Home » 3 Ways the Wizarding World of Harry Potter Might Have Influenced Galaxy’s Edge

3 Ways the Wizarding World of Harry Potter Might Have Influenced Galaxy’s Edge

Wizarding World of Harry Potter

There’s no doubt that Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is one of the most exciting developments the Disney Parks have seen over the last decade-plus. Its bicoastal opening this spring and fall is expected to draw record crowds, both to indulge in a hearty dose of science fiction nostalgia and to marvel over the latest technological advances implemented in the park’s various retail outlets, food stalls, and attractions.

The opening of Galaxy’s Edge feels long overdue for the company. Black Spire Outpost, as the Batuu-based alien hideout has been named, is far from the first fully-immersive theme park area to welcome visitors. (It’s not even the first “alien planet” to do so, for that matter.) That particular bridge was crossed nearly ten years ago when Universal Orlando Resort admitted its first batch of aspiring witches and wizards-in-training to the intricately-replicated Hogsmeade Village and Hogwarts Castle, both of which were neatly tucked into the topmost corner of Islands of Adventure in 2010.

Since then, the Potterhead-tailored sections of Universal’s three parks in Florida, California, and Japan have only continued to expand, most notably with the addition of Diagon Alley in Orlando during the summer of 2014. With dynamic shopping experiences, live entertainment, responsive Audio-Animatronics, immensely popular confections (as any employee serving up a frothy cup of Butterbeer can attest), and blending 2D and 3D attractions, Universal all but left Disney in the dust—pear-sweetened Night Blossoms and floating Pandoran mountains notwithstanding.

That may change when Black Spire Outpost embraces its first Earth-based travelers this summer. While Disney missed the boat with J.K. Rowling’s beloved series, they have the opportunity to set themselves apart once more with a veritable galaxy of characters and stories both familiar and brand-new. They’ve also had nine years to observe the growth and success of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, right down to the tech-enhanced steam engines and goblin-managed currency. What else might they borrow from Universal in hopes of pulling ahead of the competition? Let’s take a closer look.

1. Obscure character encounters

Wizarding World of Harry PotterImage: Sam Howzit, Flickr (license)

Imagine stepping through the portal into Diagon Alley and coming face-to-face with Hagrid and Harry as they tick items off of Hogwarts’ recommended school supplies list. Or entering Hogwarts Castle to have a friendly chat with Albus Dumbledore. Or knocking on the door of 12 Grimmauld Place and being greeted by Sirius Black or another member of the Order of the Phoenix.

There are several reasons why the Wizarding World of Harry Potter doesn’t offer the standard face character meet-and-greets that can be found in almost every other corner of Universal Studios. The first and most pertinent reason is that J.K. Rowling allegedly refused to give Universal full rights to the most iconic characters in her invented universe—a logical decision, especially given that the eight-part film series had not yet reached its conclusion when the park first opened.

The second, perhaps more intriguing reason, is that stationary meet-and-greets take something away from the immersive nature of Universal’s carefully-crafted landscape. Whether this was a deliberate choice is unclear, and there’s no doubt that the Wizarding World caters to fans. But it does less to service those fans as mindless, merch-grabbing consumers and more to make them feel as though they’re part of Harry’s story. Instead of lining up to greet Harry, Hermione, and Ron, guests are invited to have a casual chat with Ernie Prang (the daring driver of the Express), exchange dollars for Galleons under the watchful gaze of a responsive goblin animatronic, and most exciting of all, enjoy a lengthy wand-picking ceremony with the thoughtful Garrick Ollivander.

Savi's Workshop at Galaxy's Edge

Image: David Roark, Disney

With regard to the development of Galaxy’s Edge, there have been some hints that Disney may adopt a similar strategy for future character interactions. Up until now, both in Disneyland’s Tomorrowland and Walt Disney World’s Hollywood Studios, visitors have been limited to fairly standard, fixed-point interactions with Darth Vader, Chewbacca, Boba Fett, Kylo Ren, Rey, and BB-8. (A noted exception is Captain Phasma and the Stormtroopers, both of whom frequently roam the parks.) Recent reports have indicated that this will not be the case in Black Spire Outpost, where more obscure characters will make up the bulk of character interactions with curious guests.

The current lineup includes Audio-Animatronic black-market trader Dok-Ondar, bounty hunter Harkos, and anonymous Resistance fighters and First Order sympathizers… all of whom promise varied and interesting engagements as parkgoers are invited to not only immerse themselves in Star Wars lore, but actively participate in a dynamic and still-unfinished story.

2. Story-based shopping experiences

Ollivander's Wand Shop

Image: Universal Studios

At the heart of every successful theme park venture is a well-constructed merchandise shop, and it is here that Universal Studios truly excels: not only by providing a wide range of “authentic” Harry Potter merch to their guests, but by turning one of their most popular retail opportunities into a mini attraction.

From the outside, Ollivander’s Wand Shop looks humble and cozy, but beneath its plain exterior, nothing short of pure magic awaits new customers. Guests are permitted inside the attraction in groups of 20, keeping the feel of the character experience both small and intimate. It is from this pool of nearly two-dozen guests that Ollivander selects a participant to test-drive the wands in his shop—much as Harry Potter supposedly did years earlier. After a few predictable hijinks, the participant is handed the “perfect” wand for their abilities and temperament, and hastily shuffled through the door to the register in the regular gift shop. Not only is it a clever (and effective) way to guarantee Universal a few more merch sales per day, but the highly personalized feel of the attraction and the riveting performance of Ollivander really drives home the immersive intentions of the park.

Unsurprisingly, Disney will be putting their own spin on this strategy with the opening of Dok-Ondar’s Den of Antiquities and Savi’s Workshop at Galaxy’s Edge in May. Ithorian animatronic Dok-Ondar will advertise a number of unique, handcrafted items to curious guests, and may even permit his customers to barter for their goods—with the aid of a cast member, that is. In Savi’s Workshop, meanwhile, mysterious “Gatherers” will help guests through the difficult, yet rewarding process of constructing a lightsaber made especially for their tastes, desires, and political galactic affiliations.

These experiences may not be quite as tailored to the individual as Ollivander’s wand-pairing ceremonies, if for no other reason than the act of bartering for goods or building a custom lightsaber/droid is a far more time-consuming activity than simply selecting a compatible wand (those who have frequented Ollivander’s shop will remember that he usually selects the right piece on his third try). Still, these kinds of retail hotspots present a big step up from the standard cast member-staffed locations found elsewhere on Disney property, and may even facilitate some cool one-of-a-kind opportunities as Disney continues to refine this process.

3. Guest-friendly interactive technology

Wands at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Image: Travis Wise, Flickr (license)

After climbing the cobblestone pathways to Hogwarts Castle, after traveling across the countryside via Hogwarts Express (sweets-laden trolley carts, spider mishaps, and all), after wandering around Diagon Alley’s elegant storefronts and Hogsmeade’s snow-capped eateries, nothing makes you feel more at home in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter than a good old-fashioned interactive wand.

Subtly concealed for those not in the know, and delightfully conspicuous to those who do, are a series of metal plates laid outside numerous window displays. Each plate illustrates the motion of the wand needed to activate a special effect in the display: flushing a toilet outside Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes, mending a broken suit of armor in Brown E. Wright Blacksmith shop, and so on. It may not have the same exhilarating effect as illuminating a room with cries of “Lumos!” or shouting down an obstinate opponent with “Expelliarmus!” but it’s still as close to “real” spell-casting as most visitors will get.

Droid Depot at Galaxy's Edge

Image: Disney

Wands may be all but useless on an alien planet, but that hasn’t stopped Disney from concocting their own interactive features for Black Spire Outpost. In addition to custom-built wands (which, for obvious reasons, are unlikely to see too much action around Batuu), guests will get the chance to purchase basic and premium droids at Droid Depot—or, if they feel so inclined, construct a custom BB- or R-model of their own specifications. The fancier the droid is, the more it’ll be able to interact with various elements in Galaxy’s Edge, though the precise nature of those elements has yet to be revealed.

One potential drawback to the use of droids is their lack of mobility and portability. Sphero’s app-powered BB-8 model—the hot holiday item that dropped back in 2015—was adept at running on the ground and responding to commands, and while the same may hold true for this new model of customizable take-home droids, it will likely be near-impossible to utilize the droids’ full range of features in an über-crowded outdoor environment. Neither a droid nor a lightsaber promises to be as portable as a wand or banshee; unless Disney has plans to incorporate the use of droids in stationary places throughout the parks, they may become collectors’ items rather than usable interactive tech.


Of course, it’s worth noting here that the Wizarding World of Harry Potter wasn’t the first theme park land to introduce unique character interactions, immersive retail opportunities, and interactive tech—and it certainly won’t be the last. However, there’s no denying that it’s had an undeniably positive impact on the industry as competitors, Disney among them, attempt to craft their own immersive theme park worlds. Whether Galaxy’s Edge will eventually find ways to surpass Universal’s Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley remains to be seen, but it looks like it’s already on its way there.