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‘This thing is amazing’: Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disneyland is a dream come true

ANAHEIM, Calif. — When you first step inside the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon at Disneyland’s new Star Wars land dubbed, Galaxy’s Edge, you have only seconds to process the thought, “Hang on — I’m actually sitting INSIDE THE COCKPIT of the Millennium Falcon,” before the ride actually begins.

But in an instant, a moment every Star Wars fan has dreamt of since they first glimpsed the fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy comes to life in stunning, lifelike fashion.

“This thing is amazing,” Star Wars creator George Lucas said as he helped christen the land at its recent grand opening. “It’s something you couldn’t even dream about 20 years ago. I think it will change your life.”

Life-changing is a pretty good description.

“I have to tell you, the last time I was in a Disney park I was with George (Lucas) for Star Tours and I thought, ‘This is inconceivable,’ ” Luke Skywalker actor Mark Hamill said as he was flanked by Lucas, fellow actors Billy Dee Williams and Harrison Ford, and Disney CEO Bob Iger. “Look at where we are today. We get our own land. Star Wars has always been the gift that keeps on giving.”

According to the park’s logline, which is a collaboration between Disney Imagineers and storytelling visionaries at Lucasfilm, visitors are arriving on the alien planet alongside the nefarious First Order and noble Resistance. Set during the current film trilogy, explorers interact with Black Spire Outpost’s inhabitants and become fully immersed in a 360-degree experience that honours all levels of fandom.

During a media tour of Batuu and Black Spire Outpost, the Sun was able to uncover some of the secrets that await fans who are planning a trip to the outer reaches of the galaxy.

BUCKLE UP, BABY!

Smugglers Run is the centrepiece attraction of Galaxy’s Edge, which is now open in Anaheim (it will debut at Walt Disney World in Orlando on Aug. 29). The four-minute ride casts visitors in a storyline in which an animatronic Hondo Ohnaka (a space pirate from Star Wars Rebels) recruits you for a special mission to retrieve some valuable coaxium in a bid to help the Resistance. He has borrowed the Falcon from Chewbacca and, hey, that’s a win-win (for you and for him).

As riders queue for the flight simulator, they make their way through a winding space port that provides panoramic vistas of a life-size Millennium Falcon (tip-to-tip, the ship you’ll find inside Galaxy’s Edge is more than 100 feet long). It’s weathered and showing battle scars, but there’s just enough juice for six guests — two pilots, two gunners and two engineers — to set off on an intergalactic mission.

“We knew that we couldn’t build a Star Wars-themed land without the Millennium Falcon,” Imagineering executive creative director Asa Kalama says.

“But when we talked about fantasy fulfilment, getting to go into the cockpit to control it was something everyone has been waiting for.”

Before you actually take a seat, though, you slink through curved corridors and then enter a main hold and galley area in which you can sit at the famous holographic chess table.

“We sweated over every last possible detail,” Kalama adds.

Of course, everyone will want to pilot the Falcon but your seat assignment is determined randomly by one of the Disney Parks cast members. As such, your team’s success depends on how well the pilots steer the ship, the gunners shoot down enemy fighters and how easily the engineers snag the cargo.

We went through three times (piloting once) with completely different outcomes at the end of each run. If you’re a pilot, and you don’t move out of the way of an asteroid or spire, the ship will collide with it and you’ll feel that. If you’re a gunner and you misfire, there are negative consequences as well. If things don’t go according to plan, the ship’s hallways will show mock damage as you leave the attraction.

“It truly is a participatory experience and one that changes depending on how you and your flight crew do and how well you work together,” Kalama says. “It’s up to you how much fire the Millennium Falcon is on when you pull back into that space port.”

Over time, as the stories of Star Wars continue to grow and expand, there will be opportunities to enjoy different adventures on Smugglers Run in the far-off future.

Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge will open in summer 2019 at Disneyland Park in Anaheim, California, and fall 2019 at Disney's Hollywood Studios in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. At 14 acres each, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge will be Disney's largest single-themed land expansions ever, transporting guests to Black Spire Outpost, a village on the never-before-seen planet of Batuu. The lands will have two signature attractions: Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run will let guests take the controls of one of the most recognizable ships in the galaxy, while Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance puts guests in the middle of an epic battle between the First Order and the Resistance. (Disney Parks)

Inside Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run, Disney guests will take the controls in one of three unique and critical roles aboard the fastest ship in the galaxy when Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge opens in summer 2019 at Disneyland Resort in California and fall 2019 at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida. (Disney Parks)

The famous “chess room” is one of several areas Disney guests will discover inside Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run at Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge before taking the controls in one of three unique and critical roles aboard the fastest ship in the galaxy. Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge opens in summer 2019 at Disneyland Resort in California and fall 2019 at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida. (Joshua Sudock/Disney Parks)

Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge will let Disney guests walk the hallways and experience other memorable areas of the fastest ship in the galaxy. Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge opens in summer 2019 at Disneyland Resort in California and fall 2019 at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida. (Joshua Sudock/Disney Parks)

Disney guests will traverse the corridors of a Star Destroyer on Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance and join an epic battle between the First Order and the Resistance – including a face-off with Kylo Ren – when Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge opens in summer 2019 at Disneyland Resort in California and fall 2019 at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida. (Joshua Sudock/Disney Parks)

A multi-purpose transport shuttle docked on top of a large hangar (left) will beckon guests into Docking Bay 7 Food and Cargo, a designated location for traveling food shuttles inside Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge will open in summer 2019 at Disneyland Park in Anaheim, California, and fall 2019 at Disney's Hollywood Studios in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. (Joshua Sudock/Disney Parks)

Disney guests will traverse the corridors of a Star Destroyer on Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance and join an epic battle between the First Order and the Resistance – including a face-off with Kylo Ren – when Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge opens in summer 2019 at Disneyland Resort in California and fall 2019 at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida. (Disney Parks)

Disney guests will traverse the corridors of a Star Destroyer on Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance and join an epic battle between the First Order and the Resistance – including a faceoff with Kylo Ren – when Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge opens in summer 2019 at Disneyland Resort in California and fall 2019 at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida. (Disney Parks)

Millennium Falcon pictured under development for Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run at Stars Wars: Galaxy's Edge. On Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run, guests will take the controls of one of the most recognizable ships in the galaxy. Stars Wars: Galaxy's Edge will open at Disneyland Resort in California in summer 2019 and at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida in fall 2019. (Disney Parks)

Black Spire Outpost is the name of the village inside of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, opening in summer 2019 at Disneyland Resort in California and fall 2019 at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida. The village is closely associated with the geological formations that surround it. As the largest settlement on the planet Batuu, Black Spire Outpost is an infamous stop for traders, adventurers and smugglers traveling around the Outer Rim and Wild Space. (Joshua Sudock/Disney Parks)

Exotic eats from around the galaxy will be available at Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge when it opens in summer 2019 at Disneyland Park in Anaheim, California, and fall 2019 at Disney's Hollywood Studios in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. Ronto Roasters will feature savory meats spit-roasted over a former Podracer engine. (Disney Parks)

Disney Imagineers view a life-size TIE fighter as they work on Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance at Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, opening in summer 2019 at Disneyland Resort in California and fall 2019 at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida. On Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, guests will be able to join an epic battle between the First Order and the Resistance – including a face-off with Kylo Ren. (Joshua Sudock/Disney Parks)

Black Spire Outpost is the name of the village inside of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, opening in summer 2019 at Disneyland Resort in California and fall 2019 at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida. The outpost is closely associated with the geological formations that surround it. As the largest settlement on the planet Batuu, Black Spire Outpost is an infamous stop for traders, adventurers and smugglers traveling around the Outer Rim and Wild Space. (Disney Parks)

Exotic finds can be found throughout Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge when it opens in summer 2019 at Disneyland Park in Anaheim, California, and fall 2019 at Disney's Hollywood Studios in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. At Savi’s Workshop – Handbuilt Lightsabers, guests will have the opportunity to customize and craft their own lightsabers. In this exclusive experience, guests will feel like a Jedi as they build these elegant weapons from a more civilized age. (Disney Parks)

Exotic finds can be found throughout Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge when it opens in summer 2019 at Disneyland Park in Anaheim, California, and fall 2019 at Disney's Hollywood Studios in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. In the Droid Depot at Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, guests will be able to build their own personal droids. (Disney Parks)

PHOTOS: Sneak peek at Disney's Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge

RISE OF THE RESISTANCE

A massive portion of the 14-acre Galaxy’s Edge will be devoted to an encampment in which the Resistance are holed up. When it opens later this year, visitors will be able to experience Rise of the Resistance, an immersive ride that is one of the longest in Disney’s history (though not 28 minutes long as was rumoured).

“Rise of the Resistance puts you in the middle of an epic battle between the First Order and the Resistance,” says Walt Disney Imagineering portfolio creative executive Scott Trowbridge.

The attraction wasn’t ready in time for the land’s grand opening but when the Sun toured the site earlier this year, we got a special look that took us through a queue that at its entrance features actual track prints from R2-D2. As you make your way into the ride, visitors will interact with new trilogy stars Rey (Daisy Ridley), Poe (Oscar Isaac), Finn (John Boyega), Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and beloved droid BB-8. Nien Nunb, who was seen in Return of the Jedi, The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, also makes an appearance.

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Later, you’re inside the hanger bay of a Star Destroyer, surrounded by First Order guards and stationary TIE Fighters. Eventually, you face down Kylo Ren himself (who is first seen emerging from a new, never-before-seen TIE echelon ship) and … spoiler alert: you live to fight another day.

“This is one of the most ambitious attractions that we’ve ever undertaken,” Trowbridge promises. “This experience brings all the scale and the epic adventure… basically everything that makes Star Wars, Star Wars in one attraction.”

THE ART OF BUILDING A NEW WORLD

Right from the beginning, after Iger announced plans for a themed Star Wars land in 2015, Imagineers wanted to create something fans had never seen before.

“One of the things we decided early on was to build a new place,” Trowbridge says. “It’s not a place we’ve visited in one of the earlier Star Wars films. We know those places, we know the characters and what’s happened there and we know that we’re not part of those stories.

“This is Black Spire Outpost on the planet Batuu. This is a place that’s been built so you can live your own Star Wars story and become an active participant in the world of Star Wars.”

To that end, Doug Chiang, a VP and executive creative director at Lucasfilm, says that Galaxy’s Edge draws inspiration from real-world places like Arizona’s petrified forests, bazaars found in Marrakech and Istanbul and 19th-century paintings.

“The trick to designing Star Wars is 80 to 90% of it is real,” Chiang says. “George (Lucas) always considered (Star Wars) not science fiction, but a historical drama.”

So when you enter into Black Spire Outpost, which reveals itself with a cinematic flourish through entryways from Fantasyland and Frontierland, you’re stepping into a place that has tremendous history within the Star Wars canon. You’ll be able to see, smell, taste and touch that until now have only lived in your imagination.

“It’s the first time we’re getting to experience Star Wars with all five senses,” says Rachel Sherbill, a producer at Walt Disney Imagineering.

[embedded content]

In addition, Galaxy’s Edge invites guest to customize their experience through role play alongside castmembers. So choices can matter in your experience, especially if you actively opt to play a hero or a villain.

“You may want to see yourself as a smuggler or a Jedi or a Sith, but the goal is to support that interaction,” Lucasfilm Story Group vice-president Carrie Beck says.

Castmembers playing roles as part of the Resistance will test your allegiance with lines like, “Ignite the spark” (you’re supposed to reply, “Light the fire”). You can also cop free souvenirs if you further ask them to “Let the Wookiee win” (collectible trading cards). And if you’re unlucky, you may find yourself being addressed by Kylo Ren or other members of the First Order (who emerge from a new, never-before TIE echelon ship).

The Play Disney Parks mobile app will further integrate with the world of Galaxy’s Edge, translating Aurebesh (a language we’ve heard in prior Star Wars films), hacking radio signals and door panels, scanning secretive cargo boxes and accumulate “virtual” credits.

“It isn’t about living out someone else’s dream, but having the land be the backdrop to your own personal Star Wars story,” Beck adds.

Of course, you can just go and be a casual participant. Inside Oga’s Cantina, you can enjoy a foamy Fuzzy Tauntaun or a fruity Carbon Freeze, while listening to galactic tunes spun by droid DJ R3X (aka Captain Rex from Star Tours). Elsewhere, you can eat at Docking Bay 7 or Ronto Roasters and even sip blue milk (yup, we liked it).

But seeing how fandom and fantasy can be taken to the next level is exciting — especially when you consider how Marvel-themed attractions are being planned for Disney’s California Adventure Park.

ONE-OF-A-KIND MERCH

One of the most exciting elements of Galaxy’s Edge is the unique merchandise that will be for sale. Want a lightsaber? You can visit Savi’s Workshop, a tucked-away shop where you can build your own (parents, be aware that it’ll cost you around US$200).

Inside Dok-Ondar’s Den of Antiquities, you can browse through collectibles referencing different eras of the franchise including Jedi and Sith mini-busts (US$110), Emperor Palpatine’s cane (US$150), an Imperial TIE Fighter Helmet (US$450) and weighty replica lightsabers belonging to Kylo Ren (US$150), Luke Skywalker (US$130), Ahsoka Tano (US$200) and other notable characters. If you don’t want to buy anything, the shop is full of Easter egg nods to the past, including a mural that was seen in Palpatine’s office in Revenge of the Sith, a Mandalorian helmet and a taxidermy Wampa.

Meanwhile, a Droid Depot lets you build mini robot pals that will then interact with the land.

It’s one of the most engaging areas of the park, says Rachel Sherbill, a producer at Walt Disney Imagineering.

“You’ll be able to do everything from selecting the parts and pieces to assembling the droid,” she says. “Then, when you come outside the shop and start interacting with the village, the droid will respond to different elements in the land as you walk.”

Nothing is branded with a Star Wars logo, and items found in toy stalls in a bazaar area have a bespoke, handmade quality to them.

FINAL THOUGHTS

From its wealth of Easter eggs (I think it will take years to discover them all) to its rich storytelling to its inventive approach to food, Galaxy’s Edge is an immersive excursion that will thrill the most diehard fans’ imagination. I asked repeatedly, how many times should a person visit to truly see it all, and I never got a real answer. There’s so much to see and do and that will only deepen as the franchise builds and grows.

“It could have gone very bad,” Lucas said at the opening. Instead, this trip to a part of the galaxy is like nothing we’ve seen before or will for a very long time.

PRO-TIP: IF YOU GO

Reservations are required to visit Galaxy’s Edge from now until June 23. Single-day admission ranges from US$104 to US$149. For more info, visit disneyparks.disney.go.com/star-wars-galaxys-edge.

Twitter: @markhdaniellmdaniell@postmedia.com

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