Rise Of The Resistance Is As Much A Star Wars Story As It Is A Theme Park Ride

An actual image from inside Rise of the Resistance. (All Images: Disney Parks)

There’s no doubt that stepping into Disney’s Galaxy’s Edge feels like you’re stepping into the Star Wars universe. But up until now, that’s been a mostly passive experience. Starting today, it’s anything but.

Today, Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance opens at Disneyland in California, joining Walt Disney World in Florida in now both having complete versions of the popular themed lands (aka Batuu). They both previously launched the areas with that one ride missing and it’s the second of the parks’ two planned rides. In my experience, this new addition is far, far more immersive and impressive than Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run. That’s because, more so than maybe any ride ever, Rise of the Resistance is a culmination of all the things theme park rides can do.

io9 was among the outlets invited to Disney’s media preview for Rise of the Resistance, which included free admission to the park and multiple chances to ride. We discovered that it has a fascinating story, live actors performing, advanced animatronics, and multiple ride vehicles, all rolled up into a single 15-minute full-on Star Wars tale. “This is a multi-act journey,” said Disney Imagineering managing story editor Margaret Kerrison. “It’s not just an attraction as much as an adventure.”

We’re gonna get into details about the ride so if you don’t want to be spoiled for the experience you might have at some point, probably best to leave now. I promise not to go too deep into specifics.

One of the many great things about Rise of the Resistance is that the “ride” starts long before the actual ride. Even in the queue, which is very long and takes about four minutes to walk in full even without people waiting, you’ll see remnants of past civilizations and the beginnings of new occupancy. In the first room, a hologram of Rey (played by Daisy Ridley) welcomes all the new recruits (the park guests) to the Resistance and says that Batuu is no longer safe. The First Order is coming and we need to escape to a new base so we must head outside and get on a transport ship. And indeed, you actually go outside and get on a transport ship.

“Epic storytelling and massive sets are really the core of what Rise of the Resistance is,” said Imagineering executive creative director John Larena. “We want to immerse you in a truly epic Star Wars story.”

While outside you’re actually in the back of the park, in an area of Galaxy’s Edge hidden by foliage so you can only see it from the ride area. It has the transport ship as well as Poe Dameron’s black and orange X-Wing. Physically going outside and seeing the ships, the whole scope of this experience begins to take shape.

The view from above the hidden, outdoor area of Rise of the Resistance.

Once on the Intersystem Transport Ship (I-TS for short, and really, just a special room), a Nien Nunb, will fly you and your fellow recruits off Batuu. The characters are physically on the ship in the form of animatronics, plus, you’re accompanied on the outside by Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac on a video screen) and two other X-Wing pilots.

As this is happening, the “ship” starts shaking and moving like you’re actually lifting off and the monitors show your exact location on Batuu”you can watch it disappear as you fly into space. If you stand in front, you can watch the direction the ship is going. If you stand in back, you see the X-Wings escorting you off the planet. All the visuals are perfectly synced across the area so no matter where you stand, there’s something cool and unique to see. The attention to detail is awesome.

Star Destroyers then drop out of hyperspace and capture your ship in a tractor beam. Poe says he’ll come back to help you but for now, you’re on your own. And so the ship gets sucked in and the door you entered (on “Batuu”) now opens onto a First Order Star Destroyer. A real-life human First Order officer comes onboard and yells at you to leave. As you do, you’re completely enclosed in the hanger of a Star Destroyer, just like in the films. There’s a huge TIE Fighter on the wall, legions of Stormtroopers waiting in rank, it’s all incredibly engrossing.

As you walk down the hallway, Disney cast members”all in full character and costume as First Order officers”separate you into groups. Each group of up to 16 people is then filed into a detention centre. Once inside your cell, General Hux and Kylo Ren (played by Domhnall Gleeson and Adam Driver) join you, via projection effect. They’re delighted to have so many new Resistance prisoners and will be back to interrogate us about the location of the new Resistance base. As they leave, you hear some whispers followed by the sizzle of the wall being cut. It’s the Resistance! They’ve arrived to rescue you…and the actual ride still hasn’t even started!

Those rescuing Resistance soldiers are, of course, more cast members who strap you into an eight-person trackless cart, led by an R5 astromech droid, who’ll help guide you out of the Star Destroyer. Then, and only then, after around 10 minutes of a preamble from recruitment to ride, the best part finally begins.

Once the ride portion starts, you’ll encounter multiple systems all weaved together; the trackless car, reminiscent of the Ratatouille ride at Disneyland Paris (or Spider-Man or Transformers in Universal theme parks), drives you through fully-enclosed, immersive, Star Destroyer sets where cars are shot at all while trying to escape. The experience is excellent but story is absolutely emphasised over physical motion.

Make no mistake, Rise of the Resistance is not a roller coaster nor is it particularly taxing. Even when you are being driven around in this nimble trackless vehicle, with Stormtroopers shooting lasers at your head while zipping under the feet of life-size AT-ATs, Rise of the Resistance isn’t a thrill ride, it’s a story. The ship moves and shakes and isn’t always smooth but, compared to other rides, it’s relatively tame. The speed is never too fast nor are the sudden changes in direction, or anything else that happens, too jarring. Everything is much more focused on giving you time to look at your surroundings and completely follow what’s going on.

Along the way, you’ll encounter Finn (played by John Boyega), both on video and as an animatronic, Kylo Ren and Hux again (also animatronics), and maybe a few other surprises. Plus, there are two different paths you can take, each one offering up a slightly different perspective on the escape, though you have no control over that and it’s dictated by your seating arrangement. The whole ride portion takes about four minutes and, eventually, you do escape and fall back to Batuu, in arguably the most thrilling part of the ride. And yet, it’s not so much your adrenaline that’ll be racing as you pull up to the exit”it’s your mind.

For about 15 minutes, you got recruited into the Resistance by Rey, escorted off-planet by Poe, captured by Kylo Ren, and rescued from a Star Destroyer by Finn. Plus, the ride is designed to take place in the canonical history of Star Wars so what occurs has consequences in later stories. Rise of the Resistance literally puts you inside a real Star Wars story, and that’s an excellent feeling.

We’ll have more on that and Rise of the Resistance next week, including some awesome Easter eggs to look for as well as some tips for riding. For now, it’s open at both Walt Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Orlando, FL, and Disneyland in Anaheim, CA. Help yourself out by arriving early to secure a virtual boarding group number.