Getting lost in Galaxy's Edge

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The Millennium Falcon in Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge at night.
The Millennium Falcon in Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge at night. Photo Credit: Jamie Biesiada

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- It's perhaps an overused cliche, but true nonetheless: I felt like a kid again when I walked into Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge.

The 14-acre area, positioned in the northwest corner of Disneyland, is an immersive experience. The land is set in Black Spire Outpost on the planet Batuu, and from the moment you walk into the area, you feel removed from the rest of the park -- and, frankly, this universe.

Using a combination of spires, rock formations, foliage and domed buildings, Disney has effectively cut off Galaxy's Edge from the outside world. That's if you were even looking for the outside world -- it's easy to lose yourself in Galaxy's Edge.

Galaxy's Edge will open Friday, May 31, with one main attraction, Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run. It features a re-creation of the iconic ship, the first time a 100% complete version of the Falcon has ever been built. I had the chance to ride the attraction twice.

Savi's Workshop, where guests build their own lightsabers.
Savi's Workshop, where guests build their own lightsabers. Photo Credit: Jamie Biesiada

The ride itself is good. Guests take controls of the iconic spaceship as either pilot, gunner or engineer, and they perform the tasks associated with each job. The mission is to assist a shady character, the smuggler Hondo Ohnaka, with moving goods across the galaxy.

The action takes place on the cockpit "windows," and no special glasses are required. While I don't usually get motion sickness, some fellow riders said the back seats (engineers and gunners) were easier on their stomachs than the pilot chairs in front.

The attraction is reactive to each participant's performance, and changes accordingly each time. Guests are graded on how well they've done, and if you're using the Play Disney Parks app, it will record your score -- this could come back to haunt you later if you do poorly. 

I wasn't using the app when I rode the attraction, but my dismal performances as first pilot then engineer were noted by cast members after each trip on the ship. It was all in good fun.

I enjoyed the ride. It has rivals in the thrills department, but stepping aboard the Millennium Falcon and spending time in the ship before entering the cockpit was the stuff of my 10-year-old dreams (I saw the films in theaters when they were re-released in the late 1990s). Flying the Falcon is an added bonus.

The hilt of the lightsaber constructed by Travel Weekly's Jamie Biesiada.
The hilt of the lightsaber constructed by Travel Weekly's Jamie Biesiada. Photo Credit: Jamie Biesiada

Outside of the Millennium Falcon, a trip into Oga's Cantina will also please Star Wars fans and newcomers alike. The lively space is visually interesting and serves up a number of treats. I particularly enjoyed the DJ, R-3X, the former droid pilot of "Star Tours" before the attraction was revamped.

I had the chance to sample several dishes in Galaxy's Edge. My favorite was the flavorful Felucian Garden Spread, plant-based kefta with herb hummus, tomato cucumber relish and pita. 

While Smugglers Run was a close second, my favorite thing to do in Galaxy's Edge was building a lightsaber at Savi's Workshop ($200), one of a number of retail locations with unique-to-the-land offerings. 

I was impressed with build-your-own-droid at the Droid Depot, but nothing topped creating the iconic weapon of the Jedi and Sith.

To build a lightsaber, participants choose one of four styles. Once a group assembles, they are whisked into the building area quietly to avoid notice of the First Order (villains were spotted in Black Spire Outpost, hence the secrecy). There, the "Gatherers" guide them through assembling their own lightsaber.

I won't spoil the ceremony, but it's a lot of fun. One of the store's producers told me it differs based on the cast member who is the Gatherer -- some inject more humor, some more nostalgia. The crowning moment comes when guests finish assembling their lightsabers. The end product is far from the plastic toy lightsabers I grew up with. It's metal and hefty.

Part of the Droid Depot, where builders pick the basic pieces of their droids.
Part of the Droid Depot, where builders pick the basic pieces of their droids. Photo Credit: Jamie Biesiada

The only problem: How to get the thing home? I shipped the blade and case, while bringing the hilt in my carry-on.

It's easy to get lost in Black Spire Outpost, and that's a good thing. The land was designed to encourage wandering and exploration. You have to actively look for locations you want to find, and sometimes, you stumble across something unexpected. I forgot to bring my map and got turned around a number of times, but I enjoyed exploring every walkway (I'm still not sure I saw everything).

That design was intentional. Kirstin Makela, an art director with Walt Disney Imagineering, said Disneyland guests particularly love the intimacy of the park. Disney wanted to re-create that feeling within Galaxy's Edge, evoking streets and alleyways that can feel special to individual guests as they explore the outpost.

Chris Beatty, executive creative director with Walt Disney Imagineering, said the park's New Orleans Square was a particular inspiration to Black Spire Outpost. The streets and corridors of Galaxy's Edge were largely inspired by New Orleans Square and the relationships of space and buildings, and how those passageways encourage discovery.

That's certainly true in Galaxy's Edge, where you can't help but feel like you're a part of the Star Wars universe.

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