If you can believe it, we’re coming up on the one year anniversary of the opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disneyland park. Easily one of the most anticipated theme park projects in recent years, the best word I can find to describe the journey to Batuu is “impressive.”
I am so impressed with the level of detail on the rockwork, droids, cast member costumes—everything that I find around Black Spire Outpost. But the reality is that the reaction to Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge was a bit more lackluster from the general public than what Disney (or anyone) anticipated. Sure, there are fans that love everything about this new land, but it’s undeniable that crowd sizes were less than expected and the reaction just wasn’t as grand as one might expect from a project of this size.
But I don’t think it’s the fault of the Imagineers and brilliant craftspeople who worked on Galaxy’s Edge. I think we got pretty much what we had been asking for, for years. I think the downfalls (for lack of a better term) we find in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is a case of “be careful what you wish for.”
Many theme park fans (including myself) wanted the most immersive theme park experience of all time. I think we got that in spades with Galaxy’s Edge. For me, I’m so immersed in my very own Star Wars experience that sometimes I miss having my theme park experience. Batuu feels like a real place to me. So real in fact, that I don’t feel like I’m in Disneyland. On one level, that is a huge compliment to the creators and an impressive feat accomplished.
But if I’m being honest, I don’t like the feeling of “not being Disneyland.” I want to be in Disneyland. I love Disneyland. So perhaps I got what I wished for with this wholly immersive experience, but maybe I didn’t realize that what I was wishing for wasn’t what I really wanted. At least, not to the extent I thought I wanted.
Music is a huge part of the theme park experience. In some cases, the music is blasting in your face, but equally important are the moments when the background music loop goes unnoticed, but still enhances your experience. When you have one of the most iconic movie scores of all time written by John Williams, arguably the most brilliant film composer of all time, I want to hear that in a theme park land themed to Star Wars.
But when you’re walking around Batuu, you don’t hear the famous anthem and themes we’ve come to expect. Instead, we’re hearing spaceships fly overhead, Batuuan radio stations, droids, and other sounds that make sense in this fully immersive environment. I love that level of detail, but miss hearing those glorious themes. It’s the perfect case of “you can’t have it all.”
Another part of creating a fully immersive experience is that the story timeline needs to stay intact. What we got with Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is a storyline based within the Star Wars sequel trilogy, which means no appearances by Darth Vader, Ewoks, Luke Skywalker and more of your favorite legacy characters. This also means no appearances by The Child (AKA “Baby Yoda”) from “The Mandalorian.”
There are many people wishing they could do a meet-and-greet with him, and I’m sure Disney Consumer Products certainly wishes they could be selling his merchandise inside the land. But this is not allowed when you have a fully immersive land that sticks to a very strict timeline. I am the type of person that loves and appreciates this attention to detail and continuity in story, but I’d be lying if I said I don’t miss seeing some of my favorite characters.
And then there’s the hyper-detail of language seen throughout the land. The most obvious case of this was the naming of food options. When the land originally opened, we had food choices like Smoked Kaduu Ribs and Roasted Endorian Tip-yip Salad. At first glance, this is foreign to the general consumer, even if there is a more recognizable description underneath the name. It’s highly immersive, yet somewhat confusing.
Later, Disney changed the food names to something more recognizable and less confusing, most likely related to the speed of ordering food and/or lower-than-expected sales. At this point, they seem to have come to a happy medium with galaxy-inspired names that also include more recognizable terms, like Smoked Kaduu Pork Ribs and Endorian Roasted Chicken Salad. This is one of the first steps we’ve seen of Disney breaking the immersion they worked so hard to create in order to satisfy the guests.
That is a small detail changed, but it’s just the beginning. I believe that within the next five years, we’ll start seeing additional small changes to help the average guest, but sacrifice a bit of immersion in the process.
I think between the five- and ten-year anniversaries of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, we’ll be in the “theme park sweet spot” of a mostly-immersive land with a good amount of it stripped away for the average guests’ enjoyment. I wouldn’t be surprised if around that time, we begin to hear the John Williams score creep into the land and some legacy characters appear. Beyond ten years, I wouldn’t be surprised if the “rules” of Batuu are fairly nonexistent and we’re seeing characters from multiple timelines (like we do in Star Tours) and it starts catering to guests with little Star Wars knowledge.
It’s a tough spot for Disney to be in. They definitely want to appeal to the average park guest as well as the die-hard Star Wars fan. Perhaps a solution would be making adjustments to the land to satisfy day park guests and creating hard ticket events that really stick to the immersive storytelling for folks who truly want to live their own Star Wars story.
What do you think? Is Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge too immersive for your taste? Did you think you wanted this level of immersion but have discovered you were wrong? Or do you love this totally immersive land and want even more immersion?
Jeff DePaoli is a producer and voiceover artist living in Los Angeles. He can be heard as the voice of Disney Trivia on Alexa as well as the host of “Dizney Coast to Coast,” the ultimate, unofficial Disney fan podcast. Get your FREE gifts of “America’s Hidden Mickeys,” “On the Rohde Again,” “Theme Park Comfort Kit” and more at DizneyCoastToCoast.com.