Welcome to Galaxy’s Edge – The New York Times – Smart Media Magazine

Welcome to Galaxy’s Edge – The New York Times


In the summer of 2015, when the Walt Disney Company unveiled plans to build monumental “Star Wars” lands at its California and Florida theme parks, a wave of euphoria washed over the planet. Bob Iger, Disney’s chief executive, made the announcement at a fan convention, revealing that one ride would allow people to pilot the Millennium Falcon. Two men sitting near me started to weep with joy.

I felt emotional too. For a different reason.

The “Star Wars” extensions, each 14-acres in size, sounded thrilling. They would cost a combined $2 billion (plus) to build and resemble trading ports on the edge of wild space. But I am one of those purists who want Disney parks to remain unchanged.

Correction: I want Disneyland, the original Happiest Place on Earth, the little park that Walt Disney personally opened in 1955, to remain unchanged. Update the sprawling Walt Disney World in Florida as you like. Disneyland belongs to me — the wide-eyed 9-year-old who first visited in 1983 and made memories, with my dad in particular, that the cynical 44-year-old still holds close to his heart.

I know it’s ridiculous. Disneyland needs to evolve to stay relevant to new generations of children. I don’t care.

“Star Wars” fans have their own likes and dislikes, as Disney learned the hard way with “The Last Jedi,” the 2017 blockbuster that killed off Luke Skywalker. Many fans howled their disapproval over the story line. Some also took issue with “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” which Disney released last year to disappointing ticket sales. A third raft of negative “Star Wars” headlines might prompt uncomfortable questions about Disney’s handling of Lucasfilm, which it acquired in 2012.

Galaxy’s Edge takes one major creative risk: The story of Black Spire Outpost is a new one set after the events of “The Last Jedi.” So there will be no opportunity for visitors to meet Luke Skywalker. Ditto for Han Solo, Darth Vader and Yoda. All dead they are.

“We wanted to create the deepest level of immersion possible, and those stories have already all happened — people know, even if it’s on a subconscious level, that they don’t belong in them,” Margaret Kerrison, managing story editor for Galaxy’s Edge, told me in a phone interview before we visited. She added that Disney wanted to create an entirely new place to level the playing field. “Everyone is experiencing this for the first time, no matter the level of fandom,” she said.

It worked well for our group. I’m a casual “Star Wars” fan. Connor placed himself higher up the scale, recalling the “Star Wars” action figures he had as a boy. (I preferred the Disney princesses. Go figure.) Sam is a serious aficionado.

When can we get lightsabers?” he asked again, this time as if his life depended on it.

As we ate, Sam discovered the Play Disney Parks app, which adds another layer of storytelling to Galaxy’s Edge by turning smartphones into interstellar “data pads.” It took me a minute (or 10) to get my bearings in the elaborate app, but Sam quickly realized that he could use it to activate droids in the land; scan cargo crates to see what was inside; and translate shop signs written in Aurebesh, a “Star Wars” language. You can also use the app to interact with other guests in a game called “Outpost Control,” choosing to play for the First Order or the Resistance.

But there was no game that could distract Sam from his primary mission: finding those lightsabers.

Galaxy’s Edge has nine stores offering roughly 700 items, almost none of which are available for purchase elsewhere, according to Brad Schoeneberg, a Disney executive who developed the merchandise strategy. One of our favorite spots was a pet shop where you can “adopt” critters, including Porgs ($45), which chirp and flap their wings. “Twenty-five dollars is sort of my Porg limit,” Connor said, choosing instead to pick up a snorting Puffer Pig ($17) as a gift.

“Don’t eat it,” the shopkeeper said.

“No promises,” Connor replied.

As Sam had predicted, however, the lightsaber workshop was the retail showstopper.

It doesn’t look like much from the outside. In fact, the workshop is hidden next to the inventive Droid Depot, where guests can construct robot sidekicks by selecting parts off a moving conveyor belt. But inside the workshop something magical happens — a genuine how-did-they-do-that moment.

I don’t want to spoil it by being too descriptive. The experience involves themes like “peace and justice” or “power and control” and the selection of crystals (red, blue, green, violet). Each lightsaber is personalized with hilt adornments allowing for 120,000 possible combinations. Mysterious Batuu residents called Gatherers guide the process.

We made three. There is one buzz kill: The glowing weapons cost $199 each.

But seeing the look on Sam’s face when his blue lightsaber came alive for the first time was worth every penny, at least in my estimation. It even crackles and buzzes as you swing it, just like in the movies. Connor was less convinced about the value, and he worried that airport security would be a hassle. (Nobody batted an eye.)

And if their memories feature Chewie and Hondo Ohnaka and Porgs instead of banjo-playing bears named Buford, Trixie and Liver Lips McGrowl, well, who am I to judge?



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