Annual Passholder previews are underway at Disney’s Hollywood Studios for Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. As we previously shared, the previews are for Platinum Annual Passholders and above and you must have pre-registered. We attended the first Annual Passholder preview yesterday and wanted to bring you some photos and thoughts from our first visit to “Batuu East” and go over some of the logistics of the preview.
Grand Avenue Arrival
After demolishing most of the Streets of America, Disney decided to keep one facade and turn the area into Grand Avenue. Grand Avenue was created to capture the spirit of present-day Downtown Los Angeles, showing vintage office buildings and warehouses representing the different vibrant districts and cultures of the city.
The Grand Avenue entrance is…something. The transition from a California street to the Resistance Forest is harsher here than any of the entrances at Disneyland. Both Disneyland and Disney’s Hollywood Studios created new spaces outside of the entrance to their respective Batuus, but Disneyland’s nature to nature works a lot better than city street to nature. Here’s a look at the Grand Avenue entrance tunnel.
And here’s a look back at the tunnel from the Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge side.
Just like in Disneyland, the first experience that you have in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge in Disney’s Hollywood Studios is the Resistance Forest. This is a makeshift base of sorts that the Resistance put together in the “Old Outpost” section of Batuu. This is outside of the boundaries of Black Spire Outpost, and, most importantly, outside of the grasp of the First Order.
Unlike in Disneyland, there isn’t a lot of lead up to the Rise of the Resistance entrance and spaceship area. In Disneyland, there is a lot of dead space coming from the Critter Country entrance where you essentially walk the length of Disney’s Hollywood Studios’ Grand Avenue in just wooded area. As a matter of fact, you can see a portion of the Rise of the Resistance queue to the right in the photo above.
Due to a difference in layout, the major difference between the Resistance Forest in Disneyland and in Disney’s Hollywood Studios is the placement of the ships. In Disneyland, the A-Wing and X-Wing are placed together. In Disney’s Hollywood Studios, they are seperated. This separation creates a much bigger pathway. As a matter of fact, we noticed a lot of pathways around Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge were wider at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
One of the “complaints” we had about Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge in Disneyland was just how dead the Resistance Forest felt compared to Black Spire Outpost. Less dead space in Disney’s Hollywood Studios’ version of the Resistance Forest translated to the area “feeling” less dead, but it’s still a noticeable difference when compared to the Marketplace and surrounding areas as a whole. That will surely change on December 5th when Rise of the Resistance opens to the public.
Black Spire Outpost Marketplace
When creating the same themed land in two different parks, there will be some noticeable, but tiny differences. The majority of the changes were made to the Resistance Forest areas and entrances to the land. As you get closer to the Marketplace and streets of Black Spire Outpost, the changes become more cosmetic instead of functional. One thing that is the same in both versions of Batuu that we had hoped to see a difference was the completely open-air nature of the Marketplace.
Before we get too deep into this, we’ll start by saying that we absolutely love the look of the Marketplace and think that it’s one of the best themed shopping areas at any Disney theme park. A crucial part of the theming of this location is the very thing that we’re about to complain about – the open-air concept. With that bit of backwards logic out of the way, let’s take a look at where a difference between Anaheim and Orlando could have been made.
As you likely are aware, Orlando experiences much more rain than Anaheim. Not only do we have more rainy days here and a much higher amount, some of the afternoon storms here can cause nearly torrential downpours. With the open-air Marketplace not having any sort of shelter from the elements, that means that guests will end up either piling into the already very small shops, or crowd walkways in the Ronto Roasters area. As a matter of fact, during a portion of our preview we experienced enough of a downpour to force guests to take cover exactly as described above. Disney could have included some sort of glass or plexiglass cover here to keep the open-air vibe while still providing some shelter from the elements. As it stands now, there is actually very little cover from rain in the entire land. As we saw during our preview though, not everyone hates the rain! In reality, you can see people using the Millennium Falcon as an umbrella simply due to the lack of dry space in the land during an afternoon storm.
Having the Marketplace act as an area for guests to get out of the elements would have been quite beneficial both in terms of guest comfort as well as potentially giving people a place to get some shopping or dining done in the land for the hour or more that most storms last. We’ve actually seen a glass ceiling in a marketplace before in the Morocco Pavilion in Epcot. Granted, it’s on a smaller scale, but I’m sure Disney Imagineers could have pulled it off in Galaxy’s Edge too.
As it stands, this is the only major complaint of the land as it relates to the Florida version. The Marketplace is still one of our favorite areas both in terms of theming and the kinetic energy it gives to the land.
In an effort to make Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge feel as real as possible, Disney has a variety of characters roaming the land at any given time. During our preview, we spotted Rey, Chewbacca, Kylo Ren, Vi Moradi, and Stormtroopers.
Just like in Disneyland, the characters are part of the storyline that we have arrived on Batuu just weeks after the First Order and Kylo Ren landed on the planet in search for Rey and Resistance fighters. These characters are important in creating a living, breathing environment that goes above and beyond a static Buzz Lightyear figure, or the sounds of the Na’vi from unseen and hidden locations. When we first encountered the characters in Disneyland, we were worried that they wouldn’t make it into the Walt Disney World version of the land due to a difference in guest behavior around characters in Orlando. We are very happy to see the characters as much as we can. When you’re sipping on your Blue Milk and Kylo Ren begins questioning your loyalty, that moment puts you in the middle of the action just as Imagineers intended. By positioning Star Wars characters in the streets, this becomes more than just a location, it becomes a story. That said, it could have, and should have, been more. Let’s take a look back at Star Wars Celebration to see what was cut from the land, as told by Disney Imagineers and executives from Lucasfilm.
Imagineers had much bigger plans than just a few characters appearing at various times throughout the day. The above photo is from a video shown off during Star Wars Celebration where Imagineers talked about the plans to bring fight scenes to the streets of Black Spire Outpost as the First Order and Resistance clash all around you. While there are surely a lot of reasons why things get cut from the final product in any corporate environment, this was something that the team devoted a lot of time to developing and working on. The fact that we haven’t seen a battle break out in the middle of a Star Wars planet where the First Order and Resistance are stationed just doesn’t feel as authentic as the team had probably hoped for.
In addition to the fight scenes that have not been realized in the land, Disney also cut out the roaming droids that were often talked about. There are no droids roaming around Batuu on either coast right now, but that’s not to say that they won’t appear at some point. According to Blooloop, Scott Trowbridge, the head of Disney’s Star Wars Land project, said that droids will be coming to Black Spire Outpost eventually. “We might not have roving droids in crowded streets on day one,” Trowbridge said. “But it is definitely part of our game plan.” Disney went as far as testing a roaming droid at Disneyland a couple of years ago, as seen in our video below.
Smuggling for Hondo Ohnaka
The only attraction open in the land is Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run. The queue and attraction are the same as they are out in Disneyland, so there probably isn’t much more to offer as far as updated thoughts on the Walt Disney World version. Here’s what we had to say about Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run the first time we rode it.
You enter a through a grand tower that overlooks the spaceport that the Millennium Falcon is parked at. Inside, you’ll find a “legitimate” business known as Ohnaka Transport Solutions.
The queue is well themed, with a few different rooms that you pass through before coming face-to-face with Hondo Ohnaka himself. If you’re unfamiliar with the name Hondo Ohnaka as it relates to Star Wars, don’t feel bad. He’s not a part of the main movies, but rather some of the animated shows that can be found on Netflix right now. Don’t worry, you don’t need to know who he is to enjoy the attraction. The Hondo Ohnaka audio-animatronic is of the same quality as all of the recent animatronics that we’ve seen introduced to the parks such as the impressive Shaman of Songs figure in Na’vi River Journey and the full-scale Avatar figure in Flight of Passage. Movements are extremely fluid and every detail that you could hope for is present. Beyond the technical details, Hondo is a very funny and engaging character that we can’t wait to see again.
Would you feel a deeper connection if it was Han Solo telling you he needs you to fly the Falcon while he sorts out some unfinished business, sure. Disney made the decision to put you into a land that is a part of the engaging Star Wars story that we all know and love, but in a way that doesn’t try to place you in a storyline that has already been told. They want you to live your own Star Wars story instead of try to relive the stories that we saw play out on the big screen.
When it comes to flying the Millennium Falcon, it’s an enjoyable ride. Nothing in a Disney park will likely quite live up to the feeling of walking into the Millennium Falcon for the first time. It’s a wonderfully detailed space with buttons to push, noises, and an immersive simulator. That said, there is certainly an opportunity for disappointment.
We’ve found that the best seat in the house, by far, is one of the pilot positions. Not only do you have “full” control of the experience, you also get to actively participate in every second of the action. We use “full” in quotes because this isn’t just an open-world roam where you get to fly the Falcon as you please. While it’s true that you can pilot the Falcon into some pretty bad spots, you can’t just crash the Falcon in the first 10 seconds and the ride is over. You will follow a specific storyline that is the same for every flight, and the pilots will be able to fly the Falcon within basically a margin of error off of the center line.
I don’t think that it’s some giant revelation that a single pilot can’t completely ruin the experience for everyone. After all, you probably just waited hours for the chance to fly it, Disney won’t let you crash it into the ground right away.
Engineer and Gunner, the other two pairs of positions, are much less exciting than the pilot position. If we are comparing this to other attractions, the Engineer and Gunner positions are basically Mission: SPACE. You have little say in what is actually unfolding on the screen in front of you, and you only have a couple of buttons to push. That said, it is different from Mission: SPACE in that if you don’t push a button, the action doesn’t automatically happen anyway. In that regard, this is definitely an upgraded experience.
Before you can walk into the attraction, you are given quick instructions and handed a specific color card, which is your boarding group. Each card also has a position on it. The only way to ensure that you get the pilot seats if you don’t get them when the cards are handed out is to ask to switch with the pilot in your group. Of course, that could present some awkward conversations with strangers if you both want to pilot the Falcon (and you DO want to pilot the Falcon). I hope Disney can figure out a way to allow guests to wait for the pilot position, but as of right now, there is no extra queue space to wait in like you might find for a front row seat on Rock ‘N’ Roller Coaster.
As for the attraction itself, our first impression of it graded it a “B”. I think the crazy thing about that grade is that it will still be the best attraction at Walt Disney World when it opens there. It’ll be considered better than Flight of Passage, and it’ll be the best ride at Walt Disney World until Rise of the Resistance opens, but you can still have a subpar experience based on others around you. You could have a terrible time if your pilots are bad, you can miss most of the storyline if you don’t select auto-lock target as a gunner and have to focus more on pressing buttons that looking out the windows of the Falcon. Don’t get me wrong, this is an amazing attraction with amazing tech in it. You’re going to smile when you first walk into that cockpit, and Imagineers did a phenomenal job of creating a realistic space. I’m not sure if the average guest will give it a rating of a “B”, and I’m not even sure that Disney could have done anything different, but if you don’t take the controls of the Falcon in your own hands, be prepared for an experience that could align more with Mission: SPACE than anything else.
A Hive of Scum and…More Enjoyable Experiences
Oga’s Cantina was a rough experience when it first opened at Disneyland. Sure, a cantina on a planet filled with pirates, scum, and villainy isn’t going to be the most hospitable place, but Oga’s staff in Disneyland seemingly took it further than just a storyline.
We were interested to see how it would all play out at Batuu east, so we decided to drop in and pay DJ Rex and crew a visit. We were happy to see that the scum and villainy schtick had been removed and found it to be a very pleasant experience. This works so much better than what we experienced out in Disneyland and is a welcome change. With reservations highly recommended, we suggest you make one to ensure you’ll be able to enjoy Batuu’s bar.
Other small items that come to mind when comparing our Walt Disney World experience to our Disneyland experience includes some of the colors in Florida seem to pop more than their muted Disneyland equivalents. We assume that Disney anticipates the harsh Central Florida sun will wear on the paints here more than Disneyland and might have gone to an “extreme” more here. Either way, we actually prefer the color scheme in Florida. Much more alien and much less monotone.
Here is a relatively similar comparison between Disneyland (first pic) and Disney’s Hollywood Studios (second pic), weather conditions notwithstanding.
Other notes include how much of a “dead end” the First Order area feels in Disney’s Hollywood Studios versus the version in Disneyland which actually uses that area as a third entrance/exit not needed in Walt Disney World.
Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is a special place that completely removes you from the feel of a theme park. We commented how out in Disneyland, we had completely forgotten that we were in Walt’s park, and that leaving the land truly felt like you were leaving another planet to arrive back in Disneyland. The same effect is present at Disney’s Hollywood Studios as well. Imagineers did a wonderful job of enclosing the space and creating an immersive experience that takes the work that they did on Pandora – The World of Avatar and elevates it to a level deserving of the Star Wars title.
One major aspect of all of this that remains to be seen is how crowds will impact the land versus what we saw in California. With all of the work Disney has done on Grand Avenue, walkways, bag check, and even transportation, it’ll be interesting to see if the crowds show up to validate the money poured in to these tangential projects. Keep checking back with us here at BlogMickey.com as we continue to cover all things Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge! We’ll be on the ground on opening day and beyond to help you make the most of your trip to Batuu.
If you missed some of our reviews from Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, we’ve compiled them below:
- Oga’s Cantina Review
- Docking Bay 7 Food and Cargo Review
- Ronto Roasters Review
- Kat Saka’s Kettle Review
- Savi’s Workshop Handbuilt Lightsaber Review
- Fully immersive 360 VR Smugglers Run queue and ride