'Star Wars': How to have fun using the Force at Disneyland's Galaxy Edge land

Arthur Levine
Special to USA TODAY

Rounding a corner in Black Spire Outpost, the instantly recognizable spacecraft comes into full view. There, in all of its glory, is the Millennium Falcon.

At over 100 feet wide and about 30 feet tall, Han Solo’s signature spaceship looms large in its maintenance bay on the remote planet of Batuu. It is stunning.

And it’s also a short walk from Big Thunder Mountain in Disneyland.

The Falcon is the one of the main attractions in the rabidly anticipated Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge land opening this summer in California's Disneyland, and this fall in Florida's Disney World. Each of the lands is estimated to cost about $1 billion.

Disney invited a small contingent of journalists to preview the far-away galaxy in February, while it was still under construction. Though attractions, shops and dining locations were closed during the sneak peek, there was enough exciting news about what's to come to fill the curdled heart of Darth Sidious with joy. .

Galaxy’s Edge aspires to new heights

At 14 acres, Galaxy’s Edge represents Disney’s largest single intellectual property expansion. The huge spires of petrified tree stumps sprawl in all directions and, using the tried-and-true theme park trick of forced perspective, make the land seem even bigger. At its center is the ancient black spire that gives the outpost its name. Perhaps signifying the area’s rebirth, a live tree is growing out of the decayed spire.

The outpost’s village is an odd mix of modern whiz-bang technology and old buildings fashioned out of stone. Full-scale X-wing and A-wing starfighters, along with the TIE fighter Echelon, are casually parked alongside bazaar stalls and well-weathered, round-domed structures that have apparently been around since long before space travel was possible.

To help create the land, its designers traveled to cities such as Marrakech, Morocco, for inspiration.

According to Chris Beatty, executive creative director for Walt Disney Imagineering, the Galaxy’s Edge team wanted to build a place that is “mysterious and has danger, but is romantic at the same time.”

“Our team subscribes to the three-second read,” says Wendy Anderson, executive creative director for Walt Disney Imagineering. “If in three seconds, I don’t know it’s ‘Star Wars,’ it doesn't belong.” To help ensure fidelity to the “Star Wars” universe, the Imagineers worked in tandem with staff from Lucasfilm.

When the lands open, beeping and booping droids will wander the paths. Aliens will be milling about. Cast members (what Disney calls its park employees) will be clad in the garb of the First Order and Resistance, and be allowed to mix and match ensemble pieces to create their own distinctive looks.

Shops, which are surprisingly small (as they would be in a marketplace located on an outpost), will include the Droid Depot, where guests can design and assemble working droids that will interact with the land; and Savi’s Workshop, where would-be Jedis can build personalized lightsabers.

Drink in the 'Star Wars' vibe

Disney’s culinary team shared some menu samples at the preview event, and the picks were generally tasty, surprisingly adventurous and delightfully zesty. Felucian Garden Spread was a highlight. Spicy meatballs that contained plant-based Impossible Burger were cooled when paired with a cucumber and tomato salad topped with hummus. Yobshrimp Noodle Salad of the planet Naboo was particularly spicy.

“We have food and drinks that look like one thing, but taste like something completely different,” says Brian Piasecki, culinary director, concept development, at Walt Disney World Resort. 

You might expect the blue sky-colored Jedi Mind Trick, which is served in a cocktail glass, to be sweet. Instead, it contains bitter notes and spices.

Other specialty drinks include a Dagobah Slug Slinger and a T-16 Skyhopper, served at Oga’s Cantina. And yes, some of the beverages at the cantina will include alcohol, which will break a longstanding Disneyland tradition. (Sister park Disney California Adventure has long served liquor.)

Have a blast aboard spaceships

You might need some liquid courage to take the controls of the Millennium Falcon, which guests will learn has been commandeered by Hondo Ohnaka, a character that has appeared in animated “Star Wars” series. A crafty pirate and smuggler masquerading as a businessman, he will be recruiting flight crews to embark on possibly shady missions.

In the queue, visitors will hear a crew working on the ship and trying to get it running. Visitors will pass a starship engine getting its intake valves and thrusters adjusted.

In the command center, guests will meet the impressive animatronic Ohnaka and his droid, R5-P8. They will then make their way along a jet bridge from the spaceport to the Falcon, while catching glimpses of the Dejarik holochess table.

When it’s time to report for duty, a crew of two pilots, two gunners and two flight engineers will make its way down the ship’s iconic tunnel and into its storied cockpit. Unlike a typical motion-simulator attraction, which is pre-programmed and passive, the crew will actively pilot the Falcon, using buttons, levers and switches and a custom-built game engine that will ensure no two rides are the same.

Don't worry, though: Jacqueline King, producer of the Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run attraction for Walt Disney Imagineering, says everyone will survive the flight.

As groundbreaking and anticipated as Smugglers Run may be, the other ride, Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance "is the most ambitious attraction we’ve ever built. It’s almost like being on four attractions at once,” says Bob Chapek, Disney’s chairman of parks, experiences and products.

Guests will enter a passageway cut into the hillside where the Resistance has set up a secret encampment on the outskirts of Black Spire Outpost, and walk through a long set of corridors. Weary guests will appreciate the benches that are built into the rockwork along the rambling queue. They will pass equipment cabinets and see medical supplies as they walk farther into the encampment.

Eventually visitors will reach a ready room where an animatronic BB-8 will greet them and project a holographic transmission from Jedi-in-training Rey. Doors will open to reveal Poe Dameron’s docked X-wing fighter. 

About 50 guests will enter a large spaceship and stand for a flight that, in typical theme park fashion, will go horribly wrong. Visitors will be able to see animatronic pilots in the cockpit, and will have views of the journey via monitors in the front and rear of the ship. Shortly after leaving Batuu, the First Order will ensnare the ship in a tractor beam and transport it to a Star Destroyer.

Guests will enter the enormous Star Destroyer, be greeted by a large contingent of armed stormtroopers and be taken into detention cells. Kylo Ren, who will appear a number of times in the attraction, will address the prisoners.

At some point, the guests will board trackless transport vehicles and witness a skirmish between the First Order and the Resistance. They will travel under full-size AT-AT walkers.

“Grown men are going to cry. People are going to fall to their knees and start kissing the ground,” predicts Margaret Kerrison, managing story editor for Walt Disney Imagineering. “There’s so much anticipation and excitement for this.”

Despite the hoopla that the two Galaxy’s Edge lands will likely create when they open later this year, Disney is already thinking about the future.

“There are all kinds of stories that can still be told. It’s not a land that’s locked in time,” says Beatty. With Lucasfilm releasing new “Star Wars” movies as well as books, TV series and other content, he adds that there is room to build and evolve Galaxy’s Edge for the ongoing saga.