Disney’s $1 billion park expansion has more in common with a major metropolis than you’d expect.
Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge shares a struggle with mega-popular cities: the checklist mentality. Easily identifiable hallmarks make a destination appealing—a common notion is that a person can’t go to Paris without seeing the Eiffel Tower, or Venice without strolling through Piazza San Marco, or Iceland without soaking in the Blue Lagoon. But at the same time, the very things that draw positive attention also bring hoards of people looking only to check those famous activities off their mental must-do lists, never attempting to venture any deeper.
Imagine going to New York City for a day, visiting the Statue of Liberty and Empire State Building, eating a slice of pizza, watching a Broadway show, and going home. No neighborhood exploration, no chatting with locals, no texture to the city beyond what you already knew you wanted to do. That kind of approach begets a reaction along the lines of, “It was OK, but I don’t see why people love it so much.” The same goes for Batuu, the fictional planet where Galaxy’s Edge is set. Everyone is in such a rush to drink blue milk and ride Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run, they overlook the ambience that makes the Star Wars–themed land worth visiting.
When I sat back and took in the surroundings, I noticed holes and burn marks in many of the structures—remnants of skirmishes between competing space gangs, according to the theme park’s lore. I saw canonically accurate damage on the Millennium Falcon, as well as unmarked metal panels with lights and switches signifying spots where guests could engage with augmented reality games via the Play Disney Parks mobile app. I recognized a story that was being shown, not told, and I wouldn’t have caught it if all I cared about was getting from one attraction to the next.
So much hype has gone into the opening of the Star Wars–themed land that some visitors forget to look around. The Play Disney Parks app encourages guests to interact with the environment by translating sun-faded messages written in the fictional Aurebesh language that was created for the Star Wars universe. The app also allows users to scan symbols on cargo crates to reveal the contents, hacking into nearby panels to help or hinder the evil First Order, and map out the activities of the Resistance and the First Order to gauge which side of The Force has the most influence over Batuu at any given time. While the mini games had me glued to my phone until the battery faded, the ability to walk up to anything and take action made me feel like my decisions in the land mattered. I wasn’t just a visitor; I was a participant.
My advice: Observe, engage, and embrace the immersion. Don’t go for the blue milk. Don’t go for the Millennium Falcon ride. Don’t go for the boozy beverages. Do partake in these things, but don’t hinge your notion of a good time on the number of enviable experiences you post about on social media. To quote Han Solo: That’s not how The Force works. Instead, take your time and talk with staffers (”inhabitants,” as they’re called in Galaxy’s Edge) about malfunctioning droids and Stormtroopers patrolling Black Spire Outpost. Strategize hacking points and learn Aurebesh. Get down to DJ Rex’s funky droid beats in Oga’s Cantina. For a few hours, be a rebel or a rogue or a child. Be whoever you are, and explore the world as that person.