As the design director for six mainline Star Wars films as well as The Mandalorian, Lucasfilm vice president and executive creative director Doug Chiang has spent a lot of time figuring out what stuff looks like in the galaxy far, far away. But mapping out the interiors of the Halycon — the “luxury starship” that serves as the setting for the Galactic Starcruiser, Disney World’s new two-day immersive hotel experience — gave him an unprecedented task: figuring out where Han Solo pooped while on his honeymoon.
“It’s a funny thing, because that’s kind of an ongoing joke with all of us [at Lucasfilm]: where are the toilets? You never see any,” Chiang told me when I talked with him during the media junket that followed my two-day stay onboard the Halcyon. As he noted, we did see a “refresher” onboard the Razor Crest in The Mandalorian, but that vessel’s barely glimpsed, utilitarian “vac tube” doesn’t quite mesh with the idea of a stay onboard a luxury starship. “Obviously on the Starcruiser we have to have toilets,” Chiang said. “So what should it look like?”
It turns out: Nothing special. A toilet is a toilet, and apparently, even in far-flung galaxies, people want to sit down on white porcelain to do their business (never mind that Western-style toilets are hardly omnipresent even here on Earth). But the design process for that part of the ship does illustrate the challenge Chiang and his collaborators at Walt Disney Imagineering [WDI] faced when constructing a fully immersive science-fictional setting: how can you make the place look like Star Wars while also ensuring it functions like a real hotel?
“Sets for films are very temporary; they’re cheated,” Chiang said. “We can add visual effects after the fact. When we were doing Galaxy’s Edge [at Disney’s Hollywood Studios], we brought that up to the next level, because it was unguided. A lot of the environments there had to be ‘real,’ in the sense [they were] safe for people to interact with them. The Galactic Starcruiser brought that to a whole new level because now it’s a two-day experience instead of several hours.”
Given the experience Disney is pitching to prospective customers (and charging up to $US1,200 ($1,666) a night for), the illusion had to go beyond even what Chiang designed for the films he’s worked on, including The Phantom Menace, Rogue One, and The Rise of Skywalker.
“The whole design process was identical to the films, in that we had to make sure it looks like Star Wars, [and follows] all the visual languages that we have in terms of form and aesthetics,” Chiang said. “The real difference was how to bring that up to a fabrication level that is unparalleled because you don’t know what people are going to try to hold and move. All the care and thought had to be put in there so if, let’s say, [a guest] goes behind a door they weren’t supposed to go in — [it has to be] in the story, so it still holds up. You have to figure out, what does the backside of that door look like? All the buttons have to work because obviously, they can’t just be arbitrary decorations.”
Striving to hit such lofty, perhaps unprecedented design goals meant Chiang got deeply involved in the entire process, from initial designs to final buildout, a process that included group reviews between Lucasfilm and WDI to debate the merits of a particular carpet sample, swatch of fabric, or hue of paint colour. As a guest, I’d say the team succeeded for the most part — by far the best part of the Galactic Starcruiser experience is simply inhabiting the ship for a few days, and having the chance to truly wander around a small slice of the movies you grew up loving.
My favourite spot on board was the bar/lounge, where you can order an elaborate, in-universe mixed drink (I’d recommend the Mustafarian version of a margarita if it hadn’t given me a full day of heartburn) and play a round of sabacc at a “holographic” card table (sorry, no 3D holochess… not yet, anyway). Much like Oga’s Cantina at Galaxy’s Edge, the intergalactic watering hole truly feels like it fell out of the movies, even with half the patrons in t-shirts and flip-flops.
For his part, Chiang was most impressed with the Atrium — the Halcyon’s closest equivalent to a hotel lobby. It’s where guests will gather to see key portions of the narrative play out, many of them taking place on the high walkways that border the room (the presence of adequate railings is the biggest tipoff you aren’t actually in a Star Wars movie). The walls are adorned with large “holographic” displays and “windows” that give you a view of space. Walking into the Atrium from the “shuttle” (actually an elevator) that brings you to the hotel is a real Wizard of Oz moment: you truly feel you have stepped into another galaxy. For Chiang, the experience was particularly gratifying.
“The scale of that was [enormous],” he said. “Like one of our large movie sets, but it had to be absolutely real, and had to physically work for the guests and serve all the functions it needed to. The initial design was pretty ambitious, and to have it actually be realised at this kind of a level was very impressive for me. This morning when I first came on and saw everything together with scenic lighting, it felt like I was walking into a real Star Wars environment. Not just a movie set.”