Culture, Culture / Movies

A Journey to Galaxy’s Edge, the Nerdiest Place on Earth

In Star Wars movies, people flying the Millennium Falcon pull a very specific lever to jump the ship into hyperspace, which is technobabble for “Go very fast!” People do the same thing at Disneyland, on a ride called Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run. It’s part of Galaxy’s Edge, a new billion-dollar, 14-acre expansion, and to get to that lever, visitors first navigate a queue that twists through a meticulous re-creation of a spaceport and the inside of the Falcon. Then six at a time are ushered into the ship’s cockpit (the ride actually has several) to get rumbled and wobbled while a screen outside the window shows a first-person POV movie of a swooping, dogfighting space mission. It’s a motion-simulator ride. The Falcon doesn’t actually go anywhere.

At least, not in our universe. In the Star Wars universe … well.

So now, me, in the pilot’s seat, a light flashing: I’m a fan, so I reach for the lever in, I’ll admit it, a transport of delight. It’s metal, a little cold, takes some real force to pull back. It feels perfect. I mean, this is exactly what it feels like to pilot the Millennium Falcon.

Sure, under the dashboard are leaf springs and gears, shaking haptics torqued to within a play-tested centimeter of their lives to give good feedback. But, like, that’s not what I mean. What I mean is, how could pulling that lever feel perfect? How could it feel like anything? There’s no such thing as hyperspace. There’s not even any such thing as a Millennium Falcon. It’s Hollywood magic, polyurethane, and pixie dust.

There’s a full-size Falcon at the entrance to the ride, yes—and another in the corresponding park in Florida. They’re props, basically, dressing for a heightened environment, like Hogwarts at Universal Studios or Gotham City at Warner Bros. World in Abu Dhabi. Except unlike those, Galaxy’s Edge doesn’t end here. It is, in native nerdish, “in canon.” What happens in Galaxy’s Edge happens in the official Star Wars universe.

Me again: I’ve pulled the lever. Lots of little computational beeps and tweets. And then, wooooooooOOOO-shoom! The stars blur backward into speed lines, and something like acceleration pushes us all back into our seats. We have made the jump to hyperspace.


There are two ways to talk about Galaxy’s Edge. Both are true.

One:

The remote planet of Batuu was once covered with trees thousands of feet tall. After a cataclysm petrified them, only their trunks remained. For mysterious reasons, one looks like obsidian, giving a town that grew up around it its name: Black Spire Outpost. A disreputable trader named Hondo Ohnaka recently opened a cargo business there, for which he is recruiting pilots to fly off-books cargo runs that may also be in support of the galactic Resistance movement. Stormtroopers from the First Order have just arrived to hunt for Resistance sympathizers.

Two (this one is longer):

In 2012, George Lucas sold Lucasfilm to the Walt Disney Company for $4 billion. As intellectual property goes, Star Wars is unusual, in that sanctioned stories exist inside a rigorously enforced storyworld stretching millennia into the past and future. Disney, with producer Kathleen Kennedy heading the new division, would make new movies and TV shows (as well as comic books, novels, toys, videogames, and so on). In 2014, Disney CEO Bob Iger added theme parks to the mandate.

At the time, Scott Trowbridge was the head of research and development at Disney Imagineering, the company’s theme-park design arm. A USC film major who’d spearheaded the immersive Harry Potter attractions when he ran Universal Creative, Trowbridge proposed a novel way to capitalize on the newly acquired IP. He pitched Disney’s “first franchised, story-universe-based creative development studio.” It would include merchandise, product development, even food service, and it would build not just rides but entire stories that’d feed from the parks back into the canonic maw.

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