Staff Picks - Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge
By Paul Farnsworth
How do you turn “the most magical place on earth” into “the most magical place in the galaxy?” You take one part Disney and mix it with one part Star Wars, that’s how! My two sons have been dying to go to the new Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Orlando ever since it opened in August. But as any veteran visitor to Orlando’s theme parks will tell you – timing is everything. The three of us just got back from Galaxy’s Edge and at the risk of bragging, we played it perfectly.
Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge opened back in August 2019, but it was not until mid-December that the new Rise of the Resistance ride opened. Now, I lived in Orlando for 10 years and you probably couldn’t pay me to go to a theme park in December due to the crowds. When you add a major new attraction like Rise of the Resistance to the normal holiday crush, the park had to be just mobbed. Savvy parkgoers know that January is one of the least busy times of the year, so my sons and I plotted to go shortly after New Year’s Day. We figured park attendance was lower than usual and that the initial crush in Galaxy’s Edge had subsided some.
Planning and research is the key for any vacation to run smoothly. This is particularly true when you are traveling with kids on the Autism spectrum, like my boys. We started reading articles about Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge months in advance of our trip and came away with some critical information. The very first thing you should do is download the My Disney Experience app. When you pair the app with your mobile device and a Disney MagicBand, you can plan and manage your trip from start to finish. The app can link your reservations and tickets, make FastPass+ selections, find wait times at rides at every park, and so much more. It is also essential to have this app if you want to get on the Rise of the Resistance ride…but more on that later.
MagicBand are colorful, waterproof wristbands—resembling a watch or bracelet— that can be used to enter the parks and FastPass+ rides, unlock your Disney Resort hotel room, and buy food and merchandise. Believe me it is much easier to tap your MagicBand on the various sensors around the park as opposed to digging out your wallet, phone, or ticket lanyard every time you go on a ride like non-Disney parks…especially if you have kids that tend to lose things! You can order MagicBands in advance or buy them at Disney Springs like we did the night before our park visit. They are really easy to link up and use. One other thing I would highly recommend is that you stop at the Guest Relations office if you have someone in your party that has special needs. Their office is right near the turnstiles at Hollywood Studios and they are super-friendly, super-helpful people that can help you make your visit easier and more enjoyable.
In addition to getting your My Disney Experience app squared away beforehand, you also need to know there are several attractions at Galaxy’s Edge that you will need to reserve well in advance. You won’t get into Savi’s Workshop, where you can build your own lightsaber, The Droid Depot, where you can create the droid you been looking for, or Oga’s Cantina unless you book weeks (maybe months) before you go. You can get pricing and information on the app and knowing your reservation times will help you create a strategy to plan your day at the park.
Check out photos from our visit.
As I said earlier, having the app is critical to get on the new Rise of the Resistance ride. As of now, you MUST reserve a spot in a virtual queue if you want to do that ride, since it is NOT part of the park’s FastPass+ system. You will be turned away if you have not reserved a Boarding Group. You and your entire party must be physically on the grounds of Hollywood Studios when it opens at 7 a.m. to reserve a Boarding Group through the app. You can’t book it in advance…it must be done “the day of” as soon as the park officially opens. You can’t sleep in…the entire day’s Boarding Groups get booked within minutes of opening.
The Rise of the Resistance ride was the one big thing my kids could not miss out on, so we arrived at Hollywood Studios underneath a full moon an hour early around 6 a.m. There were already hundreds of people waiting to get inside. About 6:30 a.m., the staff started allowing people into certain areas of the park. By 7 a.m. there were already thousands of people at the park…all with their phones out, constantly refreshing their screen, ready to join the virtual queue. A cheer went up right at 7 a.m. as people got their Boarding Group assignments. We got number 53, which we figured out would allow us to get in line at Rise of the Resistance around noon. Once your number is called, you have a two-hour window in which to show up at the ride and get on.
With reservations at Rise of the Resistance at around noon and Savi’s Workshop at 8:45 p.m., we planned our attack on the rest of Hollywood Studios. Having lived in Orlando for 10 years when my children were small, I learned that the key to managing waiting in lines is to zig when everyone else is zagging. So instead of immediately going to the Galaxy’s Edge, we zigged toward Toy Story Land and were among the first people on the Slinky Dog Dash and Toy Story Mania rides. We then checked out the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror and Rockin’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith. Also, there are two Star Wars-related attractions OUTSIDE of Galaxy’s Edge that have been in park for decades – The Star Wars Launch Bay where there are some cool movie props, and Star Tours, a motion simulated space flight – that helped gets us warmed up for the main event.
As our Boarding Group time approached, we headed over to Galaxy’s Edge and our jaws dropped as we entered the land. Personally, I feel that what sets Disney parks apart from other amusement parks like Universal Studios and Six Flags is the attention to detail. Walking into the Black Spire Outpost on the planet of Batuu really was like being transported a long time ago to a galaxy far, far away.
My sons and I are proud Star Wars geeks, and we loved getting up close to iconic starships and vehicles such as an A-wing and X-wing Starfighters, a First Order TIE fighter, Landspeeders, a Sienar-Chall Utilipede Transport, and all sorts of droids. And despite my advanced age, I must admit, I got chills seeing Chewbacca, Commander Poe Dameron, and Rey walking among the parkgoers. It was quite humorous watching a couple of Storm Troopers patrol the park, never breaking character, and telling people to “move along” or questioning whether people were part of the Resistance.
The marketplace of Black Spire Outpost is an expertly crafted maze of shops and restaurants where there are cool surprises in each stop. In the Creature Stall, there is a full life-size Loth Cat, sleeping in a cage in the center of the store. In the Toydarian Toymaker shop, Zabaka, one of the stall’s two owners, can be seen working through the frosted window above the register.
While we didn’t get reservations for Oga’s Cantina, we waited until Galaxy’s Edge to eat. We got the Smoked Kaadu Ribs at Docking Bay 7 Food and Cargo along with a Batuu-bon – a chocolate cake with white chocolate mousse and coffee custard that was awesome. We also got a Ronto Wrap - a roasted pork and grilled sausage with peppercorn sauce and tangy slaw wrapped in pita. We also tried the now infamous “Blue Banta Milk,” Disney’s version of Luke Skywalker’s favorite drink. My boys weren’t sold on the frosty connection, but I really liked the pineapple and tropical fruit flavored slushy. The boys much preferred the bottles of Coke that come in grenade-shaped “Thermal Detonator” bottles.
At the center of Galaxy’s Edge is the life-sized replica of the Millennium Falcon in front of the Smuggler’s Run ride. Seeing it for the first time made us all just say wow and you could see some people tearing up at the sight. I don’t want to give to many details away about the rides, in fact, I purposely kept myself in the dark about the rides before going on. Let’s just say Smuggler’s Run is part thrill ride, part video game in which you can be a pilot, a gunner, or an engineer. We did the ride twice, and it is a different experience depending on which position you are in.
Finally, it was time for Rise of the Resistance. Because of the virtual queue system, the line was well-managed and we moved along quickly. Disney does a great job of breaking up the wait with pockets of cool looking artifacts and areas where the story line of the ride is set-up. They also have a new app called Play Disney and you can interact with droids, tune into transmissions, translate a variety of languages from across the galaxy, and decrypt communications. It’s a fun way to make the lines go faster.
As far as the ride, again, I don’t want to give away too many spoilers so in a nutshell, the audience is recruited into the Resistance by Rey (Daisy Ridley, in holographic form). The mission takes you on a transport ship that is captured by Star Destroyer and then you experience many twists and turns…literally and figuratively. You will come face to face BB-8, Poe and Finn, as well as Kylo Ren and General Hux of the First Order. It is truly a one of a kind ride, that’s part roller coaster, part virtual reality, part animatronics, and all awesome. The only negative thing I can say is that you only get one shot per day at it…we would have loved to gone on again. One rider who has done it more than once told us the ride is different depending on which line you get put in.
It was still early afternoon when we got done with the ride, and our reservation at Savi’s Workshop to build lightsabers wasn’t until 8:45 p.m., so we had a lot of time to fill. One thing I ALWAYS tell people when going to a Disney park is to get there early, leave in the middle (and heat) of the day and go back home or to a hotel room and chill by the pool or nap. Then, go back to the parks later as the sun goes down. You ticket is good all day and so is parking, so you don’t spend twice. Honestly, we were exhausted by 1 p.m. so we went and napped for a couple hours and were refreshed for another round by late afternoon.
We had park hopper passes so we decided to check out the Animal Kingdom park because we had heard some of the rides there were outrageous. Indeed, the Avatar Flight of Passage ride was crazy good and we also enjoyed Expedition Everest. We wanted to go on some of the safaris, but we had to get back over to Hollywood Studios to build the lightsabers.
I am so glad that we had late reservation because seeing Galaxy’s Edge at night was incredible. The lighting of the entire area was mind blowing, adding even more intrigue to an already mesmerizing land. We did the Smuggler Run ride again and checked out more shops as we waited for Savi’s. One of the cool things about Savi’s is there is no signs or directions to it. The location is kept under wraps for fear that First Order storm troopers will find out the location. Even asking Disney employees where it is must be done under hushed tones. While we waited, we could see some of the park’s fireworks show, which was cool seeing things explode over the incredible lighting of Bantuu.
They say you don’t chose a lightsaber, that it chooses you. Four different styles of hilt themes are available - Peace and Justice, Power and Control, Elemental Nature, and Protection and Defense. Savi’s gathers expertly present dozens of materials that go into the lightsaber so that each model is unique to the fledgling Jedi. The most important decision is which kyber crystal will go inside and determine the color of your blade. Again, many feel the crystal chooses you! One of my sons choose red and the other, blue.
The whole experience is a perfectly timed show timed with dramatic music, lighting, and special advice from master Yoda. A lightsaber isn’t cheap….it cost $200 plus tax. But it was easily the best experience we had during the day of amazing experiences. This are quality items that I know my kids will cherish for years to come.
By the time we were done, our building group was literally the last people to walk out of the park. We arrived before dawn under a full moon and were now leaving under a full moon. My kids were playfully swinging their lightsabers as we walked through the empty, yet already immaculately cleaned, park. We were exhausted, having put in over 25,000 steps according to a fitness app. But we all knew we had experienced something incredible. Seeing my kid’s faces glow with happiness, that was every bit as bright as their lightsabers, was worth every penny and every ounce of effort.
Check out Galaxy's Edge in Disneyland in California.