ANAHEIM, Calif. -- The Walt Disney Company celebrated the dedication of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge on Wednesday in a ceremony at Disneyland Park.
Disney chairman and CEO Bob Iger unveiled the largest single-themed land expansion ever in a Disney park. Iger was joined in front of the Millennium Falcon by Star Wars icons including George Lucas, Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill and Billy Dee Williams.
The land opens to the general public on May 31, and also at Disney’s Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida on Aug. 29.
The land spans 14 acres and includes more than a dozen venues. The Millennium Falcon, which is the first 100 percent complete Millennium Falcon ever built, is over 100 feet long. Guests will be able to create their own hand-built lightsaber and construct a custom droid.
"Redefining the theme park experience"
With Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, Disney is redefining the theme park experience and setting a new bar for experiential storytelling,” said Bob Chapek, chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences and Products. “From each authentic detail to the land’s jaw-dropping scale, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge exceeds every expectation.”
"You've got the food and beverage all in-story," Chapek said, using a term to describe how the new land wraps guests in the Star Wars storyline. "The 'cast members' are in-story. Of course, all the merchandise in the shops. It doesn't feel like a gift shop. It feels like you're actually in Batuu. That's unique."
That "unique" experience, however, doesn't come cheap. Disney reportedly spent $1 billion on the sprawling 14-acre land in Disneyland in Anaheim, California. A second Galaxy's Edge is opening later this summer in Florida's Disney World.
Disney is investing this money in its parks and resorts at a time when profits in its media division are falling. Profits hit a high in 2015, but have since dipped 15%. In that same period, profits for Disney parks and resorts have gone up 47%.
With synergy as the ongoing strategy for growing its bottom line, Disney is drawing inspiration from its biggest box office hits to upgrade its parks: A "Guardians of the Galaxy" roller coaster is coming to Florida's Epcot. Marvel-theme attractions are coming to Disney's California Adventure, Disneyland Paris and Hong Kong Disneyland. And a "Zootopia"-themed land is coming to Shanghai's Disneyland Park.
"We're asked to build the physical manifestations of what our guests love to watch on screens," Chapek said about how the parks play into Disney's corporate strategy. "We're really part of a big machine, a big story-telling machine, but we do it in a physical world. I think that's what makes us a bit different."
Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run
"The Millennium Falcon is a Star Wars icon, and Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge makes dreams come true for guests who’ve wished to step aboard the “fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy.” In Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run, they strap into the Falcon cockpit and take the controls as pilots, gunners or flight engineers on a mission to deliver smuggled goods while avoiding any … unnecessary entanglements." - Disney
Heather Lake rode along on the Falcon:
What to expect on opening day
When Galaxy's Edge opens on Friday, it will have only one attraction: Millenium Falcon: Smuggler's Run, an interactive ride piloted by the guests in the cockpit. But Chapek says Galaxy's Edge is more than just a backdrop for a single ride.
"It's not just about an attraction," Chapek said. "I think the greatest attraction here is really the land itself. We think this is going to set a new high watermark for Disney theme parks, let alone all other theme parks."
In addition to flying the Millennium Falcon using state-of-the-art video rendering technology, guests who visit Galaxy's Edge can build their own lightsabers and droids, eat galactic fare like fried Endorian tip-yip, and drink Blue Milk, one of Luke Skywalker's favorite beverages.
Galaxy's Edge exemplifies Disney's commitment to immersive entertainment. Each individual "cast member," another name for theme park employees, came up with their own creative back story for their Galaxy's Edge character.
"You look at the detail in the Millennium Falcon and all of a sudden, you suspend your disbelief that you're in a theme park and you actually start believing you're in the land of Batuu," Chapek said. "If you interact with a 'cast member,' you get the depth of their own story and they've woven it into the larger story, the larger mythology, of Star Wars."
Here are some of the other "must-do" things inside Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge:
Stroll the Black Spire Outpost Marketplace
"Black Spire Outpost in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is home to a bustling marketplace, full of vendors showcasing wares from across the galaxy. Guests can pick up authentic Batuuan attire with a stop at Black Spire Outfitters, start a collection of rare artifacts at Dok-Ondar’s Den of Antiquities, or peek into the cages in the Creature Stall. The marketplace’s twisting pathway is just waiting to be explored, with something new to see seemingly around every turn." - Disney
Try the Blue Milk
"Ever since Luke Skywalker sat down for a family meal in “Star Wars: A New Hope,” Star Wars fans have had this burning question: What does Blue Milk taste like? Now at Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, they finally have their answer. The Milk Stand in the Black Spire Outpost marketplace offers both Blue and Green Milk, delicious frozen blends with dashes of fruity accents." - Disney
Grab a Bite to Go at Ronto Roasters
"Whether it’s the large podracing engine hanging overhead, the former smelter droid turning a spit of meats or just the savory smells wafting by, Ronto Roasters is sure to grab guests’ attention. This marketplace stall offers mouth-watering Ronto Wraps and sweet-or-spicy Nuna Turkey Jerky, as well as a selection of specialty beverages." - Disney
Craft a Lightsaber at Savi’s Workshop
"Constructing a lightsaber is a rite of passage in the life of a Jedi, as this elegant weapon from a more civilized age is attuned to its wielder through the Force. Guests in Savi’s Workshop – Handbuilt Lightsabers feel the presence of the Force as they craft their own lightsabers, customizing them with various hilts, décor and the all-important kyber crystals. Note: subject to availability, and reservations may be required." - Disney
Build a Droid Inside the Droid Depot
"Droids can be some of the most loyal companions in the entire Star Wars galaxy, and now guests have the chance to build and customize their own astromech friends at the Droid Depot. Patrons pick pieces and parts off a conveyor belt to construct one of two core models (R-series or BB-series), which can then interact with elements throughout Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. Note: subject to availability, and reservations may be required." - Disney
Grab a drink at Oga’s Cantina
"The heartbeat of Black Spire Outpost, Oga’s Cantina is a place where even the blaster-bolt scorches on the walls tell a story. Guests can gather to share their own tales from around the galaxy as they enjoy exotic beverages served in unique vessels and listen to spirited musical entertainment from DJ R-3X, the former droid pilot from Star Tours. Whether sidling up to the cantina’s counter or sliding into one of the establishment’s back booths, this is the best place to catch up on local gossip, make a new friend or form a new alliance." - Disney
And there's still more to come with Galaxy's Edge
Rise of the Resistance, another attraction, will open later this year. Disney hasn't revealed much about the ride, but we do know it will have multiple ride systems, full-sized AT-AT Walkers and even a John Williams score.
Disney is also planning a full-service Star Wars-themed hotel, which will eventually open near Disney World's Hollywood Studios.
The resort will feature a starship design, employees in character, and an option for guests to dress in Star Wars attire as well. Chapek says it's "much more akin to a cruise ship journey" than staying in a hotel.
"You stay immersed in the story for several days in a row. Then, of course, when you finally do land, you land in Batuu," he said. "The most important thing is it's not a hotel, it's a journey."