Today is the day that Star Wars fans have been waiting for: Disney (NYSE: DIS) is officially opening Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge. The 14-acre expansion at the original Disneyland park is the resort's biggest move since the 2001 opening of a second theme park, but Disney hasn't been promoting the debut as actively as you might expect.
There have been media events earlier in the week, and a few segments that Good Morning America aired on Disney-owned ABC. The media giant was never going to make this rollout a secret. But there are some pretty good reasons for Disney taking a soft approach to building up Friday morning's hard opening -- and some of the reasons aren't very flattering.
1. Disney is regulating capacity
With only so much space to explore and just a single ride to experience, Disney has turned to a reservations system to limit the number of visitors to the Batuu outpost -- which, true to its name, is on the edge of the galaxy in Star Wars lore. Free reservations will remain in place through the first 24 days of operation, and if you're looking for a way in, you're unfortunately four weeks too late. Disneyland opened the online reservations platform on May 2 and within two hours all available visitation slots were spoken for.
Guests that didn't secure these four-hour windows to enjoy the expansion will have to book a stay at one of Disneyland's three resort hotels, and those accommodations aren't cheap -- if they're even available. In other words, unless you were quick on the trigger finger to score an online reservation four weeks ago or booked at an on-site hotel, you're not getting in until after June 23. This is the first time that Disney isn't allowing at least standby access for other guests at a park where a new ride or land opens, and that obviously would be a hard sell in promoting the new experience. Anyone can enter the Disneyland park, but they will be shut out of Galaxy's Edge without the sold-out reservations.
2. This is just the first phase
Disney surprised theme park enthusiasts and sci-fi fans when it announced a late May opening for Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge, earlier than the industry was expecting. Opening early came at a price: One of the two rides won't be ready, both in Disneyland and at the similar 14-acre expansion that will open at Disney's Hollywood Studios in Florida in late August.
Rise of the Resistance -- the more ambitious of the two experiences -- won't be available until much later this year and possibly not even until 2020. Disney is therefore branding this as the debut of the first phase of Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge.
To be fair, this new land is about far more than just the two rides that will command gargantuan wait times for the foreseeable future. There are richly themed shops, eateries, and watering holes to explore. Even something as simple as buying a $200 lightsaber keepsake is a theatrical experience.
But holding back on one of the two rides -- along with the huge crowds that will be flocking there and the lack of access for most park guests -- are good enough reasons to take a low-key approach.
3. The Millennium Falcon ride is getting mixed reviews
Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run is the one ride that is officially opening today, and the early word is that it's more evolutionary than revolutionary. The experience finds six riders boarding one of the dozens of recreated starships for a simulated galactic adventure. The reviews emerging from media events and select previews have been generally positive, but the experience is being typically described as a hybrid of Star Tours and Mission: Space, two existing rides that aren't exactly marquee attractions.
Riders are assigned one of three roles. And unless you're tagged with one of the two pilot positions, you're going to have to settle for less glamorous roles as the two engineers or two gunners, with views partly obstructed by the pilots in front of you. The ride is different from Mission: Space in that the success of each team in completing their assignments will factor into the ride's outcome, and that will generate an incentive to keep riding.
However, the onus of offering a bar-raising ride is now falling squarely on the likely more-impressive Rise of the Resistance, which appears to be several months from opening. So it's easy to see why Disney isn't in a rush to push the only ride available.
Again, there is a lot more to Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge than the only ride open during the first phase. But since Smugglers Run is what folks will be waiting hours in line to experience this summer, it's the barometer that will determine the new land's verdict on social media.
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