Three Months Of Prep Made Our Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge Trip Amazing

Image: Katrin Auch

The marketing pitch for Disneyland’s Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge promises superfans the chance to “live their Star Wars adventure.” For our anniversary this year, my wife and I decided to visit with that tagline in mind, dressing in costume and role-playing as original Star Wars characters. But if we played along with the park’s conceit, would the park really play back?

Whereas the classic Disneyland rides simply regurgitate a movie’s memorable moments, Galaxy’s Edge was designed to offer immersion akin to live-action role-playing. You’re supposed to feel like you are visiting Black Spire Outpost on the planet Batuu, a wayward world in the Outer Rim where both the First Order and Resistance have recently established a presence. It’s built to be the ultimate destination for fans who want to live in the Star Wars universe for a day or two — a “Kylo Ren Faire,” as one of my friends dubbed it.

Photo: Chris Pizzello, Invision/AP

Katrin Auch and I were married the day the PlayStation launched in North America. We honeymooned at Walt Disney World. We have been dreaming of a Star Wars theme park for decades. We both have acting experience and we both like making things; Kat is a graphic designer and photographer, and also a skilled seamstress who has created everything from Jedi robes to Boushh’s outfit for various Halloweens.

I’m a writer and a musician; my bandmate Jude Kelley and I created an album-length parody of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band called Princess Leia’s Stolen Death Star Plans. It retold the story of A New Hope, and Kat created all the visual assets and edited the videos. Mark Hamill even tweeted his endorsement — twice! That was a high point in our nerd lives and the ultimate validation; nothing beats having Luke Skywalker appreciate your musical jokes about Luke Skywalker.

As dedicated Star Wars fans who are willing and able to take things a little too far, Galaxy’s Edge looked irresistible. Not only did we want to go, we wanted to go in full throttle and experience the whole thing in character.

Sure, we knew we’d be driving from San Francisco to Anaheim in a boring ol’ electric car, but once we got there, we’d know we really arrived in on the Stormwatch, a YT-2400 light freighter in need of refuel and repair in Docking Bay 17. While in port, maybe we’d pick up a new droid to help navigate the ship and sample some of the local cuisine.

And whatever we did, we’d do it as Aoife Cayde, ex-Imperial intelligence officer now funelling secrets to the Resistance, and Trevor Shade, retired swoop-bike racer (he lost to Dengar once!) who now operates as a totally legitimate transport pilot. We gave ourselves about three months to prepare our backstories, costumes, and props.

“We’d like to avoid any Imperial entanglements.”

Disney parks enforce sensible rules about how fans should express their love on their properties. Kids can wear princess dresses and Jedi robes, but adults aren’t allowed to wear full costumes, don masks, or carry weapons. So no matter how big a fan of Wookiees you may be, leave the fursuit at home — they don’t want you to pretend to be Chewbacca, because they’ve got the real one.

However, you can get away with creating an outfit that looks like you belong on Batuu. It’s a deeper form of a fan practice known as “Disneybounding,” where enthusiasts wear casual outfits inspired by the colours and designs of famous characters.

Realising that Galaxy’s Edge inherently blurs the lines between guest and participant, Disney officially weighed in with costume guidance shortly after the new land opened. Wearing a full X-Wing pilot jumpsuit would get us booted off the property, but “wearing outfits inspired by the villagers of Batuu” was fine. We took this to mean that we could make our own plausible, original, Star Wars outfits.

With that advice, Kat started thinking about what made a piece of clothing look like it fit in the Star Wars universe (answer: vests), then set about finding the patterns to make any clothing that we couldn’t buy from thrift shops, local stores, or online.

I opted for a hard-wearing canvas jacket with blue and brown accents, some cheap motocross jeans from China, and a pair of inexpensive biker goggles from my glory days of racing Ubrikkian Skybirds. Kat opted for a black and grey ensemble that recalled the crisp Imperial uniforms, but with an asymmetrical top and splash of teal to give it a more casual, sporty feel. We binge-watched The Clone Wars to catch up on lore while hand-sewing suede accents onto everything.

Now we had to consider how we would communicate with the locals. To further sell the concept of visiting another culture, Galaxy’s Edge employees (which Disneyland calls “cast members”) are instructed to greet guests with “Rising suns!” instead of “Hello!” When nature calls, they don’t direct guests to the “restrooms,” but the “refreshers.” If they see you holding your cell phone, they’ll make reference to your “data pad.”

Every cast member also creates their own character history. We heard they would share details of their lives on Batuu or the history of the Black Spire Outpost if you showed an interest.

We knew our character histories and learned the lingo, but we wanted to go even further. Aurebesh, the official alphabet of Star Wars, appears almost everywhere in Black Spire Outpost, visible on everything from shipping crates and power panels to bulletin boards and beverage coasters.

It’s a simple substitution cipher, with each symbol standing in for a letter of the English alphabet. Three months before our trip, I customised my home and work PC keyboards with Aurebesh keycaps, learning to read the language without a translator app. I wanted to be able to decipher signs on sight, like any other visitor travelling through hyperspace.

Kat knew that First Order troopers sometimes asked guests to show identification, so she designed Aoife’s Imperial ID and made a Captain’s Accreditation Licence for me, with plausible information borrowed from one of the Star Wars tabletop RPGs. We laser-cut them out of transparent acrylic so they looked appropriately futuristic.

Later, we cut and painted some Republic credits cut from the scraps, Kat basing the design on the money shown in an episode of The Clone Wars. We planned to leave these behind as in-universe tips whenever we bought something, just to see the reaction. The previous year, Kat had created replica Death Star plans for the live performance of our Sgt. Pepper’s parody, so we packed a few of those too, hoping to gift them to little girls dressed as Princess Leia.

Through all our detailed planning and preparation, our plan remained to play along with, but not run afoul of, the House of Mouse. We didn’t want to confuse kids looking to meet their on-screen heroes, nor did we intend to masquerade as employees. We just wanted to live our Star Wars stories, as Disney promised us we could. We wanted to nerd all the way out.

“You don’t need to see his identification.”

After months of prep, we finally arrive at Disneyland’s security checkpoint in full gear. We don’t look like Han and Leia; we just look like we belong in that galaxy far, far away… which is now closer than ever, just beyond the bag check.

“Can I see your ID?” asks the security attendant. We produce our California driver’s licenses. “Sorry, I mean your employee ID,” he corrects. We take this as a win: Based on our outfits, he assumes us to be cast members. We say we are merely guests, and he frowns. “OK… I’m going to have to get someone to approve this.” No masks, no specific characters… had we really come all this way only to accidentally break the rules?

Another agent approaches to assess our outfits. “It’s close,” he says, tilting his head slowly. “It’s reeeeally close. But take off the goggles and keep them in your bag, except for photos.” We hurry through the checkpoint.

Walking into Galaxy’s Edge is undeniably emotional. The length of the footpath into Black Spire Outpost intentionally sequesters park guests from neighbouring Frontierland and Critter Country.

John Williams’ soundtrack wafts through hidden speakers as the foliage thickens and blocks the rest of Disneyland from view. By the time you arrive at a full-sized X-Wing starfighter and a stunningly detailed row of tiny shops on the edge of town, the message is clear: You have now entered a different world.

For the first few hours, we just soak up the atmosphere and walk the winding streets. Unlike the shiny future worlds depicted in sci-fi of the 1950s and 1960s, George Lucas pioneered the concept of a “used universe.” Spaceships were dirty, robots were rusted, and both people and places looked a little worn around the edges, which helped sell the fiction as a plausible reality.

Likewise, every corner of Batuu features some thoughtful detail that gives the area a sense of lived-in history. Someone definitely shot first at Oga’s Cantina, where the walls are peppered with scorched holes from blaster fire. A half-assembled Imperial probe droid hangs lashed to a wall near a door, its access panel blinking silently. Large stencilled Aurebesh text warns of the danger of a nearby ventilation shaft.

But while our outfits receive compliments from other visitors, nobody else is dressed for the realm. It’s a little jarring to see such a completely realised sandbox and no other guests playing in it.

At the Droid Depot, we build a purple and white astromech droid, which we dub R6-KD (“Katie”). We were chatting with a slightly baffled mother of two teens outside the Depot when we were spotted by another resident of Batuu, someone who didn’t have to get his costume inspected when he came in.

“Rising suns, off-worlders!” says the smiling cast member named Jacob, who is clutching a deck of cards. “We’re about to get a game of Sabacc going. Would you like to play?” A chance to play the game that won Han Solo the Millenium Falcon — and play it in character? We leap off our storage crates. “I would love that!” exclaims Kat. “Yes, thanks!” I add. Normie Mum passes, so we offer a polite farewell and head off with Jacob.

As we get started, more cast members join in the game. We aren’t the first nerds to come to Galaxy’s Edge in costume and in character, but we’re suddenly aware that we’re seen as a valuable resource by the people who live in this environment every day. Upping the literal ante, I pull a canvas pouch filled with homemade Republic credits out of my vest pocket and dump the contents on the table. “Shall we make this interesting?”

All the locals’ eyes go wide. “Uh, no, I don’t have that kind of money on me,” says Jacob, rolling with it. “Let’s just play for fun.”

“OK,” I reply. “Then here’s a little something to thank you for teaching us to play.” We give everybody at the table some credits, and in that instant, the looks on their faces transformed that spray-painted plastic into pure gold.

Kat asks them where they’re from, and the responses are all in character. They cite nearby towns of Galma, Surabat, and Peka. We offer to show them our character ID cards, and learn a terrible truth: Most of our new friends are Aurebesh illiterate, because the Batuu educational system has failed them.

“But I’m learning on my own,” says Jacob, pulling out a leather journal where he’s been writing down names and places in Aurebesh — the perfect blend of his character and his dedication as a cast member. Still, he knows a little. “Is your name… Trevor?” he asks, squinting at my translucent blue ID card. I confirm that it is and offer some details about my ship, making some stuff up about the problems with the Stormwatch. Everybody beams.

This is why we came to Galaxy’s Edge: The collective, willing suspension of disbelief with other fans who loved this whole concept as much as we did. We’re just riffing with other Star Wars stalwarts — the only difference between us is that we paid to get in and they’re paid to stay. In the moment, it doesn’t matter.

The more cast members we meet, the more eager they are to tell us their backstories. Not all of them are Rey and Finn stans, either. Lisa on the custodial team said she didn’t have a huge problem with the First Order occupation, and if anything, resented that the Resistance’s new base was stopping her from visiting her favourite waterfall.

This was a clever way to storify the Rise of the Resistance ride that opens early next year. Sure enough, if you go poking around the area at the other end of Galaxy’s Edge where that ride is being built, you can see and hear the waterfall.

While sweeping the floors at Ronto Roasters, Robert told us how angry his Mandalorian parents were when they found their eight-year-old son had disassembled their prized battle trophy: a rare lightsaber they’d acquired after slaughtering a Sith-Jedi couple engaged in a forbidden romance. It’s family-friendly stories like these that make the experience real for the cast — and the guests, too, if they want it to be.

As our last hand of Sabacc came to a close, Jacob asked: “Hey, have you flown for Hondo yet?” By this, he meant had we been recruited by Weequay pirate Hondo Ohnaka to fly a smuggling mission for him. By this, he meant had we gone on Galaxy’s Edge’s main attraction, Star Wars: Smuggler’s Run, an almost video game-like experience where guests pilot the Millennium Falcon.

We hadn’t flown yet, we said, but we were about to head in that direction. “Come with us,” Jacob said, and he escorted us directly to the ride’s front gate, past the 45-minute line, past a few uniformed attendants, and straight to the entrance. “Enjoy yourselves,” said Jacob, taking his leave. Nobody broke character, but the gesture was clearly the cast’s tangible way to thank us for playing in-universe. We’re having fun, but we helped them have fun, too.

I’m not saying that if you go to Galaxy’s Edge in costume that you’ll get to skip the lines. Disney cast members have the ability to “make magic” as they see fit, and this time, it manifested as an unexpected Fast Pass. Still, it felt like a special reward for putting so much time and effort into visiting the park in the same spirit in which it was built.

“This will be a day long remembered.”

The rest of our time on Batuu was just as satisfying. The blue milk is as sweet and delicious as you’ve heard; Oga’s Cantina even sells it with a couple of space cookies. We bought some souvenirs at a toy stall where all the Leia and Ahsoka ragdolls look handmade, the result of parents telling their kids the legends of the galactic civil war as bedtime stories.

We also built lightsabers, but since that’s a forbidden practice of fringe religious fanatics at this point in the Jedi-less Star Wars timeline, we had to make an appointment at Savi’s Workshop to purchase some “scrap metal” instead. In a nice bit of theatre, when Kylo Ren and a pair of First Order soldiers suspiciously wandered too close to the registers, Savi’s in-character sales clerks quickly hid the merchandise menus and any evidence of the unmarked building’s true nature until the troopers had passed.

One of those First Order troopers approached us and demanded to see our identification. “Here’s my captain’s accreditation,” I said, handing him my homemade piece of blue plastic. “I’ve got the rest of the paperwork back at the ship.”

“I have level 7 access,” Kat purred, producing her Imperial clearance. We couldn’t see his reaction behind the helmet, but when we actually handed over little plastic cards engraved with Aurebesh, he did as close to a double-take as we could have hoped.

After a few seconds of really trying to read our IDs, he growled “Well, then why don’t you move along?” and stormed off to harass other visitors. Nearby guests looked amused but confused; they weren’t sure if we were part of the park’s staff or not. Frankly, by this time, neither were we. And sure enough, on our way out of Disneyland that night, we were stopped at the turnstiles by park attendants and told we had to exit through the back gate — the one for cast members.

Trevor Shade’s vest will likely live in a costume trunk in the garage until I can find an excuse to wear it again. I’m not sure when I’ll next be asked to use my Aurebesh skills. But it was all worth it. Black Spire Outpost — and the cast members who really bring the world to life — delivered everything we’d hoped to find. On Batuu, everybody just wants to play together.

Dan Amrich is the co-creator of Princess Leia’s Stolen Death Star Plans, the author of Critical Path: How to Review Video games for a Living, and once upon a time was known as Dan Elektro at GamePro. He now works at Ubisoft and goes by @DanAmrich on Twitter.


Comments

    I would -love- to go to Galaxy's Edge, but with the Australian dollar being so bad, I don't see that happening for a long while. :(

    This was a really great read! It's awesome to hear how cool the employees were.

    Awesome read. I love the level of depth the park has.

    It's nice to hear they put in the effort for super fans.

      From everything I've seen, heard and experienced Disney really are 2nd to none when it comes to their staff portraying characters. It's really cool.

    That is wonderful. Great stuff, guys. x

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