Home » 7 Ways Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge Completely Surprised Us

7 Ways Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge Completely Surprised Us

The opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disneyland and Walt Disney World caught us off-guard in more ways than one…

Disney’s most ambitious land to date came with unprecedented anticipation and expected criticism. In the year leading up to opening day at Disneyland on May 31st, 2019, no one knew fully what to expect. Would Disney attendance skyrocket, interrupting long-held crowd patterns throughout their parks? Would Imagineers lofty concepts for the land pan out or fall flat? Could they woo an increasingly volatile Star Wars fan base, split between strict loyalists to the classic trilogy, younger guests raised on the prequels, and longtime Star Wars fans eager to see a broader take on that galaxy far, far away?

Polarizing reactions were to be expected, but the opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge proved uniquely so—to the point guests still can’t fully predict if the land is a win or a flop yet. A few predictions that panned out included Disney’s implementation of virtual queues, boosts to attendance at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and even the theory that  concepts for the land follow a format similar to a live action MMORPG.

However, there are a few areas surrounding Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge that completely took us by surprise…

1. Surprisingly good crowd control

One of the biggest fears surrounding Galaxy’s Edge was that the land would turn into an absolute madhouse for crowds—after all, Star Wars is one of the most beloved intellectual properties of our day. If fans turned out for the opening of The World of Pandora, a land based on a film that never gained a strong fanbase after an initial booming release, surely Galaxy’s Edge would prove one of the biggest draws in both Disneyland and Walt Disney World. Memes even circulated that the majority of the land would simply act as a queue area for Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run.

To mitigate this issue, Disney put a number of crowd control policies in place for the initial opening at Disneyland, including a reservation system and a strict virtual queue. Guests were warned that a Disneyland admission would not guarantee them access to the land, and each guest was even given a time limit for their visit. Reservations disappeared quickly, and as expected, fans arrived on opening day en masse.

However, it turned out Disneyland did a little too good of a job at their crowd control.

Guests reported that Galaxy’s Edge at Disneyland felt weirdly empty, especially once opening week passed. Disney eventually did away with the reservation system, but the land stayed fairly quiet throughout the summer. Rumors circulated that Galaxy’s Edge was a bust, and fans sat on edge wondering how things would go for the opening of the second land at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

Disney changed their tactics for the Disney’s Hollywood Studios opening, doing away with the reservation system and opting for a higher guest cap paired with a more generous virtual queue. Despite negative press, fans showed up in huge numbers, to the point that Disney opted to open the park an hour early just to accommodate the eager crowd. We wrote about our own experience at the Galaxy’s Edge opening in detail, but one thing caught our attention immediately, and it may just explain what went askew with the Disneyland opening.

Galaxy’s Edge is a brilliant network of crowd sponges.

We tend to unconsciously associate long lines with success at a theme park. When Hagrid’s Motorbike Adventure opened at Universal’s Islands of Adventure, guests (including our own editor) waited over twelve hours just to ride the ride, a scenario that screamed triumph for Universal. However, when asked about why Galaxy’s Edge hadn’t drawn a similar scene, Bob Chapek shot back with a profound point that ten hour lines aren’t indicative of success, at least not in Disney’s eyes. Indeed, it was the very scenario they wanted to avoid.

The truth is, long lines are the worst part of any day at a theme park, no matter how good the ride at the end might be. The best way to mitigate long lines is to give guests reasons to spread out—crowd sponges like shops, dining, character encounters, interactive games, Photopass opportunities… anything to keep guests from pooling into the same queue at the same time. Disney absolutely pulled this off with Galaxy’s Edge by giving guests tons of things to explore across a large area, to the point that the land can be quite busy and not feel “crowded” like we would normally expect (unless you step into the Droid Depot—that place is always busy). The virtual queue prevented too many guests from filling the park at once and provided a much more pleasant waiting experience than camping out under the bright Florida sun. To improve matters further, the queue for Smuggler’s Run moves at veritable light speed compared to other attractions like Avatar: Flight of Passage.

In short, Galaxy’s Edge was brilliantly designed in the area of crowd management, making for a much smoother  guest experience with far less waiting than anyone expected. Unfortunately, this boon may have had a downside…

2. The attendance issues

This is the one major negative that has hung over the opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. The truth is attendance for this first year at Galaxy’s Edge honestly did fall short of everyone’s expectations, even if Disney and many Star Wars fans still count the land as an overall success.

Most everyone expected staggering crowds similar to what we saw in the World of Pandora for the opening of Galaxy’s Edge. The idea of insane crowds may have made some guests gun-shy about committing to a vacation for the land’s first year, and bad press following the Disneyland opening may have driven them to delay even further. Ironically, when the Magic Kingdom opened in 1971, the same thing happened—the press called Disney’s Florida project a failure due to the low attendance, but it turned out, many people who were interested in the park had hung back for fear of staggering crowds.

A number of factors may have contributed to the lower attendance numbers. For one thing, there is a genuine sense of fan frustration over elements of Disney’s handling of Star Wars as a property. It’s become a very polarizing subject, with fans starkly divided into camps who enjoy all of the new material, those who appreciate portions of it (e.g. some fans hated The Last Jedi, others loved it—same thing with Solo: A Star Wars Story), and those who wouldn’t have been happy with anything short of a land based on the original films. Frankly, it can be argued that Disney made the right call setting their land in a world where original stories can be told— a place where Disney could pay tribute to every corner of the saga easily, no matter how it may expand in the future. Still, this has proven a point of contention that may have kept some fans away.

The other issue that likely affected attendance was Disney’s choice to stagger the opening of the land’s two main attractions. Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run opened with the land in both Disneyland and Walt Disney World, but Disney chose to delay the opening of the Galaxy’s Edge’s most anticipated attraction, Rise of the Resistance. Staggering the attraction openings may have seemed smart from a logistics point of view, but it seems likely that this strategy backfired on Disney, causing guests to delay their vacations until the new ride opens.

Only time will tell if attendance improves, but things are looking up overall for Disney. If nothing else, Rise of the Resistance looks like it could prove to be their best attraction to date, something finally up to par with Universal’s ever-increasing line of technological marvels.

3. The draw of the land itself

One of the biggest criticisms drawn against Galaxy’s Edge was the issue that the land was opening with only one attraction. This seemed like a significant mistake on Disney’s part, but their game actually makes sense now.

The Black Spire Outpost is an attraction in and of itself.

Having experienced Galaxy’s Edge multiple times now, it never ceases to surprise me how much time you can spend just exploring Batuu. Like the World of Pandora, there is something about the Black Spire Outpost that holds a universal appeal beyond Star Wars fandom—it’s an invitation to experience an alien world, a science-fantasy culture as if you’re a character in that story. There is so much to find that you could honestly spend hours just taking it in.

Everything in the outpost comes alive. Ships power up as you pass. Droids whistle and coo to each other in maintenance bays. A dianoga peers at you with its single, slimy eye while you drink from the water fountain. Star Wars characters like Rey, Finn, Chewbacca, Kylo Ren, and Leia’s top spy, Vi Moradi, wander the streets at random, and stormtroopers regularly shake down guests with hilarious results.

Shopping becomes an immersive experience in Galaxy’s Edge, where even if you don’t buy anything, you’re exploring the wares of another world. A drink in Oga’s Cantina isn’t about getting sloshed—it’s about experiencing a Star Wars cantina just like in the movies, complete with Rex from the original Star Tours acting as DJ. Dok Ondar’s Den of Antiquities feels like an attraction unto itself, a living museum of all things Star Wars. Upcharge experiences like Savi’s Lightsaber workshop and the Droid Depot (which you can still explore) provide even more avenues for diversion. The Star Wars Datapad game on the Play Disney parks app turns the whole land into a giant open world game, where guests can interact in real time with elements throughout the land while embarking on secret missions.

In short, Galaxy’s Edge isn’t all about the rides, and that gives the land a unique draw beyond its main attractions. It’s Disney magic at its best.

4. The subtlety

Some guests were very nervous about the level of immersiveness described for Galaxy’s Edge—a place where all cast members would be in character all the time and guests would be invited to interact with them as if actually visiting the Star Wars universe. We compared it to a Star Wars Renaissance Faire. However, despite some of the initial trepidation guests expressed over this element of Galaxy’s Edge, we were surprised to see just how subtly immersion is used throughout the land.

Galaxy’s Edge isn’t at the stage where there are huge stunt shows yet—maybe that might happen in the future but not yet. The closest thing is when Kylo Ren arrives on the planet demanding to search the outpost for himself after choking one of his officers. There is nothing blusterous or intimidating about Batuu or its denizens really. That’s because the rest of the character encounters and “shows” throughout Galaxy’s Edge are extremely subtle.

One hour, Chewie and Rey will work with a Resistance mechanic to fix an X-Wing or an antenna. At another, Finn or Vi Moradi might sneak into a garage right under stormtrooper noses to plant a surveillance device. All day long, a rather entertaining game of hide and seek takes place where our Resistance heroes carefully dodge stormtroopers with the aid of recruited guests. Kylo Ren occasionally confronts passerbys to “read their thoughts” using the Force, only to dismiss them as useless in most cases.

We recently had what must have been a five minute conversation with Vi Moradi while she was dodging stormtroopers. She was utterly, refreshingly normal—super cool and definitely intelligent enough to be a Resistance spy but genuinely intriguing to talk to. We accepted the invitation to get in on the story and answered questions “in character”, pulling from characters we made for Star Wars: The Old Republic (a video game), but I got the sense that the cast of Galaxy’s Edge know how to roll with it if you just want to be a tourist on Batuu from the mysterious planet Earth.

There are times when the character interactions can almost be too subtle in Galaxy’s Edge—they move fast and can be a challenge to slow down if you aren’t an adorable child. However, we actually appreciate that the land doesn’t feel contrived or overly theatrical. There’s a wonderful organic feel to the way the characters come ago that really contributes to the immersiveness of the land.

5. The surprisingly lax costume policy

Star Wars fans love to dress up. Cosplay has become such a tradition that entire communities, like the 501st Legion, exist where cosplayers exchange ideas and even use their costumes to serve at non-profit events.

No one knew what Disney would and wouldn’t allow for costuming in Galaxy’s Edge. After all, Disney has held a longtime policy that guests over the age of 14 cannot wear costumes in the parks. Disneybounding is a practice that works around this by using contemporary or vintage clothing to make outfits that pay tribute to Disney characters, but the line always remains that guests must not look like cast members or official characters. This is understandable for guest safety.

Disney offered a compromise for fans who wanted to dress up at Galaxy’s Edge: Disneybounding would still be allowed within normal guidelines, but guests could also try something new. Guests could choose to dress up as a “Batuu local” by wearing clothes that look vaguely like they belong in the Star Wars universe. Some fans have taken to calling it “Batuu-bounding”. The only rules were no armor, no masks, no blasters, no garments that drag on the ground, and no Jedi robes.

Apparently, when Galaxy’s Edge opened at Disneyland, these rules were a source of some confusion. A number of guests reported being bounced at the security gates for wearing robe-less Jedi costumes or Batuu-bounding outfits that matched those Disney said were approved. No one could tell what was and wasn’t allowed. Interestingly, by the time guidelines were released for Walt Disney World, the Jedi robes were no longer on the banned list—indeed, we’ve seen them a number of times in the land, possibly from guests who bought them at the outfitter shop.

It took us a little courage to try Batuu-bounding, but we’re hooked now. Communities of Batuu-bounders and Disneybounders have started finding each other online, and they really do add something great to Galaxy’s Edge, making the atmosphere feel much more immersive. People come up with some seriously creative ideas that fall within Disney’s guidelines. The cast members are often very nice to Batuu-bounders, recognizing it as a way of saying you want to play along in the world they’ve built. The policy is surprisingly generous, and we are glad for that. I never would have tried Disneybounding myself, but now, it’s become a regular practice because of the fun elements it adds to our visit.

6. Star Wars Datapad is actually pretty cool

I had a lot of feelings when Disney announced the addition of Star Wars Datapad as an option at Galaxy’s Edge. On one hand, it seemed like a very cool idea, something straight out of an MMORPG. However, I was very skeptical, fearing Disney boil the app down to a cheap gimmick with only a handful of tricks.

I was wrong. If you’re into “side quests”, Datapad can turn into one seriously addicting game.

We wrote a full guide on it, but in short, Star Wars Datapad allows you to use your phone to interact in real time with elements (and even “characters” via chat bots) throughout Galaxy’s Edge. You can “Hack” terminals, droids, vehicles, ships, and even skim credits if you’re a scoundrel sort. With another feature, you can “Tune” into encrypted frequencies. With the “Scan” feature, you can learn the hidden contents of crates throughout the outpost, and finally, you can “Translate” Aurebesh writing and alien speech. All of these features come together in the app’s Jobs section, where guests can take on missions for the Resistance, the First Order, for Batuu locals, or for various scum (like Hondo), building reputation with factions and earning achievements.

Datapad really turns into a great exploration tool for getting around Galaxy’s Edge, and if you like scavenger hunt type games, it’s as addicting as pin trading. Both the reputation element and the achievements give it a great replay value, especially for repeat visitors like Passholders or Florida locals. We were worried this game would fall flat, but we’re actually very excited to see where Disney takes it with expansions in the future.

7. The food is surprisingly good

A final note that surprised us about Galaxy’s Edge. While Disneyland has a pretty good spread of food for guests to enjoy, Disney’s Hollywood Studios has always fallen somewhat short in the area of Disney dining. Even mainstays like the Brown Derby waned in quality over the years, and much of the park’s offerings are the same things rehashed in different ways—American and Italian food in varying forms.

Galaxy’s Edge is a good step in a new direction for food at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. While they have a few “meh” dishes, overall, the food we’ve had at both Docking Bay 7 and Ronto Roasters has been genuinely tasty, to the point that those two restaurants are now our go-to eateries at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. We’ve become particular fans of the Felucian Garden Spread, the Endorian Yip-Tip Salad, the Shaak Roast, and Ronto Roaster’s delicious Endorian Chicken Wrap. Oh, and the blue and green milk are both awesome. A lot of people don’t like the green milk, but I think it tastes like pure Star Wars magic. Go with the blue for your first try. In short, the food at Galaxy’s Edge passed the test and has successfully provided much-needed new options—even some healthy ones.

There is still so much more to come for Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, but overall, we’ve been very pleased with the land. If Disney can nail the opening to Rise of the Resistance and keep a steady flow of expansions and improvements coming over the years, attendance should hopefully level out and the Black Spire Outpost draw many visitors for years to come.