Will Disney World's groundbreaking new Star Wars ride be enough to save Galaxy's Edge?

The attraction may see a soft opening around Thanksgiving.

Will Disney World's groundbreaking new Star Wars ride be enough to save Galaxy's Edge?
Image via Disney

As the holidays approach, one of the most anticipated new attractions of the year is readying to open at Walt Disney World, and we already know what to expect.

Disney has been heavy-handed with cracking down on leaks regarding Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. At Disneyland, the company is rumored to have let go of nearly 10% of the 1,500-plus cast members assigned to the new land after photos from employee previews were posted online. Despite efforts to plug leaks, nearly every detail of the upcoming Rise of the Resistance ride is already known.

The experience will follow a standard theme park trope of guests being recruited for a secret mission, which then goes horribly wrong – but in the end, everyone escapes unharmed.

The difference is, Rise of the Resistance will use groundbreaking technology and impressive, larger-than-life sets to become one of the most technologically advanced attractions ever built. It’s pitched as the next step in an evolution of theme park rides, which for the last twenty years has mostly been focused on the impressive line-up of indoor rides at Universal Orlando.

There are some noticeable similarities between Universal attractions and the new Resistance attraction. Disney recruited Scott Trowbridge away from Universal, placing him over research and development, then had him oversee the Star Wars land project.

Trowbridge is credited with leading the creative teams at Universal that developed Spiderman, Mummy, and the first phase of Harry Potter.Trowbridge moved to Disney in 2007, before Diagon Alley was finished, though it is believed that he was instrumental in the early planning of some of the concepts that eventually were realized in Diagon Alley. Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is the first significant guest-forward project for Trowbridge at Disney.

While many of Trowbridge's proposals, like the rumored interactive lightsabers and free-roaming droids, were cut from the project, there’s no denying his fingerprint is all over the Rise of the Resistance attraction.

Trowbridge is known for his build-up to the actual ride with highly themed queues and multiple pre-shows. The Spiderman attraction, while somewhat dated by today’s standards, was revolutionary when it opened two decades ago. Since then, Trowbridge has refined his vision of the queue being the first scene with Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey queue being so popular that it is viewed as an attraction in its own right. Rise of the Resistance is expected to usher in the next chapter in the story of how queues and pre-shows are integrated into a ride.

Guests will enter through a Resistance base camp with much of the queue in "laser cut" caves. After a brief pre-show featuring a holographic Rey and a BB8 animatronic, guests will board shuttle transports in groups of around 30 to 50 at a time. This "scene two" pre-show has been compared to the Haunted Mansion, though a better comparison may be Epcot’s former Hydrolators or the elevators found on Escape from Gringotts at Universal Orlando due to the rumbling movements experienced during this standing room pre-show experience. Using a trick straight out of Willy Wonka, the transport shuttle room will be on a turntable allowing guests to exit through the same door they entered, but they will exit from the transport ship onto a Star Destroyer.

A high-def screen larger than an average IMAX screen will simulate space. In front of the screen, dozens of Stormtroopers will stand guard. This room is designed to wow, and from everyone who has seen it in person, it does that like no scene in a Disney ride has ever done before. From here guests will stand in a second short queue before loading onto a trackless ride vehicle, each with its own droid pilot much in the same vein as the E.T. animatronics found on the front of the ride vehicles on that classic Universal Studios Florida attraction. The 8-person ride vehicles look similar to the ones used on Universal’s Spiderman and Transformers attractions but are packed with much more tech.

Most of the Rise of the Resistance ride will be experienced with two ride vehicles in tandem, similar to how SeaWorld’s Antarctica ride operates. Roughly halfway through the trip, just after going through a room of life-size AT-ATs, the ride vehicles separate and will individually enter an elevator, moving to the second floor of the attraction where they will reunite. While still uncommon, lifts on attractions are not unheard of. Universal Studios’ Transformers attraction also uses an on-ride elevator.

After a few more show scenes on the upper level, the four-and-a-half-minute ride will climax with an impressive drop sequence. Though the actual drop will only be less than 20 feet, special effects should convince most guests it’s much larger. The drop sequence is viewed as the modern version of a similar scene on Universal’s Spiderman ride, though in that scene, there is no actual drop of any type.

Guests will then disembark and exit through a crash scene back into Galaxy’s Edge. The full experience from the beginning of the first pre-show to the exit will take between 15 and 20 minutes, slightly longer than the pre-show to ride exit at Gringotts. 

Contrary to what multiple fan sites are reporting, all indications point to Rise of the Resistance being on schedule and readying to be handed off to operations within the coming weeks, a critical step required before a ride opens to the public. Scheduled to open at Hollywood Studios on December 5 and at Disneyland on January 17, the attraction may see soft openings around Thanksgiving with cast member previews beginning by mid-November.

Dozens of animatronics, projection mapping, and an impressive lightsaber scene – along with the trackless ride vehicles and multiple pre-shows – will combine to make Rise of the Resistance one of the most impressive attractions ever realized. Beyond Orlando and Anaheim, Disney already has plans to replicate it overseas. At Disney Studios Paris a mini-Star Wars land is already confirmed, it will likely include Rise of the Resistance but not the Millenium Falcon attraction. Rumors also point to at least one of the Asian parks receiving the Rise ride in the coming years.

So far, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge has been talked about as unsuccessful, thanks in part to cuts from Trowbridge’s original vision. Disney has a lot hinging on the upcoming opening of Stars Wars: Rise of the Resistance ride at the two now open Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge lands. The Disneyland version of the land opened to incredibly low crowds.

In recent weeks, Disney has worked to turn the tide on the negative Galaxy’s Edge press with a slew of cross-promotions on various ABC shows and a two-hour-long celebrity-filled special about the land on Disney’s Freeform channel. That special is now being heavily promoted on Hulu, which Disney owns a controlling share of. Opening Rise of the Resistance is the last significant piece yet to open. Mainstream criticism of the success or failure of the land has been mostly held off awaiting the opening of Rise, though the low crowds this summer at Disney parks was covered by multiple national media outlets. With the Hollywood Studios version scheduled to open ahead of the end of the year crowds, the busiest time of the year for the resort, any technical issues with the ride could result in more negative press for Disney.

For Disney, Rise of the Resistance is more than just a new ride. It’s what will define this era of Disney attractions and leadership. With disappointing sales at the most recent Star Wars movie and with lower than expected crowds so far. Rise of the Resistance along with Episode IX: The Rise of the Skywalker are both set to open in December, meaning we should know by January if the billions of dollars Disney has spent on Star Wars will pay off. In the meantime, Disney parks chief Bob Chapek, whose job may be on the line if the land is deemed a failure, continues to push the narrative of Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge as being "a runaway success."

Meanwhile, there are already hints of in-fighting at Disney, as nearly everyone involved with Galaxy's Edge seems to involved with a leadership shake-up that could be understood as a CYA move by most of them. That is except for Chapek, who for now remains on top of the Parks division. If Chapek does lose his job over the "runaway success," there will at least be a future for him as the White House spokesperson.

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