ANAHEIM, Calif. — Tonight, Marrakech-inspired lanterns glow in jewel tones above the marketplace at Black Spire Outpost. Alderaanian teal-colored wine and bite-size portions of smoked Kaadu ribs are in hand. And then, a large screen buzzes on: Stormtroopers have been spotted on Batuu. The First Order is here.
“Rising Moons!” a cast member, wearing a sandy-hued jacket and a name tag written in Aurebesh exclaims. His salute — along with the daytime tagline “Bright Suns!” — is a greeting specific to this land, meant to invite visitors into the world of Galaxy’s Edge.
Visitors on Wednesday’s opening night at Disneyland’s new land include a few stars, like Kerry Washington, who laughs at a dianoga peeking at her from inside a turbid tank, and Brie Larson, who’s dueling a friend with a lightsaber. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Cobie Smulders stand in the lower plaza to see the to-scale Millennium Falcon in real life.
Exclamations of “To the Spire!” — a sort of “Thank you” or “Cheers!” — are doled out to those who pick up samples of the Felucian Garden Spread as a grumbling Resistance fighter stomps past me.
It’s all part of the fun. Full immersion, in food and drink and character interactions is the point of Galaxy’s Edge, as Rachel Sherbill, a producer with Walt Disney Imagineering, tells SFGate.
“Galaxy’s Edge is one of the first to be built with interactivity from the ground up,” she says. “So from Day 1, we knew interactions you would have with (even) droids or things like antennas would need to be critical to the story structure.”
And there are many stories here: In addition to key characters’ plot lines, unfolding in real time, there’s your own path. You can join the Resistance (but don’t get caught by stormtroopers, or you’ll need to answer for yourself). Or you can choose to support the First Order, and pose for a picture with Kylo Ren.
It all started with the design of the land. Walt Disney Imagineering took to Marrakech and Istanbul for inspiration, photographing not the towering palaces, but the “doorknobs and hinges and peeling paint on barrels,” according to Walt Disney Imagineers. It was important to get the details right to convey a rich urban history.
“There’s something so authentic about layers of life, of being able to see where (people) have gone who lived before,” said Kirstin Makela, art director for Disney Imagineering. “So we almost play art director and archaeologist so we can figure out how these different people use these spaces and how they’ve weathered the test of time.”
It was a process that required not just that inspiration from the real world, but research into the “Star Wars” canon. Imagineers worked carefully with Lucasfilm for years to be sure production of Galaxy’s Edge was headed in the right direction.
“Some of the best moments we had in the middle of construction was when we could take Lucasfilm partners around and let them have their emotional reactions to what we were building,” Makela continues. “Some of them would come to tears when they saw some things and that was like, ‘Okay, we’re doing this right.'”
Now that Black Spire Outpost is complete and finally open, visitors may run into any of its inhabitants here, including major characters like Rey and Kylo Ren, stormtroopers, Oga’s Cantina bartenders, Resistance spies like Vi Moradi, or any number of locals meandering about the marketplace. The latter cast members invent their own character every day, and may select different outfit pieces for themselves before entering Batuu.
“We wanted our cast to feel unique because they’re inhabitants of Black Spire Outpost,” Cory Rouse, creative director for Walt Disney Imagineering tells SFGate. “We went through great lengths to be sure they could create their own persona, because what they do is different (than in other lands). We want them to be able to express themselves through their clothes.”
True to form, Disney spares no details when it comes to character creation and literal world-building. There are no “Star Wars” or “Disney” logos anywhere. Droid tracks — including some belonging to the original 1977 “A New Hope” R2-D2 — are stamped into the pavement. And dozens of songs were composed specifically for Batuu.
As cast members and visitors move throughout the land, music changes for each environment, and sounds of overhead ships, droids, and lurking, unseen creatures surround you — even when you hit the restroom.
“There’s a dianoga that moves around in the pipes so you might hear him at one place or maybe in the bathroom,” Tom Myers, audio designer for Skywalker Sound tells SFGate. “Keep an ear out for that.”
And there’s yet another layer to getting involved: the Play Disney Parks app. Through the app, visitors can interact with nearby droids, translate Aurebesh script, eavesdrop on conversations between the locals, and scan cargo boxes for virtual items to add to their app toolkit. An in-app game that plays out several times daily, called “Outpost Control,” allows players to hack into surveillance panels installed by the First Order on behalf of the Resistance or the First Order. Whichever team hacks more panels wins.
All that might get you a props from Rey or Kylo Ren. Should the Force be with you, you’re bound to cross paths