Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Photos: Christian Thompson/Richard Harbaugh/Joshua Sudock (Disney Parks)

In true Star Wars fashion, the greatest thrills of Galaxy’s Edge are the humblest in appearance

Photos: Christian Thompson/Richard Harbaugh/Joshua Sudock (Disney Parks)
Graphic: Jimmy Hasse

It’s not quite 9 a.m., but the line for Oga’s Cantina is already snaking down one of the main thoroughfares of Black Spire Outpost. Earlier, in Southern California, it was a surprisingly overcast August morning; but here on the planet Batuu, the sun (one of them, at least) is breaking through the clouds. This meteorological shift adds another layer to the transportive illusion of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, the latest volley in an escalating arms race to translate pop culture’s most beloved fantasy worlds into our world’s most immersive theme-park experiences. From the patina coating the familiar-yet-unfamiliar surroundings to the hidden speakers transmitting the roar of spacecraft overhead, the sights, sounds, and soul of a galaxy far, far away are coming to life all around us.

And then there’s the broom.

The broom sits at the top of a staircase a few yards away from Oga’s, a part of the scenery that’s off-limits to guests. That would be enough to create an air of mystique around what is, for all intents and purposes, a prop. But the broom can do mystique all on its own.

Its placement must be intentional. This is Disneyland, after all, where no amount of grime on the blue milk tanks can disguise the well-oiled machinery below the surface—no Wookiee’s hair out of place, nothing left to chance. Is it meant to invoke Broom Boy, the new hope who makes himself known at the end of The Last Jedi? If we watched it long enough, might the broom begin sweeping up, as if manipulated by The Force? And, if so, would that be too similar to the “spells” that make witches and wizards out of the muggles at the rival park across town? This is the power of Galaxy’s Edge: the suggestion that a broom is not just a broom—that it could be, and maybe is, so much more than that.

There’s a motif running through the Star Wars franchise of greatness hiding behind a modest façade. It’s Yoda in the original trilogy: two feet tall, 900 years old, and also the last and most powerful in a line of noble warrior monks. It’s an entire galaxy being brought to its knees and/or pulled from the brink by desert-rat nobodies. It’s the second of those unlikely masters of the Force getting one look at the visual centerpiece of Galaxy’s Edge and declaring “What a piece of junk!

Galaxy’s Edge continues this tradition, with the epic theme-park attraction’s biggest thrills deriving from some of its humblest features. Everyday activities like going to the neighborhood bar or standing in line are elevated by Star Wars accoutrements like blast points and Aurebesh glyphs. Sure, we’ve all been shopping, but have you ever been shopping, looked up from the shelves of merchandise, and seen Chewbacca stroll by?

As of this writing, there’s only one ride open at the Disneyland Galaxy’s Edge; the same will be true when Walt Disney World gets its Galaxy’s Edge on Thursday, August 29. Yet for all the fantasies Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run realizes by handing riders the keys to the Corellian freighter’s cockpit, there’s just as much excitement in the photo op afforded by a replica of the Falcon’s dejarik board. Tools lie scattered everywhere, a workplace paused in action. There’s a tremendous amount of detail. Rich environments are par for the course at Disney parks, but even by those standards, the Smugglers Run queue is next-level, rivaled only by that of Universal Studios’ Harry Potter And The Forbidden Journey, which asks you to wander through the offices, classrooms, and corridors of Hogwarts School Of Witchcraft And Wizardry. You could be forgiven for wanting to linger—and with the speed of the line, you’ll probably be required to do just that.

In true <i>Star Wars </i>fashion, the greatest thrills of Galaxy’s Edge are the humblest in appearance
Photo: Joshua Sudock (Disney Parks)

All told, your Smugglers Run “mission” is over in less than five minutes, during which part of every six-person crew has split their attention between the action playing out in front of them and the (impressively screen-accurate) lights and displays in their periphery. (It’s the one major aspect of the Galaxy’s Edge experience where the attention to detail tips over into distraction.) But those minutes aren’t the whole of Smugglers Run—they’re the climax to a story that’s told through the scenery of Ohnaka Transport Solutions HQ, given context by onscreen and Audio-Animatronic versions of profit-grubbing Clone Wars rogue Hondo Ohnaka, and heightened by stepping foot into the hold of the goddamn Millennium Falcon. The understanding that your time spent waiting is going to far outweigh your time spent riding is baked. But there’s enough going on around you at any given time that you’ll never really notice.

Screenshot: Play Disney Parks

Simply put, being at Galaxy’s Edge is the best part of Galaxy’s Edge. Sitting around, inside the cantina or on the street somewhere, trumps Smuggler’s Run or the Droid Depot, easily. But Disney has made it possible for even the sitting around to be more active, for better or worse, through use of the Play Disney Parks app. Like many such games, it offers a bounty of mindless tasks, some of them environmental—count the red panels on the back of the Falcon, snap all the QR codes you can—and others maddeningly uninventive, such as “puzzles” that aren’t really puzzles at all. Through the tasks you select, you earn credits (the currency of the Star Wars galaxy and a word used uniformly and with needless frequency by every person who works at Galaxy’s Edge) as well as points toward your affiliation with the various factions of the Star Wars sequel trilogy: the good-guy Resistance, the Empire wannabes of the First Order—or declare yourself a free agent and take the Scoundrel track. It’s reasonably amusing, but the two real joys of the app underline the park’s strength: the environment, and existing within it.

The app (your “datapad”) gives you four tools: Hack, Scan, Translate, and Tune. Of the four, the translation tool is by far the best and most useful. Crates, signs, even drink coasters throughout Galaxy’s Edge are covered in alien languages. Squint hard enough to make out the faded characters on a plastic barrel perched on the top shelf at the cantina—properly transcribe them on your datapad, and you’re rewarded with the word “BREW.” The podracer engine that cooks the “meat” at Ronto Roasters dangles behind a fence that bears the sign “CAUTION,” while an 8D droid—the sinister-looking model that Jabba The Hutt employs to torture a GNK in Return Of The Jedi—slowly turns the spit. They’re details you have to work for, and that makes them strange, sweet surprises. But the other surprises are somehow better. Play the game and stand outside Oga’s Cantina, and you may be prompted to hack a transmission, something that could be valuable or dangerous. Another mindless task? Resistance points? Credits that mean nothing?

No, it’s an inappropriate mass message. Spam. The droid R-3X would really like his friends to come to his next DJ set, starting now at Oga’s. Who cares about tasks when you can have texture?

It’s appropriate, then, that the peak of the Galaxy’s Edge experience is based in an earthbound activity that can be both event and time killer. Oga’s Cantina is the land’s must-see attraction, whether you’re old enough to indulge in Disneyland’s only (publicly accessible) alcoholic beverages or not. If you’re just on the hunt for Easter eggs, Oga’s is a treasure trove: Check out the mouse droid on the host stand! The stills are replicas of the type that wound up being used for the head of the bounty hunter IG-88! There’s the top of a gaffi stick, repurposed as a tap handle—right next to one that looks like those dainty little control rods from the Millennium Falcon’s control console! That aforementioned DJ droid, R-3X? He used to be RX-24, the pilot of Disneyland’s original Star Wars ride, Star Tours—and he’s still voiced by Paul Reubens, and still saying “I’ve always wanted to do this!”

But that’s all surface-level stuff. There’s also the atmosphere, which Oga’s cultivates in a manner invoking, but not replicating, the Mos Eisley cantina from the original Star Wars. They share the same dingy, hazy quality of light, which is a marvel considering a) that movie cameras and the human eye process light differently, and b) the absence of any murderous Anzati puffing on outer-space hookahs. It’s noisy from a visual standpoint as well as an auditory one, but it’s a lively noisiness—much of which has to do with the cast members tending bar, who eschew “We don’t serve their kind here” surliness for a multitasking hyper-hospitality that involves pouring drinks, indulging their dorkiest guest’s “May the force be with you” salutations, and gamely performing their way through bits like the “power outage” that struck during our second reservation. (And it ought to continue being this way, since it’s not like the greater Los Angeles area is hurting for actors with mixology certifications.)

In true <i>Star Wars </i>fashion, the greatest thrills of Galaxy’s Edge are the humblest in appearance
Photo: Richard Harbaugh (Disney Parks)

The secret of Oga’s success is that Disney built a rock-solid bar before painting it with the “Art Of The Show” brush. It’s a bit of a miracle that the company would allow for something so ostensibly unwholesome to exist in the middle of the happiest place on earth, but for all the real booze, faux-gunk, and authentic jizz at Oga’s, order still prevails: 45 minutes per seating, two drinks per patron max. The cast members working the cantina are afforded some moral gray areas. We shared a conspiratorial laugh with the reservation-taker who pointed out the loophole we’d found in the cantina’s time limit: Just make multiple reservations throughout the day. Such rule-bending is 100 percent in-character.

As the theme for Cheers famously put it, a good bar is a place where everybody knows your name. The bartenders at Oga’s absolutely did not know our names; after our 45 minutes, we ceased to exist. Such is the way of things. Yet they somehow made us believe that, should we land once again in that port, they’d remember us, and maybe pour one on the house. Of all the illusions on offer at Galaxy’s Edge, that’s the one most impossible to fathom. In other words: You know a good bar when you step into one, and Oga’s is a good bar.

And now, beverages consumed at Oga’s Cantina during two reservations with one little fudging of the two-drink maximum, ranked

1. Fuzzy Tauntaun

Now, this is basically just a Fuzzy Navel, which is (traditionally) orange juice and peach schnapps. The orange juice is Simply Orange With Tangerine—a product of The Coca-Cola Company, naturally. (More on that below.) Oga’s also throws in Cîroc’s peach-flavored vodka and pure cane sugar, because apparently that’s not sweet enough? But forget all that: The real story here is the “buzz button foam” ladled onto the top of the cocktail, which numbs the lips and tongue and is the one thing in the whole damn park that truly makes you feel as if you’re in another galaxy. (As a preventative against panicking guests, our bartender warned “Tingle alert!” with every Tauntaun she served.) A must-try.

2. The Outer Rim

This was our magical past-the-maximum drink, ordered when our second bartender spotted us staring with longing at the order placed by our neighbors at the bar. (This, too, came with a conspiratorial wink on the side.) Patrón, an açai liqueur, lime juice, and more sugar, naturally. The addition of black salt and a healthy glob of fruit purée floating on top is what makes it feel otherworldly.

3. Gold Squadron Lager

A golden lager with elements of lavender and plum, made for the park by Blue Point Brewing Company. From here on down, they were just good drinks, but not particularly space-worthy.

4. Dagobah Slug Slinger

A cocktail that comes out in a vivid green hue, made with a reposado tequila, blue curaçao, “citrus juices,” ginger, herbs, and bitters. A refreshing, slightly savory cocktail.

5. Bad Motivator IPA

A decent IPA made by Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., using Galaxy and Comet hops. (Get it?) Fun fact: This beer has a page on Wookieepedia that by virtue of its tense essentially makes Sierra Nevada a part of the Star Wars canon.

6. Yub Nub

A rum-based cocktail we ordered mostly because we’d just come from the Enchanted Tiki Room and it seemed appropriate. Uses both Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum and Malibu Pineapple Rum, more of those mysterious “citrus juices,” and passionfruit. Fine but very sweet.

7. Espresso

Just espresso.

We also tried the blue milk, the green milk, and two Arnold Palmer-esque creations we got at lunch. All were fine, but (there’s a theme here) very sweet. The milk is dairy-free.

The closest comparison that exists to the kind of environmental pleasure Galaxy’s Edge offers is, of course, The Wizarding World Of Harry Potter. That’s not a coincidence: J.K. Rowling at one point signed a letter of intent with Disney, which had plans to build a Hogsmeade of its own (reportedly based off of the books, but not the films); that reportedly stalled because Disney was unwilling to cede the amount of creative control sought by Rowling and Warner Bros. Universal stepped in, and the result is three attractions—which, like Galaxy’s Edge, are more like parks-within-parks—at Universal Studios in Florida, California, and Osaka, Japan. Disney’s Pandora, a similarly immersive Avatar-themed experience found in Orlando’s Animal Kingdom, can easily be seen as a response to the Potter parks, and the same is true of Galaxy’s Edge. (And Cars Land. And Pixar Pier. And the newly announced Avengers Campus.) “We’ll see your butterbeer,” you can imagine Disney’s Imagineers saying, “and raise you some blue milk.”

There’s a link, to say the least, and as such, the comparisons are both inevitable and illuminating. Paul Daurio, a former Imagineer who led the team responsible for designing The Wizarding World, told Bloomberg that Rowling insisted that the parks should serve dishes like shepherd’s pie and fish and chips, rather than hamburgers and fries; she also put her foot down about Coca-Cola products, which you won’t find inside Hogsmeade or Diagon Alley. (You can, however, buy pumpkin juice, several beers exclusive to Universal, and Gillywater, which we regret to inform you is just water.) You can get strawberry peanut-butter ice cream, a favorite of Harry’s in the books, cauldron cakes, and Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans, but not Sprite.

You can buy a Coke at Galaxy’s Edge. It comes in small spherical bottles, designed exclusively for the park. You can translate the logotype with your datapad, but there’s no need. The Dasani logo is always the Dasani logo, even in Aurebesh.

Once you’ve been to both places, it’s easy to see where Galaxy’s Edge improves on The Wizarding World, and where it stumbles. Wander Hogsmeade and you hear highlights from the Potter soundtracks on an endless loop; on leaving, you could be forgiven for hoping you’d never hear “Hedwig’s Theme” again for the rest of your bloody life. The sound of Galaxy’s Edge is, in contrast, rich and textured. You hear ships departing and arriving, engines powering down and back up again, and the beeps and blips of droids. Walk past Oga’s Cantina when the door swings open, and the muffled sounds of a DJ set suddenly become insistent and clear, just as it would at any other bar on any other planet. One looks right, the other feels right. Point: Galaxy’s Edge.

The shops of Hogsmeade all look different, but once you’re inside it becomes clear that what you thought was a quill shop, an owl emporium, and a clothing store are really just one big gift shop with different themed doors, and the sweets shop and the joke shop are one and the same. The market at the Disney park doesn’t have that problem. It, once again, feels right; like a place, not a store. But there are few, if any, items on offer at Galaxy’s Edge that pack the punch of spotting a Weasley sweater. You can bring home a commemorative Porg mug, and you can spend $100 “building” a “droid” from mismatched plastic pieces that traipse past you on a conveyor belt, but there’s precious little that maintains the illusion in the way that a prefect’s badge or a Hogwarts alumni shirt might. Point: Wizarding World.

The contrast that’s most revealing, however, is in the must-have accessory of both lands: the lightsaber, and the wand.

In true <i>Star Wars </i>fashion, the greatest thrills of Galaxy’s Edge are the humblest in appearance
Photo: Joshua Sudock (Disney Parks)

The best “ride” at The Wizarding World isn’t a ride at all, but a short play that’s also sort of a commercial. Waiting in line for Ollivanders wand shop isn’t an experience in the way that wandering through Hogwarts to get to Harry Potter And The Forbidden Journey is, but once you’ve made your way to the front of the queue, Ollivanders is the experience that really strikes a chord. You stand in the sun, then enter a small, quiet lobby, before walking into an even smaller, even quieter room. A “wandkeeper” tells you all about how the wand chooses the wizard before picking a person (usually a child) out of the audience and asking them to try different wands. Flowers wilt, boxes fly, lights go mad. It’s wonderful. Then the wand chooses the wizard (or witch), and it’s over.

You then exit through the gift shop, which itself is quite a sight, and many leave with a wand of their own (they’ll set you back around $50). There are interactive versions of the wands, which allow the wielder to make different things happen in shop windows throughout the park. Go through the line again, and you see a different show—new kid, new tests, new results. It is, forgive the word, magical, and if you leave empty-handed, the magic is undiminished.

We’d like to tell you about the experience of building a lightsaber, but you can’t get in the door without coughing up $200.

There are videos of this experience out there. It looks cool. Not quite as evocative a show, perhaps, but cool all the same. The actual device is, without question, much cooler-looking than the Potter wands, but there’s something tawdry about both the cost and the fact that without shelling out, you can’t even watch the process happen. Most damning, it doesn’t feel remotely like something that would happen in a Jedi temple. Come, build our most sacred weapon, a key part of your training to become a Jedi (or a Sith lord); we take cash or card. (Er, make that “credits.”) That’s Scientology, not Star Wars. Like the sight of Coke bottles that look like thermal detonators, it’s a reminder that this is a money-making enterprise first and all else second. The Wizarding World is, too—but J.K. Rowling seems to be better about hiding all that.

Disneyland currently contains its own cautionary tale on how not to bring Star Wars into an extant theme park. Before the franchise occupied its own spot on the map, it gradually colonized Tomorrowland, beginning with Star Tours in 1987. Various Season Of The Force celebrations led to Rebel and Imperial paraphernalia accumulating across Walt Disney’s space-age vision of a great big beautiful tomorrow; even after the opening of Galaxy’s Edge, guests could head to Tomorrowland to fly alongside X-Wings on a limited-time revamp of Space Mountain, watch highlights from the films in Path Of The Jedi, and “celebrate everything Star Wars” in the pavilion that once housed the Carousel Of Progress. It all sits uneasily within an area of the park that has received multiple facelifts in order to outrun the futures it did and didn’t predict.

With the Season Of The Force makeovers bumping up against rides and a restaurant inspired by Toy Story and Finding Nemo, today’s Tomorrowland feels like it’s been used as a proving ground for Star Wars and Pixar’s expanded presences at Disneyland. It’s haphazard where Galaxy’s Edge is so elegant—but then again, what’s a more perfect Star Wars image than the artifacts of multiple regimes with conflicting visions piled on top of one another? The design of Galaxy’s Edge sure gets that; all the tubes and wires and droid parts dotting the landscape really capture the interstellar scrapyard aesthetic of the original trilogy. (It’s not for nothing that one of the earliest and best Star Wars parodies looks like it was built from the contents of the director’s toolbox.) The guests have only been coming to Batuu for a few months, but there’s a whole repertoire of Jedi mind tricks to convince you that the place has been there for eons—even one as simple as the cast members posted outside what will soon be ride No. 2, Rise Of The Resistance, turning guests away from the “ancient ruins” and suggesting they return in January.

Unlike other areas of the park, there is no explicit demarcation that you’re entering Galaxy’s Edge. No overhead signage like Frontierland or Adventureland, no unmistakable landmark like Sleeping Beauty Castle. Instead, you know you’ve reached Batuu because the rocks change. In the land’s two entrances off of Frontierland, the scenery makes a sudden and noticeable transition, the wind-and-sand-smoothed rocks of Big Thunder Mountain’s gold-rush desert becoming rougher and more alien. We passed by these formations and the industrial-looking light sconces affixed to them, and then the tunnel opened up, and we were there, in a fictional universe that, for decades, largely existed either on screen or in our heads.

In true <i>Star Wars </i>fashion, the greatest thrills of Galaxy’s Edge are the humblest in appearance
Photo: Joshua Sudock (Disney Parks)

You take enough tours of Frank Lloyd Wright properties and you learn a lot about the “path of discovery,” the concept that Wright and his associates utilized to add wonder and delight to the act of moving from exterior to interior and room to room. Galaxy’s Edge is made up of such paths, where a tunnel opens up onto eyelines of craggy rock formations and pepper-pot architecture, or how the bend near Oga’s Cantina keeps the Millennium Falcon out of sight just long enough to make it feel like the ship has leapt out to surprise you. This sense probably diminishes with every visit to Galaxy’s Edge, but it’s a real trip the first time around.

That trip is amplified after dark. Go to Fantasyland once the sun has set, and it changes some. Night does that anywhere, especially if the place in question has lots of tiny pretty lights strewn about. But there are things in Galaxy’s Edge you won’t notice before the moon rises. Work lights in a garage subtly highlight a door through which a mechanic—human or droid—might have passed mere moments ago, tools abandoned briefly, scattered on a cart. Beneath the Millennium Falcon, more lights glow, utilitarian, surely indicating an approaching takeoff. Shadows lend new dimensions to the buildings. They look stranger, like relics of a society other, and older, than this. The lightsabers glow, earning their keep. The broom is still there, but it’s unlit, even easier to ignore. It waits in the dark for the morning, for a new flock of travelers, and the stories they’ll begin to tell themselves.