I’ve been living and breathing all things Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge and Disneyland the past few days. I’ve shared all the immersive first look images of Batuu and all the logistical details with my Galaxy’s Edge touring tips post. But I’ve not yet shared a comprehensive review of Star Wars Land after my dozen hours in Black Spire Outpost.
Why I’m Even Writing a Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge Review Post
I was never planning to write this post. I usually publish tips and how-to’s on this site. I rarely do reviews and opinion pieces. But as I was flying home the morning after Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge opening day, I found myself tweeting impressions and thoughts about what was right and wrong about the land. Ultimately, I felt I needed to write a full-fledged review. My hope is that a post like this can give guidance to fellow Disneyland travelers to best prepare for what they are about to experience – what they should prioritize, what experiences might be the better fit for their traveling party, and whether and when they should plan a trip to Galaxy’s Edge for themselves.
— Leslie Harvey (@TripsWithTykes) June 1, 2019
I know it has been Galaxy’s Edge overload on Trips With Tykes the past week, so I appreciate all of you indulging me. It’s not every day that Disney opens a new land in one of its theme parks – and certainly not a land this epic. We’ll be back to normal Disney coverage levels on the blog soon.
Before I delve into anything negative, I want to be very clear. Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is a magnificent Disney achievement in so many ways. Overall, my impression of the land was quite favorable. I think Disney fans as well as Star Wars fans should feel no hesitation going and going now if they are interested (even before the second ride opens).
But I like to think deep thoughts about Disney and dissect even the most minor of details. This list comes from that place of trying to process and make sense of it all. In short, this is Disney armchair quarterbacking.
Here’s my overall review of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disneyland. I’ve explained everything that is right and some things that are wrong, with my thoughts for how Disney could address the latter.
What Disney Got Right with Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge
As you can see from my photo tour of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, the land itself is truly a visual masterpiece and work of art. Every nook and cranny shows enormous attention to detail and realism. Disney spared no expense in making the physical plant of the land its best work ever.
The effect is just jaw-dropping. It’s Pandora but bigger and done in a more meaningful way. Millions of people care deeply about Star Wars and will feel a deep emotional connection the moment they step into the land.
Having Cast Members be in Character
While all cast members in lands in Disney parks are costumed and themed, the cast member roles in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge are next level. Disney cast members become inhabitants of Batuu. They get to choose their own costumes from a variety of pieces to create a diverse look that real villagers of this outpost would have. And they play the role – some very well. With so many Star Wars fans loving role play, this choice was just genius.
You are no longer in Disneyland when you speak to a cast member. For example, my group of friends asked a cast member where the best place would be to view the evening fireworks while in Black Spire Outpost. She responded that she didn’t know what fireworks were but that she had spotted some strange explosions and lights over the First Order’s headquarters every night at 9:30pm. Once we figured how to play along, it helped us to be immersed even more into the land. And it was just a ton of fun.
Merchandise is one of the last things I look at on a Disney vacation – I much prefer rides, shows, and restaurants before souvenirs. After all, I live in a California-sized house already filled with Disney stuff with no room for more!
But I was drooling over so many of the merchandise choices. I wanted to take it all home, from the puppet Porg to a stuffed Yoda made to look hand-crafted by an artisan of Batuu. I caved completely when it came to the souvenir mugs in Oga’s Cantina. Do I need a tiki mug with depictions of Ewoks and the Death Star on the side? Yes. Yes, I do.
If I were a cynic, I might say that the land is a huge money grab. But I’m not, so I won’t say that – although some surely will. I think Disney is simply responding to a demand that is already there from Star Wars superfans who want all the stuff. Because Disney knew that demand was there, it was less of a financial risk for the company to plow $1 billion (times 2) into building this creative masterpiece of a land. That seems like a win-win to me.
Serving Alcohol & the Cantina Experience
When Walt Disney created Disneyland, he purposefully created a place without alcohol so families could enjoy the experience together. Many Disney purists care deeply about this piece of history. But other Disney parks serve alcohol without major incident (maybe with the occasional exception of Epcot). Disney even eventually added alcohol in the Magic Kingdom a few years ago at table service restaurants with no negative effects.
Adding alcohol to Disneyland park though was highly controversial for many Disney fans. It isn’t for me. As the head of Galaxy’s Edge food and beverage told us in a media gathering, she just didn’t think that Oga’s Cantina could be true to itself as a bar on Batuu without alcohol. I agree a million times over. Real booze fits in this land of scoundrels and smugglers. You won’t find me complaining one bit. Oga’s Cantina – the theming, the music, and the drinks – was my favorite part of the land.
(One aside – as a Southerner, I’d also say that not having alcoholic mint juleps in Blue Bayou in New Orleans Square is not in keeping with the character of that land. So if you are listening, Disney – that’s my one request! I suspect now that the die is cast, alcohol is coming to elsewhere in Disneyland in limited places in the next few years. But we shall see.)
How Reservations Operations Were Handled
Disneyland implemented a reservation system to control the capacity of the land from May 31-June 23. Last month, however, there were some initial hiccups when Disneyland began emailing reservation times to on-property hotel guests that were a day too early.
But that turned out to be the only misstep. Everything about the reservation system I experienced on opening day ultimately went off better than I could ever have imagined or hoped for. Disney let guests into the parks two hours before opening to efficiently get their reservation wristbands at Launch Bay. Long lines didn’t form to enter the park or the land. Security lines were a breeze. The park outside of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge had light crowd levels and low lines. It was pretty much a dream come true in terms of park operations. This was nothing short of a major feat and Disney deserves major kudos for handling something of this magnitude so seamlessly.
Some of my fellow Disney experts have criticized the character interactions in Galaxy’s Edge. Undoubtedly, many Star Wars fans will want to see Darth Vader or Princess Leia. But that wouldn’t be true to the real world of Batuu that Disney is trying to build.
Personally, I found the character sightings and interactions more than adequate overall in Galaxy’s Edge. I spotted Kylo Ren being followed by Stormtroopers, Rey, Chewbacca, and a First Order leader. They are roaming and going about their business rather than being in a set location for a meet-and-greet.
Disney also created a new character for the land – Vi Moradi – who is a Resistance fighter you’ll often spot hiding behind walls trying to infiltrate the First Order’s encampment. She was talking to guests and even getting kids involved in her missions. Disney potentially could do even more of this kind of interactivity, but the land really doesn’t needs a location where you line up, take a posed photo, and get an autograph with a character.
Disney’s Receptiveness to Guest Feedback
Disney is always receptive to feedback from guests, but I saw this playing out in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at new levels that I found reassuring. I was beyond impressed to spot Disneyland president Josh D’Amaro standing in the land greeting and observing guests as they walked in to the land opening day. He has been incredibly active and visible on social media since taking on this role last year, and fellow guests appreciated his presence.
Another example, some friends and fellow bloggers were comparing notes – some negative – while in the land the second day of operations when a cast member overhead them. The cast member immediately asked if they would speak to her, taking notes of their constructive criticism. They felt heard.
Many guests also were complaining both in person and on social media about the long line and operations of Oga’s Cantina on opening day. Because of demand there, cast members were shutting down the line entirely, causing guests to congregate nearby and then rush the line as it reopened. Within 48 hours, Disney had a new system in place. Now, visitors can get on a list and get a text message when there is space for them to enter. That kind of real time responsiveness is impressive.
The bottom line is that Disney wants to get this right. To the extent I list some negatives below, I do have confidence – now more than ever – that Disney will take the constructive criticism and channel it to make positive improvements (and quickly!).
What Disney Got Wrong with Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge
So now that we’ve tackled all of the positive, here are the negatives as I saw them.
It’s probably not entirely fair to put food in the con column. I had quite a few food and beverages that I enjoyed a lot. I appreciated that Disney was a bit more ambitious and creative with the food ingredients, allowing food to play an integral part in creating the land of Batuu. (Related: For dining in Galaxy’s Edge on a budget, check out the top Star Wars Land meals under $15).
But ultimately, the menu is too ambitious. There was only one of the three kids meals in Docking Bay 7 that I think either of my kids would even remotely be willing to try. No way on earth either of my kids would eat chilled noodles and shrimp with a dressing on top.
The blue milk and green milk – which should be the crowning beverage achievements of the land – were only ok. They are certainly not something I’d ever order again now that I got my photograph for Instagram. I split them with three friends, and even then we threw away cups that were mostly full.
Ultimately, there need to be a few more accessible food items for the average family. I also thought a few more snack stands would help. Especially once Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance opens, there needs to be grab-and-go food on the Resistance side of the land.
Oga’s Cantina Size & Ops
I am a major fan of Trader Sam’s, so I was beyond excited about Oga’s Cantina. It’s essentially an intergalatic tiki bar, so it’s pretty much my Star Wars dream come true. Once you get inside, it’s magnificent thematically. A droid named R-3x (aka “Rex”) that many guests of my age may remember as the original pilot of Star Tours is the DJ, spinning tunes inspired by the cantina on Tatooine in A New Hope. It’s easily my favorite place in the new land.
The hard part, however, is getting inside! The cantina is small, and opening day line operations were messy. As I mentioned earlier, I was very glad to see a text message queue implemented to no longer keep guests in a line in the hot sun for an hour. But the problem remains that demand will always far exceed supply. The cantina size is what it is. I cannot foresee a time when guests can just casually drop into the cantina for a drink at will. And the lack of seating is challenging for families with young kids, older adults, or just anyone whose feet have already walked 20,000+ steps on a Disney day.
Opening with Only One Ride
As of right now, only one attraction – Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run – is open in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. The rumors are that the other attraction (Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, which is universally believed to be the more epic and innovative of the pair) had technical difficulties, forcing Disney’s hand to open with one.
But Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is huge. It just is not complete at all opening with a single attraction. A whole portion of the land where Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance will be now is mostly empty. Galaxy’s Edge is bigger in acreage than Pandora (which opened with 2 rides) as well as Toy Story Land (which opened with 3 – one old and two new).
Additionally, the one attraction that is open doesn’t even have spectacularly high capacity. It’s not enough of a “people eater.” That means Disney will have to control capacity to the Galaxy’s Edge overall for quite a long time to come – likely to be well into the fall or even early winter 2019. That prevents more guests from experiencing this world for themselves this summer and fall.
Guest Roles & Seating on Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run
I’m planning a complete ride guide for Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run, but here’s the bottom line – it has a few misses. The queue is one of Disney’s best, with the Hondo Ohnaka animatronic as a standout. Being able to stand in the Falcon’s hold and sit at the chess table is just ridiculously cool.
But the ride doesn’t entirely work. For families, not being able to sit adjacent to your young children (and possibly comfort them if they turn out to be scared) is a problem. Seats are two by two, with an aisle up the center, so there is no way for a parent to put an arm around a child. The height requirement for the ride is 38 inches, so many toddlers and preschoolers are tall enough to experience it. Some may be unpleasantly surprised. I highly recommend that parents of young children try something like Star Tours first before determining whether to take their child on this attraction given the seating situation.
Additionally, having three different roles in the cockpit – pilot, gunner, and engineer – is compelling in theory. But in practice, it creates some ill will. I tried all three roles and vastly preferred being pilot for the control and the better view out of the cockpit shield. If it is a guest’s dream to pilot the Falcon and they just waited 2 hours to do so and ended up in the back row as an engineer, would they be happy? No way. The other seats are even a little uncomfortable, making you turn sideways to hit buttons and miss the view out the front. (My friend Dusty Sage of Mice Chat has a really compelling review of the Falcon that I think demonstrates some of these challenges.)
Putting Galaxy’s Edge in Disneyland park
I’m not one of those “Disneyland can never change” critics. I was okay with Disneyland putting in this new land in Walt’s original park. Of course, I would have preferred that Star Wars Land be the anchor of a third gate at Disneyland. Practically speaking, I knew that was impossible given the economics and timing of it all.
So I was surprised to find myself the tiniest bit bummed that Galaxy’s Edge was in Disneyland park after actually experiencing it. Why did I ultimately feel this way? It’s jarring leaving Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge and entering the rest of a very familiar park with a distinct vibe. I felt disoriented every time. It was most evident leaving via the Fantasyland exit where you are hit with the Fantasyland music very quickly. Going from First Order territory into “A Very Merry Unbirthday” in under a minute feels bizarre.
Will my feelings change once guests can come and go into the land at will? Perhaps. Right now, Galaxy’s Edge feels so separate because of the controlled access. And I’m left with a feeling of incongruity. I’ll be very curious to see how Star Wars Land in Hollywood Studios works in Walt Disney World when I visit this fall. Thematically, it seems to be a much better fit for that park.
Not Enough for Younger Kids
Last but certainly not least, this is Trips With Tykes, so I thought a lot about tykes when visiting Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. I didn’t have my kids with me this time, but I’ve done Disney enough with them to know how we tour the parks together as a family and what our pain points are.
To be sure, there are certainly some highlights for families with young kids: building your own droid at Droid Depot isn’t that expensive, the toys at Toydarian Toymaker and Creature Stall are amazing, and the visuals and land itself will draw them in. But I ultimately came away with the impression that the land is currently more of a playground for adults.
Disney has made a major play in particular for families with preschoolers the last few years. Black Spire Outpost seems like a bit like a step back from that commitment. I’ve already highlighted how the kids meal food choices aren’t accessible and how the ride layout of Smugglers Run may be challenging for visitors with kids.
But there’s also just not enough for children to do. They won’t shop for long. The Play Disney Parks app is cool and makes the land interactive, but it’s more for older kids who can read and really operate a smartphone. Oga’s Cantina – my favorite part of the land, hands down – is not very kid-friendly with large crowds, limited seating, and long lines (as well as no strollers allowed or high chairs offered).
Disney very much needs something that makes kids feel like they can join the Resistance or be a Jedi. Right now, the only guests who can really do that are the ones paying $200 for a lightsaber at Savi’s Workshop. Most families aren’t about to do that with their toddlers and preschoolers.
Moving something akin to the now-closed Jedi Training Academy from Tomorrowland into this new land seems like a no-brainer. That could easily patch the hole. I saw someone on Twitter a few days ago also suggest that there should be an Ewok forest somewhere in the land – something like a playground or Redwood Creek Challenge Trail where kids can play and explore.
I’m sure Disney Imagineers can to a better job than I in coming up with options that are fully in keeping with the authenticity of the land, but there just needs to be more for younger kids to do. The addition of a second ride that is expected to be scary and have a 40 inch height requirement is not going to address this gap.
(Be sure to check out this article about taking a toddler or preschooler to Galaxy’s Edge if you are planning a visit.)
If you are still with me after this very long armchair quarterback post, I appreciate it. I want to hear from you as an armchair quarterback too. If you’ve been to Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disneyland, I’m really curious to hear your thoughts. Do you agree with some or all of these points? What are your suggestions for changing whatever shortcomings you see with the land? Or has your every wish and dream for Star War come to life with the unveiling of Batuu?
(For another balanced Galaxy’s Edge review from a Disney expert voice I trust, check out Miles to Memories.)
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Disclosure: I was honored to attend a pre-opening media event thanks to an invitation from Disney. While I had special access that day, I did not accept Disney comps for that event. I paid for my own hotel, park ticket, airfare and other costs, some personally and some reimbursed by another outlet for which I was creating content. I also paid my own way to visit Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge on opening day, May 31, when it was first open to the public. (Check my post about truth in travel blogging for more on my mission in this regard!)