Virtual reality feels quite real on Rise of the Resistance

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After their ship is intercepted by the First Order, riders are greeted by 50 stormtroopers. Photo Credit: Disney

ORLANDO -- Disney CEO Bob Iger has called Rise of the Resistance the "most technologically advanced and immersive attraction that we have ever imagined."

He's right.

I rode Rise of the Resistance here on Tuesday, ahead of the much-anticipated public debut of the attraction on Dec. 5 at Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge in Disney's Hollywood Studios.

The attraction has multiple ride systems, gigantic set pieces, live actors, realistic animatronics and crystal-clear video screens. It's engaging and surprising, and fans will want to ride it more than once.

The transport ship riders board is later intercepted by a First Order Star Destroyer.
The transport ship riders board is later intercepted by a First Order Star Destroyer. Photo Credit: Disney

On Rise of the Resistance, guests are new recruits of the Resistance, which is in the midst of a fight against the First Order. After winding through the attraction's queue amidst the Resistance's temporary outpost in the forested area on Black Spire Outpost's outskirts, riders encounter a briefing room with the droid BB-8 and Rey, the heroine in the most recent trilogy of Star Wars films.

This isn't an attraction inviting guests to sit down in a vehicle throughout. Though it's not strenuous, it involves walking from point to point, and some standing, before ultimately ending in a vehicle. The different modes of transport are part of what makes Rise of the Resistance so compelling.

Rise of the Resistance riders encounter life-sized AT-AT Walkers.
Rise of the Resistance riders encounter life-sized AT-AT Walkers. Photo Credit: Disney

In the briefing room, BB-8 is an impressive animatronic, but Rey is even more impressive. She appears via "holo-transmission," the holographic-projecting technology featured in the Star Wars films (most famously, of Princess Leia asking Obi-Wan Kenobi for help in the first Star Wars film). The holo-transmission almost exactly replicates what film viewers will remember, in a crisp, clear version of a life-sized Rey.

The plan: The recruits must reunite with Princess Leia, who has risen to the rank of general over the years, on a secret, off-planet location.

But things don’t go according to plan.

After leaving the briefing room, riders transition to an outdoor area where their transport ship sits in front of them. They board that ship (which is piloted by realistic animatronics) and stand and hold onto railings. A combination of crisp video screens and actual movement makes it feel as if the ship is departing Batuu. Then, the ship is intercepted by a First Order Star Destroyer.

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Life-like animatronics pilot the transport ship. Photo Credit: Disney

The ship lands inside the Star Destroyer, and a cast member portraying a First Order officer forces riders to exit. The hangar bay, filled with 50 stormtroopers and what appears to be a life-sized TIE fighter craft, is a huge physical space that impresses upon entry. 

From there, riders are led to a jail cell, from which they are sprung by Resistance fighters. Then, it's into a trackless ride vehicle -- called an Intersystem Transport Ship, which can move in any direction -- to attempt to escape the Star Destroyer and return to Batuu. The vehicle then interacts with gigantic AT-AT Walkers, stormtroopers and more, and is the target of a good deal of blaster fire that visually "damages" the Star Destroyer wherever it hits.

Then, the Intersystem Transport Ship is moved into a simulator experience that creates its flight back to the planet. And, of course, it's no easy flight.

The entire experience takes more than 15 minutes. It is made realistic thanks to cast members who stay in character as stern, borderline scary, First Order officers. Plus, there are the realistic sets, life-size set pieces and a menacing soundtrack. The animatronics are among the best I've seen. 

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Riders dodge huge turbolaser cannons as they attempt to escape a First Order Star Destroyer. Photo Credit: Disney/Matt Stroshane

Because action is happening everywhere, one ride doesn't feel like enough. For instance, during the minutes when riders are in the transport ship that's intercepted by the Star Destroyer, there are several screens to watch, plus the two high-quality animatronics piloting the ship.

Galaxy's Edge opened earlier this year in Disney's Florida and California parks. In both parks, the area opened with one attraction -- Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run. Rise of the Resistance opens in Disneyland on Jan. 17.

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