Hardcore fans of almost any pastime remember their first time soaking it in. Harry Potter fans remember their first reading, baseball fans their first game, and Dead Head’s their first album or concert.
I do not remember the first time I watched a Star Wars movie. I do remember my first adult trip to Disneyland.
I’ve always accepted Star Wars as an unofficial extension of the Disney universe, even before its official inclusion. And growing up with older brothers, I’ve seen all the movies multiple times. But something about them was always different. They never quite measured up to the magical aura around every other Disney movie or held the same place in my heart, so the announcement of Galaxy’s Edge was a bittersweet one for me. There are so many other Disney stories that have yet to be seen in the parks that I saw as more deserving of a new land.
Of course, I am always excited for any sort of park expansion. Any opportunity to know a new place and see the imagineers designs come to life is an exciting one. With recent additions like Pandora and Toy Story Land, how could I not be jazzed? The immersion of the lands and the perfectly polished details are what make the parks such a uniquely Disney experience. Galaxy’s Edge also gave the parks a wider audience of appeal, bringing new groups onto the properties who may not have otherwise visited. There were plenty of reasons to look forward to this, but for me there were also plenty of reasons to doubt.
If the Star Wars movies were never as special to me, why would I expect the land to be? How would the new visitor demographics affect the rest of the park that I came to know and love? Would the magic in this part of the park be fueled by the force instead of pixie dust?
All of these hesitations replayed in my head as I stood among the crowd waiting to enter the land on opening day. I twirled my blue entrance band around my wrist mindlessly and nervously rubbed at the new coffee stain on my jeans from this mornings mocha.
Finally, the crowd pushed forward and it was time to see Batuu for myself. I raced past the droid shops and hidden nooks for the main attraction: the Millennium Falcon. If you thought your social media feeds were overrun with castle pictures before, get ready for a whole new level.
I got straight in line for the ride to see how it measured up. The line almost moved too quickly, as we flew past reference upon reference to the source material and struggled to listen in to incoming transmissions played overhead. Once we neared the front of the line, we were ushered into a room where Hondo Ohnaka himself delivered the backstory for our upcoming mission. This animatronic is the first time Hondo has been pictured as a realistic humanoid character and not just a cartoon. The additional care and design that went into this is evident as he is one of the most realistic and impressive animatronics I have ever seen. It is genuinely difficult to differentiate between him and an actual human as he walks around and interacts with his environment. After we (begrudgingly) left that room, they split us into crews of six and handed us cards that detailed our assignments for the upcoming mission. Our crew was set loose for a bit to explore one room of the Falcon. We had barely long enough to take pictures at the dejarik table, but not nearly long enough to figure out how to play before our team was assembled once more to board the ship.
I won’t spoil too much about the experience itself yet, but I will tell you that you should aim to be an engineer on your first ride. It’s easily the lowest-stress position and gives you the best vantage point in the back of the ship to take in the full experience. Yes, you may not be piloting the falcon, but you are getting a better opportunity to soak in the entire experience, without having to focus too much on your assigned tasks. Everyone who I spoke to as a pilot said they missed out on the storyline and the roles everyone else got to play because they were so zoomed in on their own assignments. Keep in mind that each person’s performance of their duties changes the overall ride to a degree, so be sure not to slack too much.
All in all, the ride was just what I imagined. The screen integration felt very much like Flight of Passage in Walt Disney World, but with the added twist of controlling your own adventure. My experience was largely the same each time that I rode, but I know this wasn’t true for everyone. As a hyper competitive person, I was disappointed that there is no scoring guide and no way to gauge my score in comparison to other scores from that day (like in Toy Story Midway Mania). I couldn’t even find a guide online that showed something or hardly anyone willing to share their score. (In the spirit of full disclosure, my highest was 11,930 credits before adjustments and 9,380 credits after adjustments). I have heard from some people that you can even leave the ride OWING credits to Hondo, but no solid confirmation on that one. I had an excellent experience on the falcon every time, but I’m not sure that everyone would. I cringe at the thought of a diehard fan planning a once in a lifetime trip to the parks having to wait in line hours to ride the falcon only to be saddled with a young child as one of the pilots and have his flight be over in a minute while others get to play for double or triple that time. I like to think Disney will try to provide a solution for this someday, but I don’t know how realistic of a hope that is. In the meantime, find your five most trusted friends before you board. After working up a sweat on the falcon, it was time to chow down on all the exotic snacks Batuu has to offer.
If you thought it was impressive that I could get off-world so quickly, just wait until you hear about the black hole that apparently exists within my stomach. I ate everything I could get my hands on in my four hour window and still wish I could’ve eaten more. My first stop had to be the milk stand. They offered both blue and green “milk” concoctions, which are actually just dairy free smoothie mixes. While some people have complained about the lack of dairy in something called milk, I can’t imagine sipping on a lukewarm glass of colored milk in the middle of LA summers would be enjoyable in any way , shape, or form. Plus, it was a nice reprieve for lactose intolerant visitors like myself. Surprisingly enough, the milk stand has turned out to be one of the biggest debates among guests. While some people prefer the delicious and creamy blue milk, other crazed lunatics think the disgusting and sour green milk is better. I have a favorite between the two, but I bet you’ll never figure it out!!! I heard some complaints that Disney didn’t hand out samples before guests purchase a totally new food like this, but I promise it is worth the $8 to not have milk the Bantha yourself.
Another favorite was the popcorn from Kat Saka’s Kettle. This kettlecorn-variant offered two flavors mixed into one bag. A purple-colored lemon-blueberry kettlecorn that tastes like fruit loops and a red-colored chili-lime kettlecorn that tastes like you accidentally spilled some sugar in your bag of spicy tortilla chips. (Can you guess which one is my favorite this time???). I was told to mix the two flavors, but preferred to consume them separately (or not to eat the red ones at all). Unfortunately, each color cannot be purchased on its own. To add to the confusion, the signs posted for the menu at Kat Saka’s are stylized like the rest of the land and show some offerings scribbled out in red marker. This does not, as many would assume, mean that they are sold out and is actually just a part of their display. I’d be interested to see if this changes later on.
Eager to go on the ride again, the first day we lunched at the Ronto Roasters quick service to pick up a Ronto Morning Wrap and a Ronto Wrap. Both had interesting flavors, but the spiced sausages overpowered the other specialty toppings in both sandwiches. The Meiloorun juice was perfectly tart and great o wash down our wraps. I think it would serve as an excellent alternative to the blue milk for anyone still wanting something refreshing and unique.
Our last stop on the food tour of Batuu had us landing our ships at Docking Bay 7. The line for lunch was out the door and mobile order offered us pickup times more than 2 hours in the future (not a very realistic time frame for our 4 hour window. Undaunted by the crowd, we moved our way through the line to order the Fried Tip-Yip, the Felucian Garden Spread (lunch only), and one of each dessert. The design of the restaurant and quality of food was very reminiscent of Satu’li Canteen in Animal Kingdom. The Tip-Yip tasted like a deconstructed chicken pot pie and the Garden Spread had some stellar mediterranean vibes, even though they were a little pricey for the serving sizes. The desserts, on the other hand, were so mouthwateringly good that it even made me regret not having tried the desserts in Pandora (although I’m sure I’ll rectify that later this week). The Oi-Oi Puff kept all of the bright and tangy flavor you expect from a fruity dessert while adding in creamy elements that would satisfy any sweet tooth. The Batuu-bon was decadent and and made chocolate taste the way it’s always supposed to taste, but never quite does in theme park offerings.
While not technically a food stop, this seems like the right time to talk about Oga’s Cantina. This is the only place open to the public in Disneyland that serves alcohol. On our second day in, we rushed to get in line for the cantina first thing. We had missed it on the first day an NO WAY was I going home without a Porg mug. I mean, LOOK AT THIS LITTLE FACE.
We waited outside for almost 45 minutes after opening and then spent our entire 45 minute time slot inside soaking in as much of the atmosphere as we could. If you only have one reservation to get into Galaxy’s Edge, I would recommend skipping the cantina until that part of the park is open to everyone. If you do end up going, you should order both of your drinks at the same time to ensure you can both receive and enjoy them within the allotted time! Plus, it will save your server some grief as they cover huge sections inside. The drinks lean a bit on the sweet side, but are still enjoyable no matter what your tastes. You can hang out and listen to DJ-R3X spin some tunes and you might even be lucky (or unlucky) enough to see the ship lose power and catch the iconic cantina song.
The Batuu eats were imaginative and delicious, but I was a bit bummed that Disney didn’t take a little initiative and expand more in their food offerings. Outside of a few small snacks, expressly mentioned food in the Star Wars universe is relatively uncharted. This would’ve been a great time to really branch out and make something new and interesting. But with the backlash they’ve already gotten from existing snacks (just google Blue Milk reviews), I understand why they didn’t stray too far from their comfort zones. Food prices were manageable, but more expensive than most Disney items so be sure to budget for this difference before you go. Of course, food was not the most expensive experience in Batuu by a long shot.
One of the things I treasure most about Disney is their ability to make magic out of almost nothing. There is so much to experience around the parks that you can easily avoid the more expensive souvenirs. I didn’t feel this way at Galaxy’s Edge. I felt that my experience (while still magical) was somehow lacking because I didn’t build a $99 droid, a $199 lightsaber, or deck myself out in $150 Jedi robes to blend in with the locals. This isn’t to say that it ruined my entire experience by any means, but anyone with Star-Wars-enamored children may feel differently. I think this is a double edged sword though. I felt like I had missed out because Disney took the extra care to make these souvenirs an experience and not just something you grab off a shelf. That kind of upgrade costs money and it’s only reasonable that this would be passed on to consumers. I’m glad that die-hard fans are able to fulfill these dreams of building a lightsaber and that Disney was able to provide that for them. For opening weekend especially, those merchandise experiences seemed to hold the bulk of the hype. I’m hoping this dies down over time so I feel less bummed out on return visits.
Don't worry though, I didn't leave empty handed. I grabbed some of the land-specific Coca Cola bottles and both the R2D2 headband and the BB8 headband. Not only do they light up and make noise, but they talk to each other if you wear both headbands.
My worries about land immersion were erased quickly with the incredible all-encompassing scenery and hyper-realistic sound effects of ships zooming past overhead. The cast members intricate backstories, varied costumes, and dedication to vocabulary and theming around the outpost really elevated my experience. (You might even say it was “out of this world”). The addition of a Disney play “data pad” functionality exclusive to the land was an interesting choice. While the app still has a couple bugs (what app doesn’t), the ability to partake in outside “jobs”, take on tasks, and chase down credits to ensure the success of my “team” was an incredible addition. For others who consider themselves Disney fans over Star Wars fans, this was a great way to get exploring in the land and still feel a part of the magic without just being in one spot or interacting with one character.
I think the jury is still out on my overall opinion of Galaxy’s Edge. While I loved the parts that embodied classic Disney approaches to theming, we will have to wait and see how future movies and media reference back to the land and how it evolves over time. In a park that was once exclusively geared toward children, the addition of a clearly adult-geared land is a BIG change that I think has been relatively glossed over. Galaxy’s Edge still holds on to the methods that make Disney special, but brings them in a new direction. It will be interesting to see how many parents opt to bring their children to this area and deal with the roadblocks of potential discrimination on Smuggler’s Run and the avoidance of souvenirs that could break the bank with one child and nearly double the cost of your vacation with multiple children. It’s difficult to compare Batuu to any other expansion, because it is so large and encompasses so much source material. For now, I’ll stick to enjoying the new land and seeing where Disney goes next.
I hope this helps if anyone else is on the fence about visiting the new land or not, either at Disneyland or Disney World when it opens later this year Thanks for reading and don't forget to escape for a moment and fly south.