Tourism

Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is about to open at Disney World. Here’s a sneak peek

Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run

First new ride at Galaxy's Edge, Disney's Star Wars land.
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First new ride at Galaxy's Edge, Disney's Star Wars land.

Batuu is not a particularly welcoming place. Once it was a bustling center of trade but hyperspace travel left it behind and now its stony landscape is frequented mostly by people who want to stay out of sight — pirates, fugitives, rogues, bounty hunters, dealers in goods of questionable provenance, supporters of the Resistance, spies from the First Order.

You might be welcomed though if you make it known that you’re skilled at piloting a Corellian YT-1300f light freighter. Hondo Ohnaka, a pirate who operates behind the cover of a transport company, can’t find enough crews to staff his spaceships on smuggling runs. He looks among newcomers to the planet to staff his ships, and right now he needs two pilots, two engineers and two gunners to make a smuggling run in the Millennium Falcon.

That’s the situation at Batuu, the setting for Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, opening Aug. 29 at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. If you’re an adventurous traveler, one who is willing to take risks, this might be the place for you, a land spiked by petrified trees and scattered ruins and built partly with pieces of old vehicles and machinery. Ultimately it will be at the center of the battle between the First Order and the Resistance.

But it may not be the Star Wars setting you’re expecting, especially if you’re an older fan. This story takes place during the final trilogy of the Star Wars movies, and most of the legacy characters — Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Darth Vader — are dead. You can catch Chewbacca, who has brought his damaged Millennium Falcon here for repairs. Princess Leia — now Gen. Leia Organa — is at the heart of the Resistance.

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Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, now open at Disneyland, will open Aug. 29 at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Joshua Sudock Disney Parks

This story belongs to the characters of the final trilogy, including Rey, Kylo Ren, Finn and Poe Dameron, as well as characters from other Star Wars media, like Hondo Ohnaka, who was introduced in the “Clone Wars” and “Rebels” cartoons, and Vi Moradi, a spy and recruiter for the Resistance, who was a minor character in a Star Wars book but is a major character in Galaxy’s Edge.

The centerpiece of Star Wars land for now is Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run, a hands-on flight simulator experience at Black Spire Outpost, a village on Batuu punctuated with a jagged spike of obsidian-like rock.

Chewbacca brought the old, damaged ship here for repairs he couldn’t afford, so he made a deal to let Ohnaka use it occasionally. He’s not happy that Ohnaka sends it on runs to steal coaxium from the First Order. That’s a dangerous bunch to provoke.

The ship is battered but still handsome. Parked in a docking bay near the village center, the Millenium Falcon is an impressive sight.

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Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run will be the centerpiece attraction when Galaxy’s Edge opens Aug. 29 at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Joshua Sudock Disney Parks

“This is the ship we have dreamed about since 1977,” said Scott Mallwitz, executive creative director of Walt Disney Imagineering, as he gave a Miami Herald reporter a tour of Galaxy’s Edge.

The entrance to Black Spire, off Grand Avenue, sits at the bottom of a ravine, which opens up to a marketplace, businesses that make custom droids and light sabers, a farm stand that sells blue milk, bars and eateries, a hidden Resistance base, various spacecraft including a TIE echelon shuttle that belongs to the First Order and is new to the Star Wars canon, wandering droids, First Order stormtroopers, and opportunities to meet characters.

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The second attraction is scheduled to open Dec. 5. On Rise of the Resistance, guests will be recruited to join Rey and Gen. Organa at a secret base, but then they are captured and held hostage on a First Order Star Destroyer during a climactic battle. Disney has been promoting it as the most technologically advanced attraction in its history.

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Guests will traverse the corridors of a Star Destroyer and join an epic battle between the First Order and the Resistance - including a faceoff with Kylo Ren - when Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance opens Dec. 5, 2019, at Disney World. Joshua Sudock Disneyland Resort

The landscaping is an attraction in itself, an eroded but well-forested environment. Here, where the Streets of America section once promoted the movie business, smooth rock walls contrast with sharp-edged outcroppings.

“It’s exciting for us to bring guests to the heart of the Star Wars experience,” Mallwitz said in a Disney video. “The level of the immersion is incredible, just given the complexity of the ships and the droids and the architecture and the layer of technology.”

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In this harsh environment, everything must be used and re-used, like the repurposed industrial glass tanks containing fermenting cocktail ingredients hanging above the bar in Oga’s Cantina.

“It’s about adaptive re-use, about using what you have,” Mallwitz said.

Even Captain Rex, the inept pilot droid R-3X from Star Tours, has been repurposed as a deejay at Oga’s Cantina.

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Rex, the not-so-good pilot droid from Star Tours, shows up as a DJ at Oga’s Cantina on Batuu. Joshua Sudock Disney Parks

It’s also about being mobile. “At any moment this all can be packed up and leave the planet … we can get out of here at a moment’s notice,” he said. These are difficult times, after all. The old war between the Rebel Alliance and the Galactic Empire has morphed into the war between the Resistance and the First Order, whose leader, Kylo Ren, struts around Black Spire with his stormtroopers, yelling orders.

The oldest spot is the market, made of welded-together freighters, fighters and transports, where you can buy anything from a Loth-cat to Jedi robes to a replica of Emperor Palpatine’s twisted cane. You can make your own astromech droid ($99.99) at Droid Depot — your choice of an R2 unit or a BB unit — from parts that roll by on a conveyor belt, or a custom lightsaber ($200) at Savi’s Workshop.

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The marketplace of Black Spire Outpost has a robust collection of merchant shops and stalls filled with Star Wars creations. Joshua Sudock Disney Parks

You can buy a glass of blue milk ($7.99), a potion Luke Skywalker drank in the original “Star Wars” movie, or green milk, from “The Last Jedi,” both frozen drinks made of coconut and rice milks and fruit.

It’s been 3 ½ years since construction began on the twin lands at Disney World and Disneyland Park. The California version opened in May, and ardent East Coast fans have closely watched how things worked there.The lands are not quite identical twins. The features are oriented a little differently, and the finishes on natural and manmade elements often vary.

Another difference: Disneyland initially required reservations. At Disney World, you can’t make reservations (except for individual features like Oga’s Cantina and Droid Depot) or use Fast Passes. The policy will be first-come, first-served, until the land (or the entire theme park) fills up. Then, no one will be let in until the crowds diminish.

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Disney guests visiting Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge will be able to build their own R-series or BB-series droids at the Droid Depot. David Roark Disney Parks

The crowds are intimidating, no doubt. At Disney’s domestic parks, attendance dropped about 3 percent this summer.

“There was tremendous concern in the marketplace that there was going to be huge crowding when we open Galaxy’s Edge,” Bob Iger, chairman and CEO of the Walt Disney Co., said during the quarterly earnings call in August. “And so some people stayed away just because they expected that it would not be a great guest experience.”

“That said, guest satisfaction, interest in the attractions, in the land is extremely high. They’re among the most popular thing at the Park,” Iger said. “We build these things for the long term, we have no concerns whatsoever about them.”

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Marjie Lambert is the Miami Herald’s local government editor. She has spent most of her 40+ years in the newspaper business as a reporter and editor covering government and related news. She was the Herald’s travel editor from 2009 to 2016 and has also written eight cookbooks. She loves roller coasters.
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