Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge Needs to Break the Rules

I’m a big fan of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. My review of Batuu offered effusive praise, and I think Rise of the Resistance is the #1 attraction at Disneyland and Walt Disney World. However, I also question whether some of what I originally loved about the land is holding it back, and if better balance is needed.

One of the aspects of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge that I appreciate is Imagineering’s decision to making it a distinct place. It’s not simply a catch-all intellectual property land or setting pulled from one of the movies, but rather, a novel location that fits within the existing universe and plays by its rules. From the outset, doing something different and new was a risky approach.

It would’ve been easier for Disney to simply “play the hits” and give guests what they want in terms of recognizable characters and visuals. The Star Wars brand is highly popular and recognizable, and outside of hardcore fans, the majority of casual guests likely would’ve been satisfied with a familiar but phoned-in effort that checked more boxes in terms of recreating things from the movies. Instead, Imagineering had creative freedom and swung for the fences.

Disney went to great lengths to create the planet of Batuu, a totally new environment but one that speaks the language (both literally and visually) of Star Wars. The design motifs are reminiscent of other planets from the various Star Wars films, in addition to the obvious things like the Millennium Falcon, droids, characters, and transport. Batuu is new, yet familiar.

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The end result is a land that is an almost unprecedented mix of intellectual property and original design. For all hardcore theme park fans crow about “original park IP,” this is almost it. Obviously, it’s blockbuster movie IP–that’s right there in the first two words of the name, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. But so much of the setting was built from scratch, following only the design language of Star Wars universe. There’s a lot that the keen eye will recognize as distinctly Star Wars, but even more than looks original.

Depending upon your perspective, this was potentially a great or terrible decision. We’ve heard from many disappointed fans of the original trilogy who clearly wanted to step into those Star Wars movies or settings. The desire to relive favorite moments, iconic scenes, places, etc. is strong and understandable.

In this regard, Galaxy’s Edge fails to deliver. It feels like a “knock-off” of Star Wars, in their words, like some bootleg Space Battle Land that another theme park would build to skirt various intellectual property laws. I suspect this group wanted something more akin to Cars Land or Hogsmeade, both of which do a superlative job of making guests feel like they’ve walked into an iconic scene from a favorite piece of pop culture.

At the other end of the spectrum, there are live action role playing enthusiasts who love Galaxy’s Edge. As the original marketing tagline suggested, it gives this group the ability to “live their own Star Wars story.” They enjoy Batuu as something of a blank slate that’s not simply a Cliff Notes version of a movie scene or setting.

For them, Galaxy’s Edge provides the rubric and parameters, but the adventure is theirs. They have the opportunity to interact with the land and its inhabitants, enjoying or imagining something original. Even though the structure is more rigid, the story is not already written in the same way it is in the now-concluded film trilogies.

I probably haven’t perfectly explained either camp’s position, which is because I don’t belong to them. To the extent that it exists, I’m team “make theme parks ambitious, standalone entertainment that isn’t totally beholden to existing movies.” I love when Imagineering is given the artistic liberty to experiment with original ideas, and some of my favorite lands and attractions don’t use IP at all, or only as a jumping off point for something fresh.

In my view, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is a great example of this. The multi-billion dollar IP is present, but the core conceit is ambitious and envelope-pushing. It’s refreshingly original, unlike some other recent IP lands that recognize the drawing-power of their characters and ended up being perfunctory projects.

All of this makes what I’m about to write so difficult.

Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge takes things too far. In creating a place written around rigid rules, it’s almost as if Imagineering forgot this was a land that would exist in operating theme parks and be visited by millions of guests per year while on vacation.

At times, it feels like Galaxy’s Edge was meant to exist on the pages of an internal memo at the Lucasfilm Story Group, informing the writers of some yet-untitled Disney+ release planned in 2023. Like the team behind it was singularly focused on authentically crafting something unique, original, and with a coherent timeline that they forgot to ask, “what would be most fun for regular guests?”

While I love Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge and its ambition, there are two lesser lands that are instructive in this regard. The first is Toy Story Land. While it pretends to be set in Andy’s Backyard to a degree, it breaks its own rules for new characters (Forky). More importantly, it offers a general sense of whimsy and fun, not taking itself too seriously. Toy Story Land has tons of room for improvement, but it’s best when embracing whatever while pretending it’s all in Andy’s Backyard with the oversized stuff style.

The other is Avenger’s Campus. This land is not good at all. It looks like someone took the contents of a RadioShack having a going out of business sale and installed all of it around a defunct Circuit City. The setting leans way too heavily on Imagineering’s “repurposed ____” trope, and is utterly uninteresting.

However, Avengers Campus is redeemed to a large extent because the land itself is primarily a canvas for the action and actual characters. And as with the movies, that’s where Avengers Campus shines–it comes alive with a range of heroes and villains from the various MCU properties, with little explanation offered as to why each is there. To whatever extent Avengers Campus works, it’s on the shoulders of the story-breaking characters.

Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is better than Avengers Campus by orders of magnitude, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any lessons from the latter than could be applied to improve the former. Similarly, Galaxy’s Edge could revisit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Pandora, Cars Land, and Arabian Coast to see what works about each of those.

To this day, the most glaring and easily fixable problem in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is the lack of background music. The soundscape of Batuu is delightful and creates something of a lived-in atmosphere, but not including a soaring John Williams score sets it back. There’s a reason the Star Wars scores are so iconic, and the films would feel a lot flatter with those removed, and only sound effects in their place. Same goes for Galaxy’s Edge.

Not having background music in a theme park land because there wouldn’t be music at random if Batuu were an actual planet is a bridge too far. Batuu probably also wouldn’t have public restrooms, drinking fountains, outdoor vending carts selling Coca-Cola, or credit card readers. Yet all of those things are accepted as the practical realities of existing in an operational theme park.

When it comes to these intrusions, the threshold question should be whether the average guest (not the hardcore Star Wars fan in search of thematic or storytelling inconsistencies or “plot holes”) would easily notice them and if they’d ruin the illusion. Would certain additions impede the suspension of disbelief or enhance the overall experience and atmosphere?

In the case of a John Williams score, the answer is a no-brainer. It’d be an unequivocal improvement that no normal person would question. It would give the land a greater sense of energy and exhilaration, and make it feel more “Star Wars-y,” which is critical for the sake of authenticity since it’s an original planet.

When it comes to other potential changes, things aren’t so clear cut. Would adding the Mandalorian or Baby Yoda/Grogu be problematic? Taking that even further, what about characters from the original trilogy, like Darth Vader?

Canonically, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is set during the Star Wars sequel trilogy between Episode VIII – The Last Jedi and Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker. That’s why any character alive at the end of the Last Jedi is fair game, but not those who died during the original trilogy, like (spoiler alert) Darth Vader. It’s also why there are no young versions of Princess Leia, Han Solo, or Luke Skywalker.

Grogu is most definitely fine as he could conceivably be alive and find his way to Batuu. The Mandalorian is also okay by me–who’s to say there’s not an elderly bounty hunter under that helmet. This alone is significant, as Disney+ is the company’s hot “thing.” A willingness to incorporate characters from the streaming service’s shows into the land would offer fresh offerings courtesy of the Disney+ marketing budget, as has been the case with Avenger’s Campus.

A bit more controversial, but I’d also be fine with Darth Vader…and literally anyone else. If a story contrivance is necessary to “explain away” why Darth Vader and his pals are on Batuu, there’s gotta be one. You can’t tell me that a franchise filled with clones, force ghosts, hyperspace, and various ways of toying with the space-time continuum can’t offer up some half-hearted (but plausible) explanation for certain characters making appearances.

The truth is, the overwhelming majority of guests will not bat an eye. They won’t ask why Darth Vader is on Batuu–they are already asking why he’s not on Batuu. In general, I’d make the argument that including more traditional elements of Star Wars, even if they aren’t canonically appropriate, strengthen the land, rather than weaken it.

Most guests are experiencing theme parks for enjoyment, and are more inclined to question an “obvious” omission rather than a slightly dubious inclusion. They notice details and environment, but often on more of a surface-level. They’re not there to critique, deconstruct, or probe for flaws. They want to have fun with their families.

When it comes to suspension of disbelief, Imagineering needs to have more faith in both itself and guests. Disney does a tremendous job at designing immersive environments. Guests crave escapism, and are downright eager to suspend disbelief when stepping into those lands. That’s how you can have a Swiss mountain next to a German castle next to the mid-century/steampunk “future” next to turn of the century small town America and have it all work just fine.

This isn’t an excuse to turn Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge into a free-for-all IP land. A lot of its success is a direct result of Lucasfilm and Imagineering’s high standards and commitment to its structure. There’s a happy medium in between the two extremes of “anything goes” and “strict timeline.” Balance is what we think Galaxy’s Edge should strive for, loosening its rules but not abandoning them entirely.

The loudest fans might take issue with Disney “expanding” the Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge story or timeline, but the company shouldn’t confuse that type of volume for the overall volume of guests. (Plus, that vocal minority is going to take issue with everything Disney does with Star Wars.) This isn’t just true of Star Wars fans–we diehard Disney fans often engage in the same pattern of overanalysis. I know I’m guilty of that–but not when I’m actually in the park, enjoying myself.

Good faith guests aren’t actively looking for faults, they’re filling them in. This is something that seems to get lost in present-day Imagineering from time to time. They concoct unnecessarily elaborate backstories so everything makes perfect sense. It doesn’t need to, and if it does, that probably reflects fundamental flaws that won’t be remedied by pages and pages of story fluff (except among superfans, who eat it up because it gives them “insider knowledge”).

Ultimately, I’m not suggesting that Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge throw the baby out with the bath water and start fresh. To the contrary, I hope it’s very clear from all of the foregoing that I love this largely-successful land. What I think is needed is better balance, and a willingness to break the rules if it produces something that’s more fun and better meets guest expectations. (Plus a water feature or two and a whole lot more shade/rain cover, but that’s another issue entirely!)

It’s great that Disney gave Imagineering creative freedom with Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, and that’s borne out in the end product. However, some of their worst impulses and fixations also are apparent in the result–something so steadfastly stuck on storytelling isn’t ideal. There’s nothing wrong with just “playing the hits” from time to time, and it’s reasonable to do so with Star Wars, in particular. There are undoubtedly ruses Disney can use when rewriting the Galaxy’s Edge backstory to satisfy the fans looking for a coherent timeline, too. Imagineering has used superfluous story to dupe dozens of diehard Dino-Rama fans into thinking that dumpster fire is actually good, so I’m convinced they can do the same with a land that actually is good.

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Do you think Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge should break its own rules or stick to the fixed timeline and story? Would you like to see the Mandalorian and Baby Yoda in the land? What about Darth Vader and other original trilogy characters? Think Galaxy’s Edge should focus on fun, canon, or a mix of both? Do you agree or disagree with our assessment of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge? Any questions? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!

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