Disney’s Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge theme parks, defined

Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is the biggest Disney theme park upgrade in years. The twin facilities will open up later this year at both Disneyland Park in Anaheim, California, and at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida. But since their unveiling in the summer of 2015, detailed information has been in short supply.

After a major unveiling of the park this week, here’s what we know about Galaxy’s Edge, including the latest on rides, dining, and an unusual Star Wars-themed hotel. At the end, we also have need-to-know info from a Disney-certified travel agent on planning your own visit to a galaxy far, far away.

The first of two the Galaxy’s Edge parks will open in California this summer, according to the official Disney Parks blog, and thanks to a comment from Disney CEO Bob Iger in January, we know that could be as soon as June. Some of the most well-informed theme park fans have gone a step further, narrowing in on a potential opening weekend of June 22-23, but Disney hasn’t confirmed that.

As far as Disney World’s Galaxy’s Edge, all we know right now is that it’s slated to open this fall.

Coming in at 14 acres each, both versions of Galaxy’s Edge represent the largest ever single-theme addition to the Disney parks. Toy Story Land, which opened in Florida in 2018, was significantly smaller at just 11 acres. That massive footprint has presented some interesting logistical challenges.

In California, access roads and highways hem in Disneyland on all sides. So Disney built Galaxy’s Edge into a thin strip of real estate on the northwest corner of the park, pressed up against Disneyland Drive on one side and the famous Tom Sawyer Island on the other. To reduce sight lines, engineers dug down to place the main level somewhat below that of the rest of the park.

In Florida, where Disney has several ZIP codes’ worth of swampland at its disposal, finding room for Galaxy’s Edge was much less of an issue. The new area is bolted onto the massive, 135-acre Hollywood Studios theme park, formerly known as Disney-MGM Studios, down in the southwest corner of the park. It occupies some of the space that was previously dedicated to the Studio Backlot Tour, which shut down in 2014.

The biggest draw for die-hard Star Wars fans will be a brand-new ride called Millenium Falcon: Smugglers Run. The first proper trailer for the ride shows a simulated cockpit with room for six, including four captain’s chairs and two of the larger, high-backed chairs with aggressively curved headrests seen in the movies. The action appears outside the cockpit canopy. Expect some kind of elaborate projection onto a conical area just in front of the cockpit, similar to what they use to shoot the modern films.

The experience is extremely interactive. Participants each get a role, including pilot, gunner, and flight engineer. As the ride progresses, the individual controls all around the cockpit dashboards light up. Early reports compare it to the mobile hit Spaceteam, a kind of electronic party game that thrives on good communication.

Oddly enough, one of the most exciting parts of Smugglers Run might be the wait line. First, fans will have a close encounter with an animatronic pirate named Hondo Ohnaka, made popular by the Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels. Inside the costume will be one of the most sophisticated robots that Disney Imagineers have ever assembled.

Then, just before guests get access to the cockpit, they’ll have time to lounge around in the crew cabin of the Millennium Falcon itself, complete with its iconic holographic gaming table.

The second new attraction at Galaxy’s Edge is actually the centerpiece of the entire theme park. Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance puts guests between the Resistance and the First Order in an experience that Disney calls “one of the most epic attraction experiences we have ever built.”

We originally thought that Rise of the Resistance would feel more like a long tram ride, something akin to It’s a Small World. New details show that it’s a lot more than that.

IT-S SHUTTLE & X-WING INSTALLED at #SWGECA – Take a look at this awesome image of the transport shuttle that will take you to the Star Destroyer in the “Rise of the Resistance” ride! #SWGalaxysEdge – credit: ABC7 in Anaheim pic.twitter.com/IMeseqwSlK

The ride enlists attendees as Resistance recruits. The journey begins when they board a transport shuttle, similar to the one seen carrying General Leia Organa into the Battle on Takodana in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. As the ride progresses, the First Order captures guests and brings them aboard a Star Destroyer. At that point, they’re treated to a space battle raging outside a large hangar bay, complete with at least one life-sized TIE fighter in the foreground.

From there, the ride itself is still a bit of a mystery. Travel + Leisure describes it as four rides in one, with guests transitioning from Resistance control and into the custody of the First Order. That will mean boarding multiple vehicles, encountering various enemies, and walking through “the halls of a Star Destroyer as if they were truly a Resistance fighter taken captive.” At one point a small tram will carry guests between two hulking AT-AT walkers in the style of the vehicles featured in the Battle of Hoth. The Los Angeles Times says that the experience will include special effects “such as laser fire that results in some authentic-looking explosions.”

Taken as a whole, Rise of the Resistance sounds like an attempt to take the very best live-action experiences that Disney has to offer — the iconic Jungle Cruise, the legendary Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular, and more traditional rides — and mash them up together into something unique.

According to Disney’s marketing, the hallmark of Galaxy’s Edge will be interactivity. Expect the park to be littered with Disney staff in costume, including First Order stormtroopers on patrol and members of the Resistance holed up in a secluded wood nearby. How exactly that immersion will feel alongside the lines for character meet-and-greets with Chewbacca, C-3PO, and the rest of the costumed cast is anyone’s guess.

So excited to finally be sharing with the world the cast costumes I designed for Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge, the new lands opening at Disneyland and Walt Disney World! Cast costumes are worn by employees working in our stores, restaurants, attractions, and a variety of other roles. pic.twitter.com/nYZh6H1WPh

There will be plenty of opportunities for shopping, of course. Aerial photos show multiple new facilities being built at both parks. You can expect to find lots of items for sale at Galaxy’s Edge that simply can’t be found anywhere else.

One of the more special shops is the Droid Depot, where guests build their own custom BB or R2 units from parts traveling by on a conveyor belt. Once assembled, the droid will be able to interact with electronic hotspots around the park.

Another store, Savi’s Workshop, has guests designing and building their own lightsabers under the tutelage of a Resistance sympathizer and Jedi historian. These aren’t the bulky plastic affairs that were previously sold in parks, but a completely new design that looks surprisingly compact and authentic.

Other new shops include Dok-Ondar’s Den of Antiquities, which is presided over by a long-necked animatronic Ithorian. The Toydarian Toymaker sells plushies and musical instruments, while the Creature Stall offers everything from cuddly porgs to miniature rathtars. There are also several stores selling high-end Star Wars outfits for the whole family, themed for both members of the Resistance and followers of the First Order.

Finally, Disney will offer a custom version of its free in-park mobile app, with functions like “hack,” “scan,” “translate,” and “tune,” that will allow guests to connect with droids and other features all around the park. While it will serve as a vehicle for delivering backstory, it will also factor into a light alternate-reality game played throughout the park. According to Entertainment Weekly, guests will be able to tinker with certain locations through the app, flipping them between the control of the Resistance and the First Order over a period of time before a winner is declared and the game starts over again.

Eater: Eat Like Boba Fett at Disney’s Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge

Any trip to a Disney theme park, whatever the duration of your stay, requires taking on plenty of provisions. Dining options at Galaxy’s Edge have been kept under wraps until very recently. You can read more about the individual menu items on offer, including the details of a frosty riff on Luke Skywalker’s blue milk from A New Hope and The Last Jedi, over at our sister site Eater.

Here’s what we know about the Star Wars-themed facilities themselves.

Near the heart of Galaxy’s Edge is a quick-service restaurant called Docking Bay 7 Food and Cargo. Expect it to be somewhere on the spectrum of traditional fast-casual, sit-down restaurant and cafeteria. Reservations will likely be available, if not required.

In the fiction of Galaxy’s Edge, Docking Bay 7 is a hotspot for multiple food vendors. But the big man on campus is Strono Tuggs, aka Cookie. He’s best known as the chef at Maz Kanata’s castle before it was leveled during The Force Awakens. His Sienar-Chall Utilipede-Transport ship — essentially an intergalactic food truck with a giant triangular rudder — is parked on the roof and easily visible throughout the park. He’ll be serving thematic meals with ingredients from all over the Star Wars galaxy.

Bottom line, though, is that if you’re in need of a rest after the long trek from your hotel or a close call with the First Order, a meal at Docking Bay 7 should factor into your travel plans. It’s the only sit-down restaurant that we know of in the entire park.

An open-air stall near the Galaxy’s Edge marketplace is called Ronto Roasters. The proprietor, Bakkar, is a big sports fan, so all of its spit-roasted meats are cooked below a massive podracing engine. Concept art makes it look like it just fell off young Anakin’s ride in The Phantom Menace.

While you can easily find an adult beverage at Hollywood Studios in Florida, Disneyland in California remains a dry facility. That makes Oga’s Cantina, which will serve alcoholic beverages at both resorts, a bit of an oddity. Fans can sidle in for a thematic tipple just about any time of the day, but drinks must be consumed within the friendly confines of Galaxy’s Edge.

The decor is reportedly inspired by the Mos Eisley cantina in A New Hope, complete with a long bar with various bubbling tubs as a backdrop. There is limited seating at the edge of the space, with most customers served while inside the walk-in facility.

As revealed in July 2017, Galaxy’s Edge in Orlando will also feature a fully immersive Star Wars-themed hotel. While not actually inside the park, it’s still incredibly close, located just across the highway on the south side of Hollywood Studios.

Disney says that the facility will be the first of its kind, offering fans Westworld-esque levels of immersion. Upon arrival, guests can take a side in the battle between the First Order and the Resistance, then dress up and live out their spacefaring fantasies. Fans from Coaster Kings have even uncovered blueprints of the hotel’s first floor, which features areas labeled as “Brig,” “Engineering,” and “Dojo.” Those locations are expected to tie into the elaborate role-playing hosted inside.

Unlike other more recent, more massive additions to the Disney hotel inventory in Orlando, the Galaxy’s Edge facility is expected to be much smaller at only two stories tall. The same set of blueprints shows only 32 standard “cabins” and two larger first-class rooms on the first floor. That means the hotel could have fewer than 70 rooms.

Galaxy’s Edge in Anaheim is expected to be the single most popular destination in all of the Disney parks when it opens this summer. When its twin goes live in Orlando later this year, the situation isn’t expected to improve. Geography works to keep both parks’ clientele fairly exclusive of one another. Both will be packed for a long time to come.

“We can make our best guesses about what the demand is going to be,” Disney’s Scott Trowbridge told The Hollywood Reporter, “but they’re just guesses until we get there. […] We have a lot of different contingencies that are being evaluated and planned.”

Rumors are flying right now as to what those contingencies could mean for access to the parks, and to its two new rides and dining options. Judging by the communications surrounding Toy Story Land, which opened in Orlando last summer, we expect to learn more roughly 100 days out from opening day.

If Bob Iger is to be believed, that means you should mark your calendars for an official update sometime in May.

To get a feeling for what opening day might be like, Polygon reached out to Laura Moll, a senior travel agent at Moments of Magic Travel. Not only is she an independent contractor of an Authorized Disney Vacation planner, she’s also a fan of the parks herself.

“I was there for opening day of Pandora,” Moll told Polygon, referring to the Avatar-themed park that opened at Disney World’s Animal Kingdom in May 2017. “I can tell you that they had lines set up for queues to get into that actual land. If I recall, we waited about three and a half hours, even though we were there at park opening to get in that line.”

Moll stresses that no dates or plans related to the opening of Galaxy’s Edge have been shared yet with her organization. But, in her experience, the key to getting into a new park on opening day — and during the weeks if not months that come after — will be arriving as early as possible.

For folks planning a trip to Disneyland in California, that means you should be thinking about booking a hotel room right now.

“For Disneyland, you want to make sure that you are planning 60 days in advance, typically,” Moll said. “If you have a specific [hotel] in mind, then I would not delay. We want to make sure that we get that taken care of as soon as possible, because I would anticipate, just over the summer in general, that there’s going to be limited availability. One, because it’s typical peak season, and two, because of the rumors of Galaxy’s Edge opening [date].”

The goal when traveling to Anaheim should be to book a hotel as close to Disneyland as possible. Unlike Disney World, which runs on a sophisticated RFID-based system, Disneyland is a slightly more traditional facility, and operates on a first-come, first-served basis with very few exceptions.

For folks planning a vacation to Orlando, catching the opening of Galaxy’s Edge is a bit of a moving target at the moment. With an opening window sometime in the fall, it might make more sense to plan your vacation for the winter to make sure you don’t arrive too early. Whenever you schedule your trip, Moll said, it’s recommended that you try to stay in a Disney hotel — or “on property,” as it’s called — if you can swing it.

Not only do Disney hotels have more convenient transportation options to and from the parks, but those who stay on property get access to something called “Magic Hours.” My family and I have stayed on property several times, and Magic Hours were the highlight of each of our trips.

During Magic Hours, guests have additional access to the parks either before or after they open. Be advised that Magic Hours are generally announced only a few days ahead of time. They also happen seemingly at random, or at least through some kind of arcane scheduling known only to folks behind the scenes at Disney. Even if you stay on property, there’s no guarantee that you’ll have Magic Hours access to Galaxy’s Edge during your stay.

Speaking from experience, understand that booking a Disney vacation can be extremely intimidating. Miss the dining reservation window, for instance, and you might be stuck eating Mickey Mouse-shaped ice cream bars for dinner in order to make it to your last ride of the day. There are tons of Disney fan sites and communities willing to give first-timers a hand navigating the complexities of the online booking systems. Or you can call Disney up on the phone and book your vacation with a Disney-badged agent. There are also travel agents like Moll, many of whom don’t actually charge a premium for their services.

“There are many benefits to working with a travel agent from an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner agency,” Moll said. “Our services are completely complimentary. We hide our knowledge and experience to secure the best travel options, pricing, and experiences for our guests. Our goal is to keep the entire process very simple.”

Expect more updates to our explainer throughout the summer and beyond.

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