It’s been a week since I soared away from Orlando, leaving behind an impending hurricane and a brand new land in which I wanted to spend more time. Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge delivered in many great ways, but is it worth the trip? It’s not even completed yet, after all. I have heard and read many mixed opinions on the land coming from both coasts. While my opinions may be a bit biased (I work for a travel planner, deliberately getting you excited to plan your next trip.), I do believe this is one of the best things to come to Hollywood Studios in a long time.
Disney MGM Studios grew out of a desire to compete with the real, working studio tour at Universal Studios Hollywood. Michael Eisner, the Disney CEO responsible for the park’s creation, described the new location as “the Hollywood that never was and always will be.” Those early years were great in my experience. Spending several hours on a tour was pretty much the only thing that you could do there, but that tour was unique to many of us. The special effects were not used for real movies, sure. They were super fun to watch and somebody from every tour got to be part of the magic. Seeing real animators at work was amazing. Even driving past a fake New York street set and seeing some of the backstage areas of real TV shows was exciting.
As those “real” uses of the park were downsized and removed, that tour lost a lot of steam. It was cool walking through more of the areas as Disney opened them, but there still wasn’t too much to do. The Acme warehouse from Who Framed Roger Rabbit? was a neat idea for a gift shop. The Honey, I Shrunk the Kids play area was fun. The few rides in the park were great, but once you got through Star Tours, The Great Movie Ride, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, and the Tower of Terror, it was time to head back to the hotel for swimming and lunch.
And there the park stayed. A rebranding came along as the MGM deal expired. Hollywood Studios never really shook its half-day park vibe, even with an increasing number of restaurants to consume time and vacation dollars. I admit that I have rarely seen fireworks at the park and have never stayed around to watch Fantasmic. My family were always long gone by then.
Galaxy’s Edge and Toy Story Land lend a tremendous amount to this park. For the first time (in forever) I actually want to stay all day or at least come back to the park as the sun sets. I mean, it’s a short walk or Friendship boat ride to Epcot from Hollywood. This alone makes the addition of Star Wars content a valuable one, but I think there is a lot more to be said about Batuu, finished or not.
Let’s start with attractions. As I wrote last week, there is so much more to see and do in Galaxy’s Edge than ride one attraction over and over. The shopping experiences there are clever ways to guide you to purchase more than you might have budgeted for. I know I want to spend some time digging through droid parts even though I have zero need for another remote control droid to roll around my house, terrorizing my dogs. The almost frenzied atmosphere of the Droid Depot differs completely from the reverence and ceremony around building a lightsaber from “scrap.” Eating food that was supposedly roasted under a pod racer engine is more fun than grabbing a churro from a warming cart. Sorry, churros, but it’s about the experience, not the cinnamon and sugar.
I would love to spend more time sitting in Docking Bay 7 with a meal and a spork, looking for details around the restaurant. Disney has always done a great job of detailed environments, and Galaxy’s Edge is no exception. I could spend hours just looking around corners on Batuu, hoping to find another helmet or control panel that reminds me of favorite moments from my favorite movies. Let’s assume for now that the cast members will keep up with their enthusiasm and invented back stories, pushing that immersion to the next level.
Maybe the immersion is why I don’t particularly mind that Disney chose to create a completely new environment for their Star Wars land. Many complain that they wanted to roam Mos Eisley on Tatooine, visiting the first cantina we ever saw in the Star Wars universe. Imagine an exciting flight on the Millennium Falcon that has you escaping the Death Star, taking out TIE fighters and cheering along with Leia, Luke, and Han! But we have seen all that before. Batuu is not a chance for you to relive moments you have already seen, but a chance to live these adventures yourself.
Disney has been moving away from this type of storytelling for a long time. No longer are you living a scary adventure as Snow White herself. For years, we have floated along adjacent to pirates and cartoon characters, never interacting with them. Batuu lets you step inside the adventure as yourself! Yes, we get to fly the Millennium Falcon, but as tourists drafted into helping a notorious smuggler pull off a heist. It makes sense when you crash the Falcon into the scenery because you have never flown a starship before today. An off-the-beaten-path space port is a perfect location for a bunch of Disney guests to visit. You get the sense that a lot of this activity would be happening with or without you.
I cannot speak to the reports of a jarring transition between pristine Disneyland and the worn-down Black Spire Outpost, though I look forward to that experience in a few weeks. The transition in and out of the land felt very appropriate in Hollywood Studios. Now that there are more things to do and see in the park, it feels more like a traditional Disney theme park. We expect to see small transitional areas bringing us between Tomorrowland and Fantasyland. There are more distinct areas in Hollywood Studios than ever before and it helps out a lot. The tunnel from the Muppets area onto Batuu feels appropriate. The transition into Toy Story Land is long enough that the bizarre rock work and plants fade away slowly, making the sudden sight of a giant Jessie easier to swallow. Disneyland has remained unchanged for so long, I imagine the transitions are harder to handle. I can also imagine that the space-challenged park does not have the luxury of long walkways to reset your mind as you walk.
In all, I really enjoyed my experiences in Galaxy’s Edge. A park dedicated to movies is a great place for a themed area like this. Once the initial excitement fades, this place will be just like any other park area. We already stroll down Main Street toward a giant castle, turning left into a bona fide jungle. We move into fantasy with nary a thought for how odd this situation is. In time, we will not feel odd leaving a Star Wars area to shoot darts at balloons or ride a roller coaster. Of course I look forward to the opening of Rise of the Resistance in a few months, but I look more forward to this becoming a comfortable part of my repeat visits to the Parks. It is worth your vacation time now and will remain so, whether or not Disney adds new elements to the area.
And let’s not even mention the hotel/cruise experience coming in a few years. My mind can’t handle news of that magnitude.
I hope that these articles have given you a better sense of how this land feels and operates. If you want to experience it all for yourself, give one of our ConciEARS a call or send us a message. We will build you a vacation that you and your family will talk about for years to come. And there’s still plenty of time to think about a trip in December for the opening of Rise of the Resistance!