Nestled within a bustling marketplace sits a watering hole called Oga’s Cantina. An imposing utility door marks Oga’s entrance, barely muffling the low grumble of electronic dance music emanating from within. Nearby, a cast member stands perched behind a podium. I give her my name.
“Rising moons to you,” she greets me, checking my name against a list on her iPad. She motions my family—my wife and three kids—and me to follow her inside. “And just so you know, capacity is limited, so your family will be seated with other travelers tonight.”
This is Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disneyland. I’ve been waiting four years for this.
It was back in August 2015 when Disney’s CEO Bob Iger first announced the Galaxy’s Edge project. “We are creating a jaw-dropping new world that represents our largest single-themed land expansion ever,” Iger proudly announced. “These new lands… will transport guests to a whole new Star Wars planet.”There’s an insatiable appetite behind this ever-increasing desire for deeper escape and stories that never end.
That planet is called Batuu. You’ll find no mention of Batuu in any Star Wars films. None of the traditional Star Wars stories take place here. Sure, Storm Troopers roam its streets, and Kylo Ren drops in occasionally. You’ll probably see Rey, Chewbacca, and the rest of the Resistance here too. But Batuu isn’t their home, and Galaxy’s Edge isn’t their adventure.
No, it’s your adventure. This is where your personal Star Wars story will play out.
The cantina brims with other vacationers, all of whom presumably made a reservation weeks ago, just like me. Most have staked out a spot at the glowing wraparound bar that snakes around the room. Tattered flags and electrical wires droop from rusted, exposed pipes along the ceiling and walls.
It’s loud in here. The thump of up-tempo music fills the air and vibrates the floor, mixed with the murmurs of countless unintelligible conversations trying to speak above the noise. Bartenders weave in and around the crowd, balancing trays lined with pints and alien cocktails. To the side of the room, there’s a chipper RX-Series pilot droid bopping up and down in time with the beat. He bleeps and blips and jokes with the crowd between songs.
Our hostess seats us along the wall at a worn leather booth where a dad, a mom, and their two teenage daughters already sit. I catch the end of their conversation with the barmaid. “So we can have two drinks each?” the dad asks.
“That’s right,” she tells him. “That’s the max.”
“How long can we stay?”
The dad is older than me, probably by a decade. He’s wearing a crisp polo shirt with khaki shorts, like someone who just came from the golf course. He leans in toward his wife, “I just want us to maximize our experience while we’re here.”
Those are the actual words. Maximize our experience.
But I can’t roll my eyes. How can I? I’ve spent a chunk of my annual income to be here.
I’m invested in this experience.
Star Wars is one of our generation’s great mythologies—a licensing juggernaut that originally revolved around a set of films and toys and books. But now, Star Wars is an actual place you can visit, an immersive world that triggers all the senses.
Star Wars has a smell. You can taste it too.
Ever since the man Walt Disney opened Disneyland in 1955, the incremental promise of themed entertainment has been family fun through the storytelling tools of physical immersion, imagination, and escape. Whether it was trains chugging through the Wild West of Frontierland or exotic cruises through the jungles of Adventureland, Disney’s parks and rides were built on the conceit of surrounding guests in another world. It’s a quaint idea, one that feels almost too pure for 2019.
Yet in the last decade, Disney and Comcast’s NBCUniversal have invested billions to realize a 21st-century vision of that old idea, each racing to transform their most valuable intellectual properties into physical destinations on earth—places of pilgrimage that beckon the world’s truest fans.
Now we can drag race through Radiator Springs at Disney’s California Adventure. We can knock back a couple butterbeers at Universal’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter, or stand beneath the hulking, floating mountains of Pandora: The World of Avatar at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
Old worlds of imagined pasts and fantasies don’t pull in the crowds like they used to. Not while the public attention stares in a malaise at illuminated pixels. We tag selfies framed inside theme parks that are never complete, inspired by film franchises that never resolve, posted to social media feeds that scroll for infinity.
There’s an insatiable appetite behind this ever-increasing desire for deeper escape and stories that never end.
It feels bigger than just avoiding boredom or seeking dopamine hits. It feels more consequential than escapism and fantasy. It’s an ache of longing that haunts me on my most faithless days, my most frenetic and insatiable days, when the ecstasies of nostalgia and unfettered immersion feel like they’re slipping away with each pulse of the cantina band beat, limited to just two drinks and forty-five minutes.
The galaxy, it turns out, has an edge. It has a stopping point, a place I can reach and then it’s gone. I deplete its resources and ransack its pleasures until time runs out and it has nothing left to give. I stretch it to no avail, finding that it fails to provide the escape I’ve been chasing.
The galaxy can’t sustain the thirst because the thirst wasn’t made for the galaxy. No, the thirst was made for the galaxy-Maker who has no end, whose pleasures and wonders I’ve only just begun to explore.
He’s infinitely more than a diversion. He offers me more than escape.
He offers me refuge.
Soon, I’ll remember that. But right now I’m deciding whether I’ll order a second Gamorrean Ale or if I’ll try the Yub Nub cocktail instead. Either way, I can’t leave without sampling a $7 glass of blue milk. It’s a must-do on my way to the Millennium Falcon ride.
This is Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disneyland. I just want to maximize the experience while I’m here.