The creation of Disneyland and the subsequent Disney Parks is a storied history. It’s one marked by hard work, setbacks, and much determination from the main man himself, Walt Disney, and the decades of workers who’ve been hired to help make his vision grow since the middle of the 20th century.
That story mirrors the growing legacy of Star Wars, which (yes, acquisitions and monopolies aside) makes Disney Parks and Star Wars a great team when it comes to bringing fans brand new experiences unlike anything else.
Naturally, Disney Parks has had many achievements over the years. And just about everything they do turns to gold. The appeal of Disneyland in the 1950s. The expansion into Europe and Asia. And even the smaller things like breakthroughs in animatronics, trackless rides and, yes… even lightsabers.
So, as both a Disney Parks and a Star Wars fan, it feels so much more special that Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disneyland and Disney World represents an exhibition of Imagineers’ greatest achievements in theme park building.
Disney’s vision and the Imagineering way
I point any person wanting to know more about the fascinating world of Imagineering to the Disney+ docuseries The Imagineering Story. Though, for the purpose of this story, I can’t talk about the wonder of Galaxy’s Edge without paying homage to the ideas that started it all.
As the legend says, this all started when Walt Disney would sit upon the benches at Griffith Park in Los Angeles. As his daughters enjoyed the carousel ride, he’d be dreaming of a place where people of all ages could enjoy this type of fun. And thus, eventually, the idea for Disneyland was born.
The Disney model was to strive for perfection, down to every last, minute detail. While some ideas may have been met with backlash from his team, at the end of the day, his bold thinking proved to be gold nuggets that no one else could have imagined would be a success.
To this day, we see that method being applied throughout all the parks. Just think about the sweet smells and sounds being pumped in as you walk down Main Street U.S.A. Or how every little park section seems to be in its own world, tucked away from everything else. Heck, Hollywood Studios’ Tower of Terror was even designed the way it is so it blends into the skyline from Epcot if you happen to see the tower from the Morocco Pavilion. The attention to detail at Disney is so great that it’d take an entirely separate story just to get into the nitty-gritty of what Imagineers have done.
Disney Parks’ predecessors to Galaxy’s Edge
There are plenty of Disney Parks and themed lands that Imagineers have worked on prior to Galaxy’s Edge that have led up to the land’s creation. Of course, as mentioned previously, we have the creation of additional parks in each resort.
For example, Disney World was created with multiple properties in mind. The idea of Epcot evolved from being Disney’s idea of a “city of tomorrow” into a theme-park land based around a similar premise. But we’ve also had additions like California Adventure at Disneyland, the several other parks that make up Disney World (Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom), and even Tokyo DisneySea — probably the crown jewel of all theme parks ever.
But these parks and their lands have yet to offer what Galaxy’s Edge does (though they provide fun and excitement in their own, very special way). Over in California Adventure, for instance, you have the addition of Pixar Pier as well as Cars Land. These two areas uplifted the park, which had initially opened to lukewarm reviews, and brought a new air of excitement and thrills to park-goers.
One could argue that it’s the addition of Disney’s I.P.s that makes these parks all the more exciting. As we’ve seen, there’s a huge difference between the reception to the Incredicoaster versus California Adventure’s opening-day attraction, Superstar Limo. And we even see examples like this with the addition of Pandora (the Avatar land) at Animal Kingdom — or rides like Frozen Ever After at Epcot and Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT! at California Adventure.
Those heavy on Disney nostalgia may lament the loss of older rides to refurbished ones with new I.P.s. But there’s no denying that these new ideas work, and they’re pushing Disney Parks to the next level.
Galaxy’s Edge: The ultimate puzzle piece
That brings us to the present day where, as of 2019, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge has been open for park-goers to enjoy. (As we know, COVID has drastically changed what the park-going experience looks like, but we’ll just focus on the original idea of the land for now.)
So, what makes Galaxy’s Edge special is that it combines everything that Imagineers know and love to work on, all on top of using a legendary movie franchise as its backbone.
Unlike its Hollywood Studios neighbor Toy Story Land, Galaxy’s Edge goes all-in on creating an immersive story for guests to experience. In your visit, you can choose to side with the First Order or the Resistance as you escape into a period of time that’s set just between The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker.
They really make sure that sense of adventure and immersion is there, using specific techniques to do so. As they describe in The Art of Galaxy’s Edge, for example, the lack of signage helps to spark the curiosity in you. The winding corners will have you unleashing your inner explorer. And when you finally come across the centerpiece buried deep in the land, the Millenium Falcon, it’s meant to evoke a spark of joy and excitement in you that even non-Star Wars fans can awe at.
Unlike other lands, this area isn’t just about the rides. (Though Rise of the Resistance is a wonder of Imagineering all on its own.) You get eateries like Docking Bay 7 and Ronto Roasters, the club-like Oga’s Cantina, all the little shops that line Black Spire Outpost, and even interactive experiences that include droid and lightsaber building.
These all add up to create something wonderful — truly committing to the creation of a brand new Star Wars world, Batuu, that is unlike anything else in all of Disney Parks. Add that on top of the fact that the land had to be replicated in both the East and West Coasts’ parks, and you’ve got a true wonder.
The future of Disney Parks
It’s fitting that Star Wars should be the guiding light for the future — or, at least when it comes to Disney Parks. And while this land may represent the pinnacle of Imagineering’s innovation so far, by no means does that mean this is it.
Take the new Avengers Campus, soon to open at Disneyland and other Disney locations around the world. Featuring sections dedicated to Spider-Man, Doctor Strange and even Ant-Man, this shows just how much immersion Disney is going for when it comes to their newest attractions.
Oftentimes, we have dreams of what it’d be like to live in the worlds of our favorite movies. And thus far, Disney Parks has done that — from its roots in places like Fantasyland and Tomorrowland, all up the newer attractions like Galaxy’s Edge and Avengers Campus.
Rivaled only by Universal Studios’ Wizarding World of Harry Potter and possibly even Super Nintendo World in Japan, this only proves that in a world where at-home entertainment reigns supreme, theme parks can still find a way to innovate and captivate park-goers for years to come.
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