Home » Showdown: The World of Pandora vs. Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge

Showdown: The World of Pandora vs. Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge

Hondo welcoming guests to Batuu

Things are about to get real for some Disney fans…

We are entering a very exciting time to be a Disney parks fan. While immersion has always been a prized value in Disney parks design, the House of Mouse took this concept to new heights with the launch of The World of Pandora at Disney’s Animal Kingdom and, more recently, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Disneyland.

The World of Pandora opened in May of 2017 and seemed like Disney’s strangest gamble to date. Why would Disney choose James Cameron’s Avatar—a film that was certainly a huge financial success but never really left a strong footprint—for a themed land? Largely, it’s speculated that Disney snatched up the rights to Avatar in response to Universal’s wildly successful Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Indeed, Disney originally had the rights to Harry Potter, but they let the deal fall through only for Universal to snatch up the chance.

Disney wasn’t about to make the same mistake again, and it seemed like a logical choice to choose Avatar since James Cameron was insistent on potential dates for sequels coinciding with the land’s opening. That didn’t necessarily happen (supposedly the first of the Avatar sequels will finally arrive near the end of 2021) , but despite all odds, The World of Pandora somehow proved an unmitigated success. Attendance at Disney’s Animal Kingdom skyrocketed, and guests lined up in droves, particularly for the land’s main attraction, Avatar: Flight of Passage. In a strange way, the World of Pandora did actually manage to revitalize Disney’s Animal Kingdom, drawing new fans to the park not because of its namesake film but because guests grew genuinely curious to experience the overall excellence of the land.

It’s no secret, however, that The World of Pandora was likely a test run for a much bigger venture.

Galaxy's Edge Opening Day fireworks

Image: Disney

When Disney announced “Star Wars Land” in 2015, the buzz was far, far higher than any of the publicity leading up to the World of Pandora. Star Wars is one of the most beloved film franchises in existence, to the point it’s been dogged by controversy every time new films have been introduced. By the time opening dates in 2019 were announced for Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge in Disneyland and Disney’s Hollywood Studios, expectations were through the roof.

Ironically, despite being a far more popular property, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge ran into way more problems surrounding its opening than Pandora did. Staunch fans of the classic trilogy were upset the land wasn’t based in the world of the original films. Others criticized the notion the land was opening with only one attraction, Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run. People were extremely nervous about the crowds the land would draw, and its suspected many held off on trips, waiting things out until crowds dispersed and the land’s second attraction, Rise of the Resistance, opened. To make matters worse, while the land had a very good turnout for opening day in Disneyland, Disney parks suffered a drop in attendance before the opening of its Walt Disney World counterpart. The land was a little too good at crowd control, and the media and influencers were quick to cry failure at the appearance of an empty park.

Despite a bumpy start, Galaxy’s Edge was well-received by those who visited who praised its insane detail, immersiveness, and intriguing story elements. The Walt Disney World opening drew such insane crowds that the Disney overlords ended up opening the park early, and after an expected lull in September, attendance has steadily increased. The land remains a huge point of buzz on social media and is quickly building an extremely loyal fanbase of both Disney and Star Wars fans.

Girl picking banshee

Image: Disney

So, which one is better?

It is near impossible not to draw comparisons between Pandora and Batuu (the Star Wars world Galaxy’s Edge is set on). Fans of Pandora may find themselves judging Galaxy’s Edge through that familiar lens and vice versa. There’s no easy answer to this question, so we decided to take a closer look at specific elements in both of these incredible lands to see which comes out stronger. Which side are you on?

The land itself

Little girl exploring Pandora

Image: Disney

One of the biggest draws to The World of Pandora was, ironically, the land itself. Even when lines for Flight of Passage were so long that no one would dare join them, curious guests within Disney’s Animal Kingdom detoured to explore the wonders of Pandora. The land is inescapably beautiful and otherworldly with plenty of mysterious corners to explore. One friend described it as stepping into the Garden of Eden. Pandora also has a strong appeal for science fiction fans since you don’t have to know a thing about Avatar to get the references and understand the general vibe of the outpost. I know that we made mental connections to a dozen science fiction properties when we visited, from Brandon Sanderson’s cosmere books all the way to Star Wars: Clone Wars.

Galaxy’s Edge, on the other hand, holds a different appeal. We still hold to the idea that Disney made the right call setting Star Wars Land on a new planet, Batuu, because they were able to pull elements from across the Star Wars saga and knit them together into a coherent experience. The Black Spire Outpost feels like something straight out of Star Wars, with familiar influences from Tatooine, Yavin IV, Jedha, Ahch-to, and even the Old Republic. There is so much to explore within Galaxy’s Edge that it is very easy to forget that you’re in Disney’s Hollywood Studios. It also helps that it is MASSIVE, with sections dedicated to The Resistance, The First Order, a sprawling marketplace, and Ohnaka Shipping Solutions, the current resting place for The Millennium Falcon.

You can’t underestimate the awe of seeing the Millennium Falcon firing up under the spires for the first time…

Millennium Falcon at night

Image: Disney

You could spend hours just uncovering the Black Spire Outpost’s mysteries, a point Disney took advantage of by making elements throughout the land interactive. Indeed, there’s even an app to encourage exploration (a concept they test drove in Pandora, ironically). The Star Wars Datapad game in the Play Disney app turns your phone into an in-world device that can tune into frequencies, translate Aurebesh, scan crates, and “slice” terminals, droids, and ships. Many of these elements actually respond to you with lights, sounds, and other effects. You can even participate in jobs to help the Resistance, First Order, or just make credits for yourself.

Overall, both The World of Pandora and Batuu bring a lot to the table. Pandora wins for overall beauty, splendor, and inspiring wonder. It will also be the preferred location for guests looking for a more relaxing vacation experience where you can just take in the spectacle of a magnificent world. For immersiveness, interactivity, and for adventurous souls, we have to give it to Batuu. There is just so much more to experience in Galaxy’s Edge even if you are doing nothing more than exploring the land.

Age ranges appeal

Couple taking pictures at Pandora

Image: Disney

We could write an entire article about demographic appeal in both Pandora and Galaxy’s Edge, but to keep things brief, this is another area where both lands thrive.

Springboarding off our exploration of the land itself, Pandora has great all-ages appeal. From small children to older seniors, there’s no age limit on being amazed by beauty and wonder. If comparing both Pandora and Batuu, it seems likely that older audiences as well as small children who don’t really have any attachments to Star Wars will probably like Pandora more. Adults who prefer a more relaxing vacation will also probably prefer Pandora. While we’ll dive into attractions shortly, it’s safe to say that Avatar: Flight of Passage holds a wider appeal for age ranges than the jostling, video-game like Millennium Falcon Smuggler’s Run, and Navi River Journey definitely will hold the most appeal for adults.

Galaxy’s Edge comes with the weight of a broad and ever-fluctuating base of Star Wars fans. Elementary school-aged kids are probably familiar with Star Wars: Resistance and Star Wars: Rebels. Many teens grew up with Star Wars: Clone Wars as well as the prequel trilogy. Adults tend to trend most loyal to the original trilogy, and they also tend to prove to be the most fickle audience. The key connective tissue is that kids, teens, and adults who love adventurous settings, exploration, and action will likely prefer Galaxy’s Edge. The land also has huge appeal to kids in its build-a-droid merch option (more on that later), and both teen and adult audiences who appreciate video games (especially MMORPG’s) will also definitely find much to love in Galaxy’s Edge… Also, needless to say, die hard Star Wars fans will love it, precluding any strong aversions to the new trilogy.


A child whispers to Chewie

Image: Disney

This is the first category where easy to find a clear winner. While the World of Pandora does include some character elements, such as occasional appearances by scientists in Pandora Utility Suits (a civilian version of the mech-suits from the film), there really isn’t anything in the way of character greets or interactions within Pandora. While we appreciate that Mickey and the gang haven’t made an appearance there, it’s surprising Disney didn’t try to do something with the Navi, perhaps utilizing a Navi ambassador character guests can meet.

On the flip side, Galaxy’s Edge stands entirely apart from the rest of Walt Disney World because the Black Spire Outpost brought back wandering characters. We’ve discussed before how a day in Galaxy’s Edge is a bit like Groundhog Day—a series of stories in a single day in the Star Wars canon plays out every day on Batuu. Wandering characters abound including Chewbacca, Rey, Stormtroopers, First Order officers, Kylo Ren, Vi Moradi (General Organa’s top spy), and even Finn. You can also meet R2-D2 in the Droid Depot if you catch a time where he isn’t recharging.

Wandering characters are so integrated into the fiber of Galaxy’s Edge that there are times you might miss them entirely. We must have seen Rey pass by four or five times on opening day before we realized she wasn’t a Disneybounder. Stormtroopers patrol and harass guests regularly in their search for the elusive Resistance, and during his appearances, Kylo Ren has no qualms about using his dark powers to read guests’ minds during his own search of the outpost. Rey and Chewie appear regularly and even are known to take some guests on secret missions for the Resistance. It’s been reported that in some rare cases, interaction with Vi Moradi can open up “quests” within Galaxy’s Edge to help you locate fellow Resistance operatives within the base. It’s also worth noting that every single cast member in Galaxy’s Edge is a “character” in their own right—every one has a backstory within the Star Wars universe.

While we wish it were a little easier to catch characters within Galaxy’s Edge (they move quickly sometimes), there’s no question that Batuu wins when it comes to opportunities to get up close to Disney characters.


Flight of Passage concept art

Image: Disney

Here we come to it: which is better? Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run or Avatar: Flight of Passage?

This is a challenging question because despite both being “thrill rides” per se, Flight of Passage and Smuggler’s Run are extremely different. The closest attraction to compare Flight of Passage to is Epcot’s Soarin’—only the hang glider has been replaced by a banshee and the countries of earth are replaced by the majestic vistas of Pandora. Smuggler’s Run, on the other hand, is essentially a more intimate version of Star Tours on steroids. It’s a gritty, fast-paced adventure with strong video game influences where you become the piloting crew of the Millennium Falcon thanks to some shifty hustling on the part of infamous pirate, Hondo Ohnaka (Disney’s own Most-Interesting-Man-in-The-World) and poor judgment on the part of Chewbacca. Sorry, Han.

The strongest point in favor for Smuggler’s Run is that it is seriously fun. From the minute you get into line, you’re immersed in the world of Star Wars. Ohnaka and Chewie add warmth and humor to the attraction, and piloting the Falcon is truly a blast, especially if you get the lucky role of the right hand pilot who gets to “punch it” to lightspeed. The queue for Smuggler’s Run is also substantially better-managed, both due to excellent line control, a fast-moving queue, and a fun Play Disney game where Hondo and his crew test out your skills as a potential smuggler. The attraction also holds something new each time you ride it since small variations in the journey take place depending on your performance (e.g. if you nearly destroy the ship, you end up in an asteroid field on the way back to Batuu).

Millennium Falcon cockpit exterior

Image: Jett Farrell-Vega (@mykingdomforamouse Instagram)

The biggest downside to Smuggler’s Run is that its audience is far narrower than Flight of Passage. Star Wars fans, video gamers, teens, and Star Tours fans will likely enjoy the attraction the most. While the various crew positions all have fun elements, it’s easy to get confused, and guests who prefer a spectator experience are often overwhelmed by the requirement of interactivity for the ride. I’ve seen many adults space out completely and ignore every single flashing button, not realizing that their choices affect the outcome. For the most passive experience, I recommend Gunner on automatic mode since you have the least number of buttons to push but some prefer Engineer. The attraction will probably also need a graphics upgrade to keep up with technology over the next few years.

On the flip side, Avatar: Flight of Passage might be one of Disney’s most successful attractions to date. Many guests list it as their favorite ride in any of the parks, and it truly does provide an incomparable experience of flight unlike anything Disney has tried before. Like Soarin’, Flight of Passage provides an adventure that appeals to a majority of guests, because who hasn’t been curious what it would be like to fly? The main downsides to the attractions are that the pre-show drags on a bit long for some (it can also feel a little sterile compared to other Disney pre-shows), and some visitors remarked that visual issues with the ride’s 3D glasses mess with the immersion (we’ve also explored the idea that it can be distracting for some that the banshee’s head isn’t visible, but others prefer the ride the way it is since the view isn’t blocked). The queue for Flight of Passage is also almost always long, to the point that even during the off season you can expect long waits for this ride unless you can score a Fastpass.

Overall? While I personally prefer Smuggler’s Run, we have to give it to Flight of Passage. It’s just a grander attraction overall that fits in marvelously with the sense of wonder Disney thrives at.

An important note—at the time of this writing, we haven’t yet had the opportunity to experience Rise of the Resistance, which is looking to be Disney’s most technologically advanced attraction to date. It will include a mix of live action animatronics, virtual effects, and moving ride technology that will take guests on an extended journey culminating inside a First Order Star Destroyer. If any attraction is likely to tip the scales and knock Flight of Passage from it’s throne, it will certainly be that one.


Little girl with family reaching out in Pandora at night

Image: Disney

Both Pandora and Galaxy’s Edge share something in common—at night, they transform.

Many guests feel Pandora is even more beautiful at night when the world’s bioluminescent flora and fauna come to life. The whole land bursts alight into a fluorescent dreamscape, stunning to behold even without ever stepping onto an attraction.

Galaxy’s Edge also transforms at night. The Millennium Falcon and other ships in the land power up with landing lights, and the spires are illuminated with mesmerizing blues and golds. Tons of details that you would miss during the daytime become visible at night, like Aurebesh writing over the door of the Droid Depot, and sounds also become much more punctuated. Characters still wander through the outpost, but they are a little harder to spot in the low light.

While we love both Batuu and Pandora at night, we have to give this one to Pandora as well—the land is just designed to be marveled at once the sun goes down. Batuu is beautiful in its own right under the rising moons, but Pandora ekes out a win in this arena.


Felucian Garden Spread

Image: Disney

Pandora’s food lineup includes the Pongu Pongu drink stand and the Satul’i Canteen counter service restaurant. We raved about Satul’i when Pandora opened thanks to its zesty grain and protein bowls as well as its unique pod bao buns. While the canteen still remains a highlight for the already excellent options dining in Disney’s Animal Kingdom, it did suffer a blow for some fans when a number of items were removed from the menu within the last year, including the quinoa/grain bases and all forms of the pods (the cheeseburger pods can still be found on the kid’s menu). It’s still a great place to eat, but it did lose a little bit of the magic.

On the other hand, Galaxy’s Edge has a commendable line-up of dining and drink options. For drinks specifically, guests can enjoy either the Milk Stand– where visitors can try berry-like blue milk or floral green milk—or Oga’s Cantina. Oga’s has proven one of the biggest draws in the land, mostly for the experience it offers drinking in a Star Wars cantina complete with pounding music served up courtesy of DJ-Rex (yup, the same one from Star Tours—and he even REMEMBERS that job). The drink options are myriad while the food choices are limited to some very creative snack plates like the Batuu Bits and a charcuterie platter, as well as a creative take on overnight oats for breakfast. Despite the limited menu, Oga’s is still a must-visit experience, even if you opt to stick to non-alcoholic imbibements.

The biggest draws for food in Galaxy’s Edge are Ronto Roasters and Docking Bay 7. Ronto Roasters focuses on true quick service with a combination of meat wraps, chips, and even some interesting takes on jerky. Docking Bay 7 is the true workhorse for dining at Galaxy’s Edge, and it’s proven an unequivocal winner in our book, to the point it might be one of the best dining options in Disney’s Hollywood Studios. The food includes a range of creative takes on popular dishes to adapt them to the Star Wars universe, including a Shaak Pot Roast, the Endorian Yip Tip roast chicken salad, and our personal favorite, the Felucian Garden Spread, a vegan dish featuring plant-based kefta and hummus.

Before the changes at Satul’i Canteen, the comparison might have been more even, but we have to give it to Galaxy’s Edge. They really have done a great job in incorporating dining into the land in a more holistic way than Pandora was able to pull off.


Child builds droid at Droid Depot

Image: Disney

Both Pandora and Galaxy’s Edge follow the same general principle with merchandise: everything sold in the land is made to look as if it came from in-world. For Pandora, this means lots of trinkets, tools, and toys either made by or featuring the Navi as well as Pandorian flora and fauna. The biggest highlight of these is the banshees, which even include a “pairing” ceremony to introduce the banshee to its new keeper. The toys are pretty cool and have proven a huge draw for kids.

Galaxy’s Edge took the same concept for merch from Pandora—even including the option to purchase a pet Kowakian Monkey Lizard, which admittedly isn’t nearly as cute as a banshee—only they took it much further. Each section of the park includes different in-world merchandise including Resistance and First Order loyalist gear, in-world toys, in-world pets, a local outfitter, and a Black Spire Outpost “tourist” shop.

The fun doesn’t stop there, however, as the land includes three specialized shopping experiences. The first we already mentioned is the Droid Depot, a wildly popular spot where visitors can build and customize a personal droid who will become your companion in Galaxy’s Edge—they can even react to things in the land like stormtroopers. The second premium shop is Dok Ondar’s Den of Antiquities, a creatively themed emporium where guests can “haggle” with the infamous Ithorian to procure rare artifacts from throughout Star Wars history including jewelry, working holocrons, artwork, and legacy lightsabers. Finally, Savi’s Workshop provides an immersive experience where guests get to build their own lightsaber as part of a secret initiative to locate Force users.

Once again, Galaxy’s Edge wins out in this category thanks to the sheer plentitude of merch options available. There really is something for everyone on Batuu!

Which one wins overall? That’s absolutely up to you, and it depends on guest preference (indeed, during one poll asking Batuu vs. Pandora, a fan answered TOMORROWLAND which just describes the Disney spirit so well). Whichever you prefer, there’s no question Disney knocked it out of the park with both of these incredible lands.