stuff that is excellent and cool but maybe just not as excellent and cool as the cream of the crop. This, for example, describes Oga’s Cantina. Finally, there’s a real-life Star Wars cantina you can visit, with booze if you want, its own unique Star Wars DJ, and more. Everything inside is quirky and interesting, but it’s also very small and bound to get cramped.
Snacking in the park is also quite well done. You can grab a quick blue (or green) milk, which is a rather tasty spin on a frozen fruit smoothie. Kat Saka’s Kettle is a stand with a unique blend of sweet and savoury popcorn that is very good. And Ronto Roasters, in which a smelter droid roasts meat on a podracing engine, offers really quick, delicious sandwiches.
The merch stands outside of Dok-Ondar’s are also pretty exciting. You can buy handcrafted toys, Star Wars stuffed animals, trinkets to commemorate your trip to Black Spire Outpost, and even pick up some First Order, Resistance, or Jedi clothing. There’s also the Droid Depot where, for $US100 ($145), you can custom build your very own radio-controlled droid or pick up a slew of other excellent droid-themed merchandise. Plus, all of these places are also filled with Easter eggs. One favourite so far is that the remains of Rogue One’s K-2SO seem to have made their way to the Droid Depot.
After one full trip to Galaxy’s Edge, I left with much more to explore. As previously mentioned, I didn’t even open the Star Wars Data Pad on the Play Disney App, which acts as a whole additional series of games and side quests guests can do while in the park. I still haven’t tried the majority of the food from Docking Bay 7 or drinks from Oga’s. Then, again, there’s the knowledge that this is a land missing its biggest piece: Rise of the Resistance. It’s hard to say, or even imagine, just how much that second ride will change the flow and feel of the park.
Ultimately though, while the Falcon ride is different than expected and you wish it felt more complete, Galaxy’s Edge is unbelievable. It’s Star Wars, for real, engaging all of your five senses for the first time ever. You get to stand under an actual Millennium Falcon. You get to build your very own lightsaber. You get to have a drink at a cantina. It’s truly a wonder.
Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is now open at Disneyland in Anaheim, though if you don’t have a reservation, you can’t go until June 24. It opens August 29 at Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. Rise of the Resistance is coming later this year. Admission is included with the price of a theme park ticket which currently fluctuates between $US104 ($150)-$US149 ($215) for a one-day pass, depending on what date you go.