by Ray Keating
September 10, 2019
Was the reported $1 billion Disney spent on Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge in Walt Disney World worth it? Well, for this columnist, economist and fan, the answer is: Darn right!
As for the economics, MyNews13.com recently noted, “Galaxy's Edge, highly-anticipated 14-acre land, was more than three years in the making, costing $1 billion. It created 1,700 new permanent jobs, plus 5,500 trade, artisan and construction jobs, according to Disney.”
Accounts on the early crowds have varied widely. On its August 29th Opening Day, Galaxy’s Edge hit capacity at 7:00 AM, and was closed accordingly. Subsequent days’ traffic were lighter than many had expected, but it’s hard to disentangle such assessments from the threat of Hurricane Dorian, the normal post-Labor Day attendance slowdown, and some major heat days – not to mention media and online spin vs. company and customer preferences.
To be honest, attendance from the first week-plus does not provide much information of value in terms of assessing Disney’s investment in Galaxy’s Edge. We need a larger sample size.
And as reported by CNBC, Disney offered a different take on the idea that success is measured by people suffering on long lines. With the eight to 10-hour waits at the opening of NBCUniversal’s Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike coaster at Islands of Adventure clearly in mind, Bob Chapek, chairman of parks, experiences and products, was quoted:
“One of the wins that we had with the opening of the original Galaxy’s Edge is that we didn’t have the waits. The deep secret is that we don’t intend to have lines ... If you build in enough capacity, the rides don’t go down and it operates at 99% efficiency, you shouldn’t have 10-hour lines. So, 10-hour lines are not a sign of success. It should be seen as a sign of, frankly, failure.”
Hmmm. There certainly is a point there, but we’re left to disentangle spin and reality. From the perspective of best serving customers, who can seriously argue that 10 hour waits are a plus?
As for my review of Galaxy’s Edge...
Based on arriving at Black Spire Outpost on the planet of Batuu during the opening weekend at Hollywood Studios, and coming back a few more times in subsequent days, here are 9 reasons to love Galaxy’s Edge.
1) Immersion. Upon entering the land, the experience becomes nearly completely immersive. I cannot think of anything in the realm of entertainment that comes close to matching this, especially on such a scale. The vistas, the buildings, décor, and the cast members meld together into a fantastic adventure for visitors.
2) Millennium Falcon. At the center point of this immersion sits the Millennium Falcon. That’s right, the fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy that made the Kessel run in less than 12 parsecs. Visitors get close-up views, from nearly all angles – from sides, below and above – of one of the most famous space vessels in movie history. And close inspection reveals wondrous levels of detail and artistry.
3) Smugglers Run. The fun with the Millennium Falcon doesn’t stop with taking in the outside of the ship. Rather, on the Smugglers Run ride, you’re inside this iconic ship as part of a smuggling mission. Playing the role as a pilot, gunner or engineer on the bridge of the Millennium Falcon is another unique experience. My son called the ride the most expensive video game ever made. True. But it’s much more than that, of course, given that you’re inside the game, if you will. And feeling like you're sitting where Han Solo, Chewie, Princess Leia, Rey, and Luke Skywalker sat is a Star Wars fan’s dream come true.
Yes, that's me in the Millennium Falcon!
4) More Ships! A truly immersive Star Wars experience must include other ships. And several are positioned throughout Galaxy’s Edge – an A-wing fighter, an X-wing fighter, a TIE Echelon, and a transport ship resting above Hangar Bay 7. Each, again, makes the trip to Batuu more enjoyable – especially the transport ship sitting high above the hangar area and the Falcon.
5) Oga’s Cantina. Stepping inside Oga’s Cantina takes the guest still deeper into the engagement with Black Spire Outpost. It’s a lively bar with décor and atmosphere that feels like it came right out of one of the Star Wars movies. And the drinks – with and without alcohol – are tasty and a heck of a lot of fun. I enjoyed Jabba Juice (Simply Orange with pineapple, kiwi, cantaloupe, and blueberry popping pearls), a Black Spire Brew (Cold Brew Joffrey’s Coffee, honey, falernum, passion fruit, and citrus), a Hyperdrive (Powerade Mountain Berry Blast, white cranberry juice, black cherry purée, and Sprite), and the bubbling, smoking Carbon Freeze (Powerade Lemon Lime, wild strawberry, blueberry, and green apple popping pearls).
6) Blue Milk. So, you have a choice at the Black Spire Outpost between Blue Milk and Green Milk. No doubt, the debate will rage on between these Star Wars beverages. I’m in the Blue Milk camp – but I’ll take either on a hot day as both are slushy-type beverages.
7) Dok-Ondar's Den of Antiquities. Here’s a fun stop where the shop itself is just as interesting as the merchandise being sold. The collection of light sabers is impressive ... and on the pricey side.
8) Interactions. Galaxy’s Edge does offer opportunities for unique interactions with cast members who portray an assortment of people on Batuu, including Storm Troopers, members of the Resistance, those with the First Order, and so on. There also are very specific characters circulating, such as Kylo Ren and Vi Moradi, a Resistance spy. I happened to have an interaction with Moradi just before Galaxy’s Edge closed one night, and I had to assure her that I was with the freedom fighters.
9) Anticipation. As enjoyable as Galaxy’s Edge is now, there’s also the anticipation for what’s to come. We know that the Rise of the Resistance ride is coming to Galaxy’s Edge on December 5, serving up, as Disney puts it, “a massive, multi-platform, new attraction that is unlike anything you’ve ever experienced at Walt Disney World Resort… or anywhere else in the galaxy!” And sometime after that, the Star Wars hotel – a Galactic Starcruiser named Halcyon – will be arriving to take guests on a two-night, three-day immersive space cruise, including a visit to the Black Spire Outpost.
So far, Disney is doing Galaxy’s Edge right, and everything points to the experience for guests getting even better. That will turn out to be good news for Disney shareholders. And watch out if Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker – directed by J.J. Abrams and being released in December of this year – turns out to be a winner, thereby reigniting passion among assorted Star Warsfans who were disenchanted (and justifiably so) with Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
Ray Keating is the editor, publisher and economist for DisneyBizJournal.com, and author of the Pastor Stephen Grant novels. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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