02 August 2019

On the Edge of the Galaxy

Prior to my visit to Disneyland a couple of weeks ago, I had the privilege to take part in one of the great YMCA traditions, General Assembly. This conference happens every few years and truly inspires YMCA staff and volunteers to do more, do better, and be the best versions of ourselves for our communities back home. As a part of this conference I had the pleasure to listen to a session led by Dan Cockerell. You may know Dan through his father, Lee Cockerell, the longtime Disney executive, but Dan has a Disney story that is all his own. He started out parking cars in Walt Disney World’s parking lot, before rising through the ranks to become the Vice President of, at various times, Epcot, Magic Kingdom, and Disney’s Hollywood Studios. It’s his time with the Studios that crosses over our hyperspace lane into the look we’ve been taking at Galaxy’s Edge this week.

As Dan tells the story, he was at Disney’s Hollywood Studios when Disney acquired Lucasfilm. Almost immediately master planning began on a Star wars land to bring to the park. For two years this planning went on, and it was based around Tatooine and had all the touchpoints that those of us who grew up with Star Wars would recognize. Then one day Kathleen Kennedy and Bob Iger got together and Kennedy put out there that she thought the land was going in the wrong direction. It was her belief that there were more Star Wars stories ahead of us, than those we have behind us for the past forty years. It was that conversation that stopped the planning on a dime and set a course for a brand new destination, Batuu, set in the current moment between films of the Skywalker saga.

I find that amount of foresight impressive, and the willingness to change tactic midstream even more so. Now, Disney has the means to be more agile than most companies, but it is still interesting to see an organization not just charge ahead with what they planned and instead take time to consider what they’re building. I don’t know if this story had any bearing on how I looked at Black Spire Outpost when I first walked into it, but it’s definitely given me a fresh perspective on how I view the land as a whole.

The best of Star Wars, in my opinion, always takes place on worlds that exist in the Outer Rim, Wild Space, or on almost uninhabitable worlds. Batuu is one of these dusty locations that fit right alongside Tatooine, Endor, Takodana, or Crait. It has this otherworldly, yet somehow familiar, vibe to it and it has everything you would want in your personal Star Wars story, even if you feel like you should have never looked beyond the original trilogy; cantina, spaceport, wilderness, a touch of the mystical, and a menacing, domineering presence just around the corner. A lot of work has gone into ensuring that Batuu feels like it belongs in Star Wars, not the least of which has been incorporating the characters and location into comics and novels.

Galaxy’s Edge is set in the period between The Last Jedi and Rise of Skywalker, and it features the heroes and villains that today’s children are familiar with. This includes Rey and Kylo, but also individuals like Hondo from The Clone Wars and Rebels animated series. Picking a time for a land to exist in is not a new thing for Disney, you can see it on Hollywood and Sunset Boulevards, Frontierland, Main Street, Harambe, Liberty Square, and various segments of Adventureland. Picking a time that is the most relevant to children today is just plain smart. The entirety of Disney’s theme park worlds came from Walt Disney’s own idea that parents should have a place to take their children. It is a place built for children, but it doesn’t speak down to them, and it has just as much to offer their parents and other adults. We should all enjoy Batuu, and look through the attractions and surroundings with the eyes and wonderment of an eight year old.

To quote Yoda, “we are what they grow beyond.” Disney has long straddled the divide between what was and what could be, and the world created by Black Spire Outpost does precisely that. Galaxy’s Edge pays respect to all that has come before, from Luke’s training probe, R-3X, moisture vaporators, R2-D2’s tread, and the life-size Millennium Falcon, while still forging a new path ahead. Perhaps what I love most about Galaxy’s Edge is that I recognize it all instantly as being Star Wars and yet it is a world I have yet to learn, thus allowing me to build upon what I already know while creating entirely new experiences. In the end, could we really ask for anything else?

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