“Galaxy’s Edge is a failure!” they said. “Disney’s attendance is plummeting!” they said. “It’s a financial catastrophe!” they said.
To which Florida replied, “Pssh-- Hold my blue milk.”
No one knew exactly what to expect for the opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Walt Disney World on Thursday, August 29th. Tension certainly lingered in the air. Resorts didn’t appear to be sold out and Fastpasses in other parks seemed strangely easy to claim as the day drew near. The media kept Disney under heavy fire over the summer with reports that park attendance was down-- that Disneyland’s Galaxy’s Edge felt just too empty to be successful. The prognosis didn’t look ideal for one of Disney’s biggest investments to date.
Whatever hurdles Disney ran into with the opening of Galaxy’s Edge in Disneyland, they clearly learned from those mistakes. To call the opening of Galaxy’s Edge at Walt Disney World an unmitigated success is an understatement. Fans didn’t just come out in droves to christen Disney’s newest land—they caused a disturbance in the Force by coming out in such numbers that Disney had to quickly adapt to accommodate the unforeseen demand.
Here’s our firsthand experience on just how opening day for Galaxy’s Edge went down…
Crowds were INSANE—so Disney rolled with it
Camping out for premieres is something of a longstanding tradition among Star Wars fans. Never underestimate the zeal of this fanbase. Disney’s Hollywood Studios was slated to open at 6am on August 29th. You would expect that people probably would want to arrive early for such an anticipated land, but surely no one would arrive before 4am, right?
By midnight, people were already arriving and camping out for the opening of Galaxy’s Edge. The reports we heard indicated that a number of zealous guests were turned away when they tried to stake spots in line early or camp in the parking lot. Some were even warned that if they stayed, they would technically be trespassing. Despite this, cars began to line up throughout the night outside of Disney’s Hollywood Studios, stretching well down the road into the resort’s main thoroughfares.
Around 3am, Disney opened the floodgates to let people properly line up outside of the park. Disney’s Hollywood Studios parking quickly started filling, and fans lined up in front of Hollywood Studios in droves. Our friends who were present described the atmosphere as barely-contained-insanity. Bright Suns hadn’t even risen on Batuu yet, and the crowd had already surpassed capacity levels for the land. Excitement was in the air, and the craziness was only going to intensify as 6am drew near.
So, Disney did something absolutely unexpected: they opened the park early.
Somewhere around 5am, Disney opened its gates and Star Wars fans filled Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Hollywood Boulevard filled wall to wall with a swarm of people as thick as any Magic Kingdom 4th of July crowd. Forget Area 51—this crowd was ready to storm the Black Spire. We heard several unconfirmed reports of guests nearly being trampled by over-eager visitors, and one confirmed report of cast members even being pushed by misbehaving guests. We never got clear details on this, but some cast members in other parts of the park (particularly on Star Tours) definitely looked a little weary from the wild morning.
Fortunately, this craziness dissipated as crowds were gradually absorbed into lines for Smuggler's Run, Oga's Cantina, and the land's merchandise experiences. Well before 6am, the line for Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run swelled to a whopping 300 minutes.
A surprisingly smooth morning
“10-hour lines are not a sign of success,” Disney Parks and Resorts Chair, Bob Chapek, recently remarked. “It should be seen as a sign of, frankly, failure.”
By the park’s officially announced opening time at 6am, Galaxy’s Edge had already reached capacity. Most theme park openings are associated with bonkers lines, but Disney wasn’t about to make the same mistakes they did with the opening of Pandora—nor would they make the same mistake as Universal Islands of Adventure with the 14-hour lines guests encountered at the opening of Hagrid’s Motorbike Adventure coaster.
We arrived at Disney’s Hollywood Studios a bit after 6am. Turns out, this was actually something of a sweet spot. Parking went incredibly quick, and almost no one bothered using the tram to get to the entrance plaza. The new security checkpoints flowed incredibly well, and the security guards were commendably pleasant for all the madness they had endured in the morning. My husband and I both Disneybounded as smugglers, so I had been concerned we might get bounced since we didn’t necessarily look like “Batuu” natives, but we ran into no problems. While people were waiting in line to gain entry to the park, Disney was already sending cast members into the crowd announcing that Galaxy’s Edge was at capacity and handing out cards explaining how to use the land’s virtual queue.
When Disney tried using reservations at the original opening of Disneyland’s Galaxy’s Edge, they ran into a problem—they may have underestimated the land’s potential as a crowd sponge. We’ve talked about this concept before at Theme Park Tourist. Attraction queues and other lines help “sponge” crowds away from thoroughfares so the park doesn’t feel stressfully busy. By getting rid of reservations and using virtual queues instead, Disney turned Galaxy’s Edge into the perfect crowd sponge without turning the whole of Hollywood Studios into one massive, miserable line.
Using the virtual queue was insanely easy. We literally just pulled up My Disney Experience, clicked the Galaxy’s Edge information button, and signed up. We ended up in Boarding Group 19 with an estimated entry time of “Morning”. This evolved over the next hour into “Late Morning” as Disney got a better handle on how long fans were lingering in the land. Disney didn’t use the four-hour limit they instituted in Disneyland, a prospect that definitely made those of us waiting a little nervous. However, this ultimately ended up being a good thing—people could spend as much or as little time at Batuu as they wanted.
While some attractions didn’t open until 9am, there was plenty to do for eager fans waiting to get into Galaxy’s Edge. In a smart move, Disney set up a line near Fantasmic where guests could queue up to procure opening day merchandise. You even received a flyer with the opening day goodies listed with their prices while you waited in line to expedite the process. This was definitely a good-sized line that helped sponge away more crowds. We knew we would be spending money at Dok Ondar’s later on, so we opted instead to ride some rides during our wait.
For the first time that I can remember at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, all of the park’s E-Ticket attractions were walk-ons. We shared an empty car on the Tower of Terror with two other fans. Rockin’ Roller Coaster was slightly busier, but the line was moving so fast that they didn’t even have crowds stop to watch the pre-show. Star Tours was (expectedly) a hair busier, but even it we got onto in less than 15 minutes. By 7am, we were piddling about in the shop at Star Wars Launch Bay, chatting with an extremely friendly cast member about how the morning went (we ended up with an opening day patch and pin after all—I think she used a Jedi Mind Trick on us). They were barely boarding groups 5-11 by this point, so we were prepared to not get into Galaxy’s Edge until the afternoon. Our friends who were inside texted that they had already ridden Smuggler’s Run 3 times thanks to the single rider line (more on that later).
We were enjoying a quiet Starbucks breakfast by Echo Lake when my phone buzzed, and the time arrived. It wasn’t even 8am yet. We finished our food and headed to the Galaxy’s Edge entrance near Grand Avenue. We passed through about 3 layers of lined up cast members: one who asked our boarding group based on honor system, a second who confirmed our group with our Magic Bands, and a third line who made sure no one slipped by. I could hardly believe it was happening, but with almost zero waits, we were headed into Galaxy’s Edge… and it was just as spectacular as we had hoped for.
Batuu is just as immersive as expected
Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is, without a doubt, the most insanely immersive land Disney has ever made. It is such a captivating place that you could spend hours there and completely forget that it is tucked into Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Entering Batuu is an experience unlike any other available at Disney parks. You could perhaps liken it to entering Hogsmeade at Universal’s Islands of Adventure, but there’s something far more subtle to the realism of Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge.
Especially if you are a die-hard Star Wars fan, Batuu feels insanely real. My husband and I are both longtime players of Star Wars MMORPG video games—we were active in Star Wars Galaxies and still regularly play Star Wars: The Old Republic. I had speculated sometime back in an article that Galaxy’s Edge sounded like a live action version of one of these games. I was absolutely right.
Every detail reinforces immersion in Galaxy’s Edge. If not for the fact that cast members wear name badges, you would quickly forget they are Disney employees. Sure, there are tourists everywhere, and you couldn’t take five steps without tripping over a YouTuber or Instagram influencer hurriedly producing content, but it didn’t matter. Similar to a Renaissance Festival, the crowds were sprinkled with both cast members and Disneybounders wearing Star Wars-inspired garb. Stormtroopers occasionally marched through in pairs, casually accosting anyone who caught their eye. The crowds just sort of melted away into the story. Everything is extremely alive. Small panels light up when guests use the datapad app. That starfighter you thought was a simple prop replica might suddenly power-up and start releasing steam. The whole place is magically, stunningly real.
You find yourself wanting to know more about the story
A Disney representative described Batuu as something like experiencing the movie “Groundhog Day” in Star Wars. Your visit to Galaxy’s Edge takes place on a specific day in the Star Wars canon timeline, somewhere between The Last Jedi and Rise of the Skywalker. There are no repeat stage shows like in other parts of the park. Specific events take place at specific times of the day.
We knew we wanted to visit Dok Ondar’s Den of Antiquities, so we ended up at the end of that line very quickly upon visiting the park. My husband quickly procured a thermal detonator shaped-soda (which he accidentally dropped at one point, urging shouts of “HE’S HOLDING A THERMAL DETONATOR!” from nearby fans), but we ended up spending a good 2 hours in that line. From our vantage point beginning on the outskirts of the land’s Resistance base, we got to see elements of the story play out several times. Stormtrooper patrols became a regular occurrence. We quickly learned how to pick out Vi Moradi, Leia’s (excuse me… General Organa’s) Chief Spy thanks to her blue hair.
We watched Rey walk through the crowd at least five times. The first two, I didn’t even realize she was a character—I thought she was just another guest. There were so many Rey Disneybounders that we started to joke that they were clearly decoys, like the Queen of Naboo’s handmaidens. Once we realized it was the real Rey, we kept an eye on her, and on occasion, she would pull people from the crowd and take them on small missions for the Resistance. One of the sweetest moments of the day was watching Rey stop to chat with a twenty-something woman. When the girl recognized her, she clasped her hands to her mouth and started crying for joy that her hero was talking to her. She was all smiles as Rey took a picture with her before taking her on a mission.
Little vignettes like this continue throughout the day. We watched cast members cart weird containers through the park as part of “shipments” or others act super-sketchy like they were on spy missions. Chewie and a mechanic asked for help from passerbys to fix a malfunctioning antenna at one point. My husband even witnessed stormtroopers arresting Vi Moradi only for her to reappear later. How did she escape? What did they want with her? What are the rules of neutrality on Batuu? If you pay attention to your surroundings, you really start getting caught up in the story.
There is so much to do because EVERYTHING is an attraction
One of the biggest gripes detractors had when Galaxy’s Edge was announced was that there wouldn’t be enough to do—after all, the land was only opening with one of its two flagship attractions.
This line of thinking could not be more wrong. The reason why is that Galaxy’s Edge defies the traditional structure of how we expect a theme park land to work. We assume lands are supposed to be a setting to hold attractions. Shopping and dining are secondary concerns, but rides are all fans really care about.
Smuggler’s Run is a great attraction, but the real draw of Galaxy’s Edge is that the whole blasted place is pure Disney magic. If you are willing to let yourself get lost in the world of Batuu, you could spend hours there. Shopping, dining, exploration, and cast member interactions all become attractions unto themselves. During our long wait for Dok Ondar’s Den, we took turns exploring. You can burn so much time just wandering around taking it all in. Everything adds to the atmosphere, from popcorn buckets that look like mouse droids to creature carriers for “pets” guests can purchase. We didn’t even touch the park’s upcharge experiences, like the ultra-immersive Savi’s Lightsaber workshop or the Droid Depot, and we still had plenty to do to occupy our time.
By the way, while we didn’t get to try Batuu’s food offerings yet, the blue and green milk are well worth your investment. The line moves extremely fast, and we opted to try one of each. My husband preferred the blue milk for its remarkable creaminess, berry-like flavor (from dragonfruit puree), and almost imperceptible fruit chunks. While it was very tasty, I actually loved the subtlety of the green milk. I don’t like drinks that are too sweet, and while I could have done without the smoothie-like element, the green milk was still wonderfully creamy with an extremely subtle fruit flavor. The latter felt more like “Star-Wars-milk” to me and will definitely be my go-to order on future visits. However, I can definitely see why most people prefer the blue. Supposedly, you can get a better deal on blue and green milk from Oga’s Cantina, by the way.
You have to try Star Wars Datapad
Our favorite pastime for the day was definitely the Star Wars Datapad. Once again, this really made Galaxy’s Edge feel like a live action MMORPG. For those unfamiliar, Star Wars Datapad is a game on the Play Disney Parks app that turns your phone into a functioning Star Wars Datapad that can hack/slice terminals, tune into frequencies, translate Aurebesh and alien speech, or scan the contents of crates. While you can use these functions at random throughout the land gaining achievements and digital gear as you go, the best part of the app is the “Jobs” function.
The jobs feature acts kind of like a Star Wars version of gig-economy apps. You can fulfill missions throughout The Black Spire Outpost to gain in-game credits or reputation with various factions in the land. Pay attention to who you are working for! If you just randomly accept every job, you might end up working for General Hux!
The jobs usually entail using the app’s four functions to do specific tasks in specific places. The app also includes a cool chat-bot feature that allows you to chat with locals, including famous Star Wars characters like Rose Tico, Hondo Ohnaka, or the aforementioned General. We got really into it and found ourselves hacking every terminal we could find, tuning into frequencies left and right, and scanning every crate we could locate. Do note that one or two of these crates are in spots that guests inexplicably like taking pictures in, so just have fun with it if people look at you like you’re a weirdo for standing in line just to scan a crate.
In theory, your actions in the app are linked to your My Disney Experience account, which is in-turn linked to your MagicBand. The park was so busy that we didn’t get quite as much cast member interaction as we wanted, but in theory, Disney has already suggested that your in-world “reputation” will affect your experiences in the park. We are very excited to see where this goes, as well as if Disney might introduce in-world rewards for guests who complete lots of Datapad missions. If you will be trying out Star Wars Datapad, make sure you have a way to charge your phone, most likely with a power pack since there are currently no Fuel Rod stations in Galaxy’s Edge.
The merchandise is out of this world—literally
We were extremely impressed by the quality of merch available in Galaxy’s Edge, specifically in how Disney took things you could use in real life and made them feel like they belonged in Star Wars. Even the t-shirts look like they belong in their respective hubs. Similar to the banshees in Pandora, you will regularly see people walk through Galaxy’s Edge with in-world pets like a shoulder-mounted Kowakian Monkey Lizard or Porg. We also loved seeing the droids that people created, and it’s fascinating to watch how they interact with elements in the land, including trembling when Stormtroopers are near. We had a great conversation with two kids on Smuggler’s Run who told us the entire backstory of their droids!
As mentioned previously, we waited around two hours for Dok Ondar’s Den of Antiquities. While I don’t know if I would do that again, Dok Ondar’s is a must-stop location if you want some top-quality merch, and it’s a blasted fun place for Star Wars fans thanks to the myriad Easter eggs lining its shelves. There is a lot to find in this shop, but some of the highlights include legacy lightsabers of spectacular quality, impressive artwork, and in-world jewelry like Leia’s Resistance ring or Rey’s necklace. Dok Ondar’s collection of available wares also includes Jedi and Sith holocrons that can open, relay messages, and interact with different kyber crystals that you can purchase. As an extra bonus, the animatronic for Dok Ondar himself is amazingly realistic, down to moving gills on his face.
Our biggest complaint about Dok Ondar’s was that the lines and checkout system ended up being unnecessarily slow and confusing. The Den has two checkout counters—one where the legacy lightsabers are and one on the right side of the room. No matter the length of the line, you will be better off going to the one away from the lightsabers. We thought the lines looked equal length, so we chose the main counter line only to realize that A) the line curves in a strange Z pattern, B) because of this, people cut in more than once, and C) there is only one register at the very end of the line close to Dok Ondar himself—don’t assume there’s one on the left because there isn’t. People take a long time with the lightsabers, so this line moved at snail pace. We eventually switched to the other line which went a hair faster but was still very slow.
The “role play” factor adds to the experience (but is pretty subtle)
One of our favorite aspects of Galaxy’s Edge was how guests are invited to participate in the world of Batuu as characters. My husband and I have some experience with settings like this: along with building characters and stories in MMORPG’s, we also have both been actors and worked for a Renaissance Festival. Thanks to this, we felt right at home in Galaxy’s Edge.
Guests who chose to Disneybound really added something fun to the atmosphere. For those unfamiliar, Disneybounding is the practice of using modern or vintage clothing to produce fashion looks that aren’t-quite-cosplay but definitely pay homage to Disney characters. Guests over the age of 14 are not allowed to wear costumes, but Disney gave the land a pretty reasonable dress-up policy: guests are welcome to Disneybound in outfits that pay homage to known Star Wars characters. You can also dress as a Batuu local, wearing layers, natural fabrics, and earth-tones. Jedi robes and clothes that drag, full cosplay outfits, military gear, and blasters are not allowed. This was fine as Jedi robes honestly would have been a detracting element for the land’s story being the Jedi are nearly extinct at this stage in the story.
We were a little nervous to try out Disneybounding for Galaxy’s Edge after we read reports that some guests were bounced at Disneyland by security for trying too hard to dress as Batuu locals—one man reported he even copied a costume Disney had posted as “approved” and was denied entry. We did not run into this issue at Walt Disney World. The security guards and cast members were wonderfully chill. My outfit wasn’t anything elaborate—just jeans with Han Solo stripes, a belt with some leather pouches, a vest over a tank top, a cowl, goggles, and fingerless gloves. People had some pretty elaborate Disneybound outfits that looked extremely similar to what cast members wore, but no one blinked an eye about it. We saw some impressive outfits based on Rey, a really great tribute to Padme’s summer dress (complete with gold ear buns), and even one fellow in a very intricate earth-tones mechanic's outfit.
I will say that I was a little bummed we didn’t get more chances to interact with cast members in character during our visit. We think this mostly had to do with the massive crowds, so we are hopeful to do more of this on future visits. For guests who are intimidated by the role-playing elements of Galaxy’s Edge, don’t worry. It was extremely subtle, and you can just have fun with it like you’d have with any costumed character. One or two cast members asked what planet we were from, and they will almost always will say they have never heard of your answer—most of the Batuu locals play characters who have never travelled. Die hard Star Wars fans, don’t expect them to know what you’re talking about if you start dropping lore references. I watched one or two interactions where guests got annoyed with cast members giving in-world answers to real-life questions, but the Batuuans knew how to handle these situation in stride and explain things without breaking character.
Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run is just plain, blasted fun
Our visit to Batuu ended up playing out somewhat backwards. Whereas most guests went straight for Smuggler’s Run, we really got caught up just exploring Batuu. However, as the day went on, we knew we absolutely didn’t want to leave without flying the Falcon. By around noon, the massive 300 minute line had shortened to 150 minutes. The land’s trademark “Bright Suns!” greeting had become a little too literal as the sun pounded the land with heat. We didn’t particularly want to stand in another 2 hour line if we could avoid it, and crowds were continuing to swell as the land grew busier and busier.
The single rider line proved a lifesaver.
Most guests likely didn’t even realize that Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run has a single rider line, located to the left of the stand-by entrance. You can’t even see if unless you walk right up to it, and it did close on one or two occasions in the morning. However, if you want to ride in the Falcon without waiting for 2-5 hours, it’s a real gem of an option.
There are some drawbacks to riding Smuggler’s Run as a single rider. For one thing, you don’t get to enjoy the ride’s immersive queue or play the app that accompanies it (Datapad still works, but not the location-specific games). You completely miss the pre-show with Hondo Ohnaka, and you also don’t get to pick your crew position. I ended up being an engineer twice while my husband was a gunner once and an engineer once. Despite this, it was well worth the adjustments since we didn’t wait more than 15 minutes either time.
Seeing the inside of the Millennium Falcon is definitely a captivating experience. It’s not a perfect replica: the blueprint of the actual Millennium Falcon is more circular in its design, and you don’t get to see or mess with the ship’s gunner turrets from A New Hope—an experience which we think may have been a missed opportunity on Disney’s part. The Falcon’s holding area also gets pretty crowded while guests wait to board. You may or may not be able to get to the Dejarik table, and we noticed some guests who were used to a more traditional theme park experience seemed annoyed with the boarding process and crew assignments. Still, the cast members got us through incredibly fast.
The cockpit of the Falcon feels a hair smaller than I expected, but it is still an awesome experience to take in. Naturally, pilot is the go-to job everyone wants, but your chances of getting it will always be slim, particularly if you ride with kids. The ride is definitely a video game on steroids. There are elements of the graphics that I could distinctly tell had the motion-enhancement elements common to video games, but this ultimately didn’t take away from the experience. Engineer ended up being quite fun as you have so many buttons and switches to interact with, and the more the pilots bang up the ship, the more you have to do. I was fortunate to have pilots both times who really were into the experience—one of which was a couple who had a blast and the second time with two kids who did surprisingly well.
My husband and I found quickly that a positive experience on Smuggler’s Run is all about attitude. If you end up with people having a good attitude and you keep one yourself, it stays fun. If you get upset about the performance of your fellow crewmates, you’ll foil your own experience. On my husband’s first ride, the pilot position went to a confused woman who didn’t speak English well. The crew’s gunners were two girls who were extremely competitive and ended up screaming at the poor woman the whole time trying to force a better performance out of her. Needless to say, while the ride was fun, it made the experience extremely uncomfortable. His second ride was a much better as he ended up with a mixed group who just had fun with the experience.
If you are most interested in a ride with extreme-realism and epic scope, Avatar: Flight of Passage still edges out Smuggler’s Run. I would say the Falcon could do with some slight tunes to the graphics as well as louder audio to make the experience more immersive (Hondo is hard to hear at times). However, for an extremely immersive attraction that is undeniable, raucous fun, you cannot beat Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run. The interactivity of it is absolutely cutting edge, and you can’t help but smile the whole time you ride it. It definitely has made the list of our favorite Disney attractions of all time.
A second chance for Disney
Only time will tell how Galaxy’s Edge does in the coming weeks (especially with the looming arrival of Hurricane Dorian), but the sense we got is that the Black Spire Outpost is going to be an overwhelming success at Walt Disney World. Paired with Toy Story Land, Galaxy’s Edge has breathed something entirely new and exciting into Disney’s Hollywood Studios. We already know Rise of the Resistance is coming on December 5th, and Disney has already dropped hints about other upgrades coming to Galaxy’s Edge, from downloadable Datapad expansions to a sit down restaurant.
Especially with the recent announcements from D23, it seems very likely that attendance at the Most Magical Place on Earth will be going up, and that will hopefully mean good things for the future of Galaxy’s Edge. If you visit in the coming months, arrive at the park early, hydrate regularly, make sure your phone is charged, and definitely get in the stand-by line for Smuggler’s Run quickly.
Were you there opening day? What was your experience?