Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is one of the most ambitious additions ever made to Disney’s parks. Rumors say the Star Wars lands in California and Florida may have cost the media giant more than $1 billion to plan and build. But, in person, it’s so much more than a theme park. Thanks to a tireless and disciplined staff, being there feels at times like an elaborate, live-action role-play.
Galaxy’s Edge opened on May 31 at Disneyland in Anaheim, California. Polygon was there, walking the streets of Batuu in a simulated galaxy far, far away. Prior to our visit, Disney reps made a point to highlight how excited its new “residents” were. Social media posts detailed everything from employee reactions to getting the job to their beaming smiles as they walked the runway in their authentic, hand-made costumes.
In person, Disney’s cast far exceeded my expectations. A complete Galaxy’s Edge experience certainly involves interacting with the costumed players.
While waiting in line for my first taste of blue milk, I turned to one of the cast members keeping the crowd moving. “Where are you from?” I asked. “Peka,” he said. “It’s just about an hour away.”
“Is that near Santa Monica?” I asked.
He smiled a big, bright smile. “I’m not sure what you mean. Never heard of ‘Santa Monica.’”
Turns out that Peka is a tiny fishing village, part of the elaborate lore created for Galaxy’s Edge. Don’t take a highway. You can only get there via sublight shuttlecraft. Just about every cast member I talked to hailed from the tiny village. They tell me that the sunsets there are spectacular.
One woman, named Marie, said that she came from a long line of fisherfolk in Peka. However, the smell of fish turns her stomach. That’s why she came to Black Spire Outpost to find work. Eventually she fell in with Mudo, the Utai proprietor of Droid Depot.
“I love working with machines,” she said, beaming with pride. “I even helped to rebuild one of the R2 units inside the shop.”
The role-playing extends to members of the First Order as well. Also while standing in line waiting to get into the Droid Depot, Kylo Ren and two stormtroopers accosted the woman next to me. Pointing to her phone, Kylo accused her of being a Resistance spy.
“Are you communicating with the Resistance?” he boomed, his voice fully modulated to sound just like Adam Driver behind his mask. “Answer me. Now.”
When she floundered, I intervened. “I’m definitely communicating with the Resistance, yeah,” I said, showing Kylo my Play Disney Parks app, themed to look like an in-fiction Datapad. He turned to a stormtrooper next to him.
“Delete the information on that device,” he said, “or I’ll find someone who can.”
“You can delete it, sure,” I said, “But I backed it up to iCloud before I left.”
There was a long pause as the three cast members looked back and forth at each other. The stormtroopers snapped to attention. Kylo pointed his gloves fist straight at me. “I’ll be watching you,” he said, before stomping away.
My favorite experience, though, came while talking to Aura, one of the Disney cast members minding the entrance to Star Wars land near the First Order’s landing platform on the east side of the attraction. She was also from Peka, but originally lived in Galma, a more upscale village nearby.
She told me that, several years ago, her father decided to join up with the First Order. She and her mother hadn’t spoken to him since. After the loss of his income, they had to sell the family home and move to Peka. Her mother works as a nurse there, tending to the injuries and illnesses of the fishing fleet and other blue collar workers in the village.
“I’ve been picking up a few things from her,” Aura said, leaning in close. “Mother said that if I can manage it, I should try to join in with the Resistance. Maybe they could use a medic.”
A few moments later, blue milk in hand, I bumped into Vi Moradi, a Resistance spy and the hero of the elaborate stage show inside Galaxy’s Edge. As we chatted in a shadowy corner about her mission, I looked back to the entrance for Aura, hoping to motion her over and make an introduction. That’s how far inside the experience I was able to go, and it wouldn’t have been possible without the cast members doing their homework prior to joining the team.
The entire time I was inside the land, Galaxy’s Edge sustained the illusion that the cast members on the other side of the counter were part of the fiction. It broke for me only once when, on the threshold of entering Dok-Ondar’s Den of Antiquities, when I asked another cast member where he was from.
“San Diego,” he said. “Are you sure?” I asked, while a second cast member looked on in horror.
But Disney has role-playing plans that go well beyond the staff at Galaxy’s Edge. It has already broken ground on a site near Hollywood Studios in Orlando, Florida for a one-of-a-kind Star Wars-themed hotel. Fans are expecting Westworld-like levels of immersion, an experience where guests can pick a side in the battle between the First Order and the Resistance, then dress up and live out their spacefaring fantasies. Early drawings of the hotel’s first floor include areas labeled as “Brig,” “Engineering,” and “Dojo.”
Officially, Disney shies away from actually using the term “role-play,” but there’s no other word for it. I’m looking forward to seeing just how far down the rabbit hole goes. Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge opens on August 29 in Disney’s Hollywood Studios at Disney World in Orlando, Florida. No opening date for the hotel has been announced.