All eyes were on Walt Disney World last week when Rise of the Resistance, Disney’s long-awaited centerpiece attraction at Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, officially opened in Orlando on Dec. 5 (it opens at Disneyland on Jan. 17).
As a devoted Star Wars fan, lifelong Disney parks fanatic, Disney Vacation Club member and Disney theme parks reporter, I’ve managed to log nine visits between Chicago and the domestic Disney parks in the past 12 months alone. With each visit — and the removal of another construction wall — my anticipation grew, first, for the opening of the land itself, then for its flagship attraction, Rise of the Resistance. Finally, last week, I was able to ride Rise of the Resistance a whopping four times during the media preview — and I’m still reeling.
When Galaxy’s Edge, the 14-acre, reportedly $1 billion Star Wars-themed land opened at Disneyland in May and at Walt Disney World in August, I was lucky enough to be among some of the first through the gates, attending the media previews in California and Florida.
My Star Wars love runs deep, and stepping across the land’s threshold onto the remote Outer Rim planet of Batuu quite literally took my breath away. Like many, I held back tears at the sight of the full-sized Millennium Falcon, marveled at the sheer scale and detail of the land, guzzled plenty of blue milk, and didn’t miss my chance to yell, “Punch it, Chewie!” on Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run.
Soon after, I brought my family — and again teared up as I watched them experience this breathtaking land for the first time.
Something Was Missing
Walt Disney Imagineers chose to set Galaxy’s Edge on a planet never before seen in Star Wars films so that guests could be free to “live their own Star Wars story.”
“Everyone knows what happened on Tatooine… on Hoth… We know those stories… but we also know that we’re not in those stories,” Scott Trowbridge, Walt Disney Imagineer and the creative force behind Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, said. “We wanted to create an opportunity for you to feel like you can play an active role in Star Wars, not just be a spectator.”
And yet, while the land was visually magnificent and rich with these chances for us to choose our own adventure — instantly becoming one of our favorites of any Disney park — it still felt incomplete.
“Just wait.” This was the refrain heard ’round the world when the land opened with only Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run, the first of Galaxy’s Edge’s two attractions, operational. So wait we did. And oh, was it worth it.
Time to Rise
Disney promised that Rise of the Resistance would be the most ambitious, immersive, and technologically advanced attraction ever created. I rode it four times, but it only took one to confirm that the nearly 20-minute experience delivers on all of these promises. But it does more than that — it fills in all the gaps, silences all the critics, and solidifies Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge as the ultimate intergalactic bucket-list destination.
It’s true… all of it: This is the Star Wars story we were looking for.
Without giving everything away, here’s why this mind-blowing attraction blasts every theme park experience you’ve ever had to another galaxy. But a warning: If you want to walk into the attraction without knowing anything about it, stop reading here.
Galaxy’s Edge as a land may be designed for guests to chart their own course, but Rise of the Resistance drops you straight into the world of Star Wars films. Set between Episodes 7 and 8, the attraction features a star-studded lineup of characters from the latest trilogy, including Rey (Daisy Ridley), Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), Finn (John Boyega), Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), and General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson).
The Resistance has set up a base on Batuu but, after infiltrating a First Order Star Destroyer, Finn and a team of Resistance fighters have learned that the First Order is headed for Batuu and the Resistance must evacuate the planet and meet General Leia Organa at a secret rendezvous point.
Blink and you’ll miss something. The 360-degree visuals come hard and fast at every turn during this mind-bogglingly involved experience. Details so impressive you could stare at them for minutes, like Poe Dameron’s full-sized X-wing, ready to escort recruits off Batuu, get just seconds of your time before it’s on to the next stage.
Impossibly lifelike animatronics, like new character Lieutenant Bek, a Mon Calamari who, with Nien Nunb, co-pilots your transport shuttle off Batuu, compete for your attention alongside state-of-the-art on-screen graphics by Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), Lucasfilm’s visual effects and animation studio.
Just this one small portion of the attraction could be a blockbuster ride on its own. The combination of tactile figures and objects in the foreground with next-level media visuals in the background—a technique employed throughout the attraction—is one of the big reasons every part of Rise of the Resistance feels so authentic.
One of the attraction’s most staggering moments comes when your I-TS is intercepted and you find yourself being ushered out the same shuttle door you entered on land on Batuu, yet somehow you’re now inside the massive hanger of a First Order Star Destroyer. Get that camera out—this is one of the few moments you’re able to pause just long enough to grab a photo before cast members dressed as First Order officers hustle you on to the next stage.
Legendary Star Wars composer John Williams created a stirring original score for Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. It has all the beauty and drama of any Star Wars theme song, but it omits the iconic Star Wars melodies that fans have grown up with and viscerally respond to. Now, an original score created exclusively for Rise of the Resistance seamlessly weaves many of the most iconic Star Wars melodies into one perfect piece that dials up the intensity and emotion throughout the attraction.
You’ll notice I’ve refrained from calling this attraction a ride up to this point. That’s because it’s not just one ride, it’s an epic 20-minute experience that incorporates a whopping FOUR ride systems to tell one incredible story. In addition to the I-TS flight simulator vehicle you board early in the attraction, you’ll also board a trackless First Order Fleet Transport piloted by an R5 droid (after the first of several intense run-ins with Kylo Ren himself).
If you’ve never ridden a trackless ride before, you’ll be surprised at how thrilling the unpredictability of not having a clear path to follow makes what might otherwise seem a standard dark-ride-vehicle experience. Your droid-piloted transport zips around, narrowly avoiding the massive legs of 60-foot AT-AT walkers and dodging realistic blaster fire.
I won’t spoil the big finish, but two more ride systems utilizing your transport vehicle make for an epic conclusion to this heart-pounding adventure.
The Missing Piece
Before Rise of the Resistance, there were times when, even inside Galaxy’s Edge, where the word “immersive” falls short, I still found myself missing some of the emotion of the Star Wars experiences my family enjoyed “off planet,” (that’s Batuuese for outside the land). Experiences like battling Darth Vader in Jedi Training Academy, meeting BB-8 and Vader at Launch Bay, seeing our favorite heroes and villains onstage in “A Galaxy Far, Far Away,” and ending the night with fireworks and projection show Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular. While none of these moments were as transportive as an afternoon on Batuu, each, so closely tied to the films and characters we loved, managed to give us all the feels.
Don’t get me wrong — since day one I’ve loved everything about Galaxy’s Edge — the bustling marketplace where you can buy Jedi tunics and adopt Kowakian monkey lizards; the exotic dining locations where the food looks otherworldly but tastes delicious; Oga’s Cantina, the closest I’ll ever get to that infamous Mos Eisley watering hole; and life-sized ships that look ready to take off.
But, while I appreciated this Batuuan take on the Star Wars world I knew from films, throughout all this immersive role-playing, right down to getting into the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon, it was obvious a piece of the puzzle was still missing. Rise of the Resistance was the missing piece.
It’s difficult to find words to describe the feeling you get on this emotional rollercoaster. Less physically thrilling than psychologically, diehard Star Wars fans should expect to be positively overcome the first time they ride — hardly able to believe all they’ve just experienced. But, you need not be a Star Wars devotee to enjoy it — even if you’ve never seen a single film, this attraction belongs at the top of every guest’s must-ride list.
The first time I experienced this attraction, I cried nearly the whole time and emerged from it beside myself. This is the immersive experience Star Wars fans have been waiting for all their lives. The next time I rode it I smiled — a lot. I’m still smiling because I can’t wait to take my kids on it in a few weeks, and I can’t wait to hear how much the world loves it.
And, with “The Rise of Skywalker” opening on Dec. 20, a second season of “The Mandalorian” plus two more live-action Star Wars series on their way on Disney+, a new film trilogy planned, and a Star Wars hotel opening at Walt Disney World in 2021, I’m smiling because I know that, for Star Wars fans like me, Rise of the Resistance may feel like we’ve reached a pinnacle, but it’s only just the beginning.
A Sneak Peek
For a sneak peek at some of the incredible scenes inside the attraction, check out my ride-through video.