Living Star Wars at Disneyland’s Galaxy’s Edge: “Chewie, we’re home…"

Welcome to Disneyland, in Anaheim, California…

Statue of Walt Disney (1901-1966) in front of the “It’s a Small World” ride. This is ‘classic’ Disneyland…

Funny thing is, for the last 21 years, I’ve lived only about a half hour to 40 minutes (in good traffic) from Disneyland, but I rarely go there. In fact, I’ve gone to Disneyland exactly six times over four decades. Mainly because it’s very expensive (increasingly so all the time), and the handful of times I have gone are largely consumed waiting in long lines and/or navigating large crowds. Yes, the rides are a lot of fun, and the imagineering craftsmanship is truly incredible, but personally I get more bang for my buck attending sci-fi/fantasy conventions (which my wife and I attend around 8 to 10 a year). That said, the recent addition of two new Star Wars attractions (the first new Star Wars attractions since 1987) got the attention of this 53-year old Star Wars geek and my Star Wars geek wife.

Heading into Main Street, downtown Disneyland…

This piece will not be from the perspective of a Disneyland expert, nor a rapid Disney park enthusiast. There are multiple books, YouTube channels, and blogs from people who could tell you Walt Disney’s shoe size, the nicknames of the Pirates of the Caribbean, or just whose initials are carved under a wooden park bench on Main Street. I, for better or worse, am not one of those people.

Tomorrowland, celebrating a shiny optimistic future that (sadly) may never be.
It’s also the home of Star Tours and the Star Wars Launch Bay museum. I’m going to yammer on about those as well…

My interest in going to Disneyland for this trip was that I am a longtime Star Wars geek (since the tender age of 10 back in 1977), and I really wanted to see “Galaxy’s Edge” and “Rise of the Resistance.” Well, we struck out with “Rise…” (it was booked solid the entire day, before we arrived). But I can safely say that Galaxy’s Edge was well worth a look.

Galaxy’s Edge.

Galaxy’s Edge surpassed my expectations by a good light-year or two. Once you walk through the gateway (located in ‘Adventureland’), you are utterly immersed in the backwater smuggler’s planet of “Batuu,” a planet not seen in the films, but which feels like a verdant variation of the desert world Tatooine (Luke Skywalker’s home planet). The architecture is older North African, but retrofitted with cables, wires and bits of high technology. Droids, alien creatures, and faster-than-light starships are casually placed throughout the attraction. The most eye-catching vessel, of course, is the centrally-located Millennium Falcon….Han Solo’s famous starship which “made the Kessel run in less than twelve parsecs.” The level of artistry and deliberately-weathered detailing throughout “Batuu” is breathtaking. Loved the mix of weathered but functional-looking technology everywhere. Truly captures George Lucas’ original vision of a ‘lived-in universe.’ It’s all very Star Wars…

Welcome to the planet Batuu…a backwater outpost for smugglers, scum and villainy…conveniently located about 40 minutes from where I live.

All around you there are signs written in Aurabesh (the Star Wars written language), molten blaster scorch marks on the walls, roasted rontos, and more detailing than I could fully absorb in the relatively limited time I was there. The breadth of the Star Wars universe, from the movies, the TV series (animated & live-action) and even a few of the books, are all represented in this environment to varying degrees. You really get to live Star Wars while you’re there. It’s like nothing I could’ve ever imagined as a kid, and that I can barely believe in my middle age.

A rundown ‘garage’ near the entrance of Galaxy’s Edge, with various exotic tools and droids, along with several types of landspeeders, including one very similar to the landspeeder used by Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) in the original 1977 film, “A New Hope.”

Despite the deliberately weather-worn Moroccan bazaar feeling of the shops and restaurants in “Galaxy’s Edge” (including a Mos Eisley-style cantina, which we didn’t have time for, sadly), there was a casual retro-futurism about everything as well; run-down animatronic droids, bits of technology haphazardly wired and welded to stone walls, etc. Galaxy’s Edge isn’t some cheap, cookie-cutter exhibit made from vacuum-formed plastic and styrofoam. You could film an episode of DisneyPlus’ “The Mandalorian” here with little-to-no alteration or camera-trickery.

Details such as Star Wars’ ‘Aurebesh’ writing (though the “Restrooms” are marked in a sort of Aurebesh-style version of English), blaster fire scorch marks on the walls, sound effects subtly informing the environment, etc. You really felt like you were on the backwater smuggler’s planet of Batuu for awhile…

For now, I’d like to tell you about my experience at Galaxy’s Edge copiloting the Millennium Falcon…fulfilling a dream I’ve had since the age of 10 when I first saw “Star Wars” (1977), and witnessed the Falcon bursting into hyperspace, blowing my preadolescent mind…

Now boarding…the Millennium Falcon.

This was the part of the Galaxy’s Edge attraction that I looked most forward to; seeing, boarding, and even ‘flying’ aboard Han and Chewbacca’s ride, the Millennium Falcon. Yes, to Luke Skywalker, she may have been “a piece of junk”, to me, this 1:1 scale starship model parked outside the ride itself was just beautiful. The scale of the ship seemed exactly right, even though I realized the full-scale model of the ship outside was not the ride’s version of the ship that I would enter inside of the docking bay. I wanted to play along, and with such thorough detailing and smart interior scale-fudging, it was easy. My imagination had very little to do but sit back and enjoy the ride…

As you make your way deeper into “Batuu”, you eventually reach a docking bay clearing where the Millennium Falcon rests, undergoing maintenance and awaiting passengers. Everyone, including myself, stood around taking photos of the beautifully detailed, 1:1 scale model of the famous cinematic starship…

The ramp to the ship is open, but this exterior is just a mockup. You ‘board’ the Falcon’s interior via the Docking Bay that surrounds the rear of the ship, and into another ramp; it’s a clever illusion that is similar to the connecting weatherproof tunnels one boards to get into an airplane at an airport.

The window of the Falcon’s mockup cockpit has chairs (six of them) that are exact matches for the actual chair’s in the ride’s cockpit. It’s a little detail that reinforces the reality that you are boarding this ship.

The engines undergo a pre-firing test as you enter the docking bay surrounding the rear of the ship; you see the glow of the engines and hear various mechanical noises as well. Yes, I took waaaaay too many shots of this ship…

The rear of the ship, which houses the engine compartment. Even the six heat exhaust rings have a wonderfully weathered look that is in keeping with the old ship’s ‘junker’ appearance. Inside the docking bay (from where this shot was taken), you can see parts of the Millennium Falcon that are rarely seen in the films. The detail of the outside mockup holds up, even under zoom-lens scrutiny…

A “Sabaac” card game (as seen in “Solo: a Star Wars Story”) left unfinished by a pair of mechanics is just one of the many lived-in details of the docking bay surrounding the Millennium Falcon. This was something seen in “The Mandalorian” TV series, when Mando took his ship for repairs at a docking bay at Mos Eisley…

A large engine undergoes a static test inside of the docking bay. The engine nearly shakes itself apart during the test as well. Once again, the grease smudges, cables and other details add to the illusion of a real industrial workspace…

An animatronic Hondo Ohnaka (voiced by Jim Cummings), the wily smuggler seen in Star Wars’ “Clone Wars” and “Rebels” cartoon series, welcomes us to Chewbacca’s ‘borrowed’ Millennium Falcon, which we (the passengers) are supposed to help him fly in order to acquire a shipment of stolen Imperial “coaxium” hyperdrive fuel. Note the R2 unit below; it looks a bit like the attitudinal R2 unit “Chopper” seen in “Rebels.”

The Millennium Falcon’s common area.
No, the 3D holographic chessboard didn’t work (shucks!), but the detail within the ship was totally accurate to what you see in the Star Wars movies, perhaps even more so. A container visible over the seats even included a helmet (with blast shield) and a remote ‘seeker’ globe used for target practice (as seen in “A New Hope”). The passengers were allowed to mingle here for a few moments before we were given our ‘assignments’ (pilots or engineers), and escorted to the cockpit…

A bunk cubicle behind the common area, being used for cargo on this particular voyage of the ship. We see this compartment used in “The Empire Strikes Back” and “The Force Awakens.”

This way to the cockpit...
So help me, I was damn-near in tears when I saw how perfectly the corridor of the Falcon matched the sets of the movies, even down to the lighting, dirt/scorch marks and exposed compartments with work lights strategically placed throughout.

“Chewie, we’re home!”
The ‘real’ corridor of the Millennium Falcon filming set, with Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) as seen in 2015’s “The Force Awakens”; I used it here to illustrate just how closely the corridor of the ride matches the actual sets of the films. Even down to the pre-rigged lighting

The cockpit of the Millennium Falcon; this isn’t one of my own shots, as it wasn’t quite this bright or easy to photograph when I entered it, but the six chairs were nice and firm. My wife sat in Solo/Rey’s pilot chair (front, left), while I had the easier task of sitting in Chewbacca’s copilot seat (front, right).

Liftoff from Batuu, at Galaxy’s End.
My wife, in the pilot’s seat, said that her movements of the controls saw literal translation on the wraparound screens simulating the reality outside of the windows. I was just hitting flashing buttons and working the hyperspace levers, which had actual mechanical feedback to them. It felt like the hyperdrive really ‘worked.’ I managed to sneak in a couple of photos as we ‘flew’ the ship…

“Another happy landing!”
The ship is tractor-beamed in as Chewbacca remote piloted us back to the docking bay after we snagged our coaxium shipment. It was a bit of a rough flight and landing, as my wife and I awkwardly tried to fly the ship, but it was also a hell of a lot of fun!

This is a great video that walks you through the experience of flying aboard the Millennium Falcon; a childhood dream of mine since the age of 10, and to think, it only took 43 years!

One of the many shops in the village of “Batuu” at Galaxy’s Edge. Here they had everything from Sith and Jedi holocrons to Wampa ice creatures. In keeping with the rest of “Batuu”, the place is a haphazard collision of old North African architectural styles strewn together with bits of fantasy technology giving it that uniquely ancient/hi-tech vibe one gets from the Star Wars movie locales, such as the Tunisian domed buildings that doubled for the Tatooine towns of Mos Eisley and Mos Espa.

Build-a-Droid.
You can buy cheaper, off-the-shelf toys or you can custom make a full-size droid for yourself (!). Expensive as hell, I’m sure (I didn’t get one), but as evidenced from the craftsmanship, I’m guessing they’re far superior to the props used in the actual Star Wars films.

A random full-scale spaceship parked atop one of the landing platforms near the Millennium Falcon’s central docking bay. Periodically, you’ll see and hear engine firing tests and random sound effects that give these displays more life than you’d see in static sculptures.

Kylo Ren and his gang of incompetent First Order troops scour the city for Resistance spies. This is part of a ‘public announcement’ where Ren ‘requests’ the cooperation of the Disneyland tourists. We also hear a familiar rumbling sound as he force-chokes an Imperial officer live onstage! The actors, despite the heat of their costumes, seem to have a great time remaining in character (and they do not break character… ever).

An X-wing fighter (in the style of the newer Star Wars movies) rests on the outer rim of the exhibit. We looked for it within the city, and casually found it on the way out. Like everything at Galaxy’s Edge, it looks like it could be used for filming, right there on the spot. As I stated above, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if a future episode of DisneyPlus’ “The Mandalorian” shoots part of an episode here.

Star Wars Launch Bay Museum.

Around the corner from the old “Star Tours” attraction in Tomorrowland is the “Star Wars Launch Bay Museum”; a collection of artifacts, figures, miniatures and gift shops for the curious. Many of the exhibits seemed to be made just for the exhibit (some were models of ships that were digital-only creations), but they were still painstakingly crafted, whether authentic or not. There are also photo ops available with Boba Fett, Chewbacca and Darth Vader cosplayers, which I see multiple times at various conventions, so I didn’t partake. The Launch Bay made for an interesting exhibit to check out between rides…

As you walk into the Star Wars Launch Bay, you are greeted by a mission statement opening crawl. A clever touch…

Off to the side, there is a small theater where you can watch videos about the creation of Galaxy’s Edge, and other Disney Star Wars stuff, including interviews with creator George Lucas, Lucasfilm current president Kathleen Kennedy, and stars such as Mark Hamill.

A beautifully crafted, detailed tabletop miniature of the Galaxy’s Edge village.
Tiny droids are included in the miniature as well. Love the mishmash of ancient and futuristic architecture.

One of the many display cases, featuring models of the Y-wing starfighter (original trilogy), the “Ghost” from Star Wars: Rebels, the Tantive IV (the very first starship seen in a Star Wars movie, from the opening of 1977’s “A New Hope”) and a Resistance pilot uniform from the newer Star Wars trilogy. Along the walls of the Launch Bay (somewhat visible in this pic) are blue lines of ‘code’ which resemble the walls of the Jedi Archives as seen in the prequel trilogy and the “Clone Wars” cartoon series.

The ship that launched a thousand childhoods.
A model of an Imperial star destroyer…the very ship whose ginormous onscreen size changed my life forever when I first saw “Star Wars” back in 1977 (sans “New Hope”, which was tacked on for the 1981 rerelease). I don’t believe this is the actual shooting model, because they’re usually in worse condition when you see them up close (warps, yellowing plastic, etc). I’ve seen authentic screen-used props and miniatures from the original Star Wars movies in person, and they never quite look as polished/perfect as fan-made museum pieces; I suspect this star destroyer is of the latter category.

Imperial TIE fighter pilot uniform, tiny Darth Vader maquette, and a model of the first Death Star, which I suspect is a piece made especially for the Star Wars Launch Bay exhibit. If anyone reading this knows for certain if it’s a screen-used miniature or not, I’d love to hear from you in the comments section or contact me via email (see: contact in the site header). Either way, it’s still gorgeous, of course…

Star Tours…For Old Times’ Sake.

Since we couldn’t get in to “The Rise Of The Resistance” (more on that in a bit), it seemed appropriate to hit the first Disneyland Star Wars attraction, “Star Tours”, which first opened 33 years ago, in January of 1987 (I personally didn’t ride it until July of 1991). Star Tours is a virtual reality ride in a motion simulator that shakes and buffets the rider as the Empire/First Order hunts for a spy in the audience. C3PO and R2-D2 are your tour guide and pilot, respectively…

While the mural outside of Star Tours has been repainted since I first saw it back in 1991, it’s essentially the same image of the Star Tours shuttle heading out into the galaxy.

The first time I rode it back in 1991, Star Tours ‘accidentally’ took its passengers through the trench run attack on the first Death Star (in 2D). Later versions took riders through the planets seen in the prequel movies, such as Naboo and Mos Espa on Tatooine (in 3D).

I took this pic from the previous time I rode Star Tours, waaaaay back in 2012. Got pretty close to C3PO and R2D2, who also act as the ‘tour guide’ and ‘pilot’ of the tour, respectively.

Sadly, no video or photography was allowed during the ride, I’m afraid. However, I managed to find a Disneyland Park YouTube video that had my version of the tour, which reflects events from “The Rise of Skywalker”, including a clip of Billy Dee Williams as Lando Calrissian. My understanding is that several videos are rotated for the ride so that passengers going twice in a single day might see a different ’tour’. The attached video is the tour that I was on (“The Battle of Exogal”). Forgive the screen image blurriness, but special 3D glasses are required for the full effect:

This latest time, the experience was tailored to reflect the latest live-action film “The Rise of Skywalker”, with an introduction hologram from Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams) and a wild ride through the partially submerged wreckage of the second Death Star, as well as a narrow escape from a fleet of Final Order star destroyers. Truly a blast from the past…

The queue droid, who takes real infrared images of the waiting passengers (see the image on the monitor to the left). Nice way to tell if the person in line next to you is human or not…

One of my other favorite rides, “The Haunted Mansion”, was shut down for refurbishment (undergoing its annual “Nightmare Before Christmas”-seasonal snapback). However, we still got to ride “Pirates of the Caribbean” (a staple of Disneyland), “Space Mountain”, “Jungle Cruise”, “Thunder Mountain” and the “Indiana Jones’ Adventure”, so we got our money’s worth. It was a great day, even if my creaky old back and diminishing stamina aren’t what they used to be…

For completists’ sake, here’s all 135 (yikes!) of my Disneyland pics from that day: https://www.flickr.com/photos/18703657@N03/albums/72157712994622488


Rise of the Resistance DENIED.

“Not Assigning New Groups” for Rise of the Resistance. Bummer.
Access denied!

While we weren’t able to get a ‘boarding pass’ for “Rise of the Resistance” (harumph!), my wife and I did get a chance to see something of what we missed via a terrific video we found on YouTube when we got home, which I will share with you here as well. Enjoy!

Next time…

Dream Fulfilled.

I hope I was able to convey even some of the unbridled geeky joy I felt boarding (and copiloting) the Millennium Falcon with my wife, not to mention walking through the utterly immersive environment of “Galaxy’s Edge” at Disneyland. Yes, it’s expensive (cost us $104 a pop), but every once in awhile, you have to splurge at the chance to fulfill a dream, and boarding an iconic starship from my childhood is something that first inspired my dreams “a long time ago…”

^ How I felt, seeing and touching the Millennium Falcon at Galaxy’s Edge…

Hope you enjoyed the vicarious/virtual tour.

May the Force be with you!

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Paul Bowler says:

    Oh wow! This looks such an amazing place to visit, it must have been like being on the set of a Star Wars movie! Brilliant pictures!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Paul!
      I was hoping to convey the experience to fellow fans any way that I could. I really feel as though I’ve actually flown aboard the Millennium Falcon!

      My inner ten year-old self is still reeling from the excitement. 😁

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Paul Bowler says:

        It was so cool to see all those photos of the Falcon and the interior of the ship. Love the picture of the Star Destroyer as well. I would have been in Sci-Fi heaven wandering around all this. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. The scale is an exact match to the films as well. It’s truly amazing.

        Liked by 1 person

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