Everyone Comes to Oga’s
I’m two drinks in by the time I get into line at Oga’s Cantina. My mom is shitfaced, I’m just a bit punchy. Something pokes me in the back and I spin to see a a couple of First Order Stormtroopers pointing blaster rifles at my gut. In my head, I know that this is “part of the fun.” Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge isn’t just another area of Disneyland, it’s an immersive storytelling experience.
The Black Spire Outpost on the Planet of Batuu is a galactic Casablanca, Oga’s Cantina the Rick’s Café American. Spies lurk on every corner as tourists drown their sorrows in Dagobah Slug-Slingers. For drama nerds on grad night and anyone off their meds this place is a paradise. But my visceral reaction at being forced into an improv class exercise with a couple of outer-rim concentration camp commandants is to be pissed off. If you read my post Life and Near-Death on Hollywood and Vine you know I have a reason to be “triggered” by a couple of guys in uniform pointing guns at me around tourist attractions. I react accordingly.
“Get your hands off me, Space NAZI!”
I yell it. Like, really loudly. In front of a bunch of tourists. It’s common knowledge that Star Wars Imperial chic is inspired by the wardrobe of the Third Reich, but it’s not exactly something you need to yell at some poor Disneyland cast member sweating under fifty pounds of plastic beneath the Anaheim Summer sun. And yet, there is something unmistakably eerie about these bumbling goose-steppers marching around my favorite theme park. Sure, tourists have been mugging with Captain Hook and Cruella Deville for half a century at Disneyland, but with the opening of Galaxy’s Edge, the resort has taken a bizarre turn that threatens to expose the dark underbelly of the Happiest Place on Earth.
You’ve always been able to buy Stormtrooper costumes and Darth Vader masks, but all the First Order-themed merchandise at Galaxy’s Edge seems a bit perverse in light of White Nationalism’s recent resurgence in the United States. The gift shop features well-pressed uniforms that would make Goebbels proud and little caps that would look at home on the head of Ernest Rohm. You can even purchase a kit of specific First Order rank insignia to track your own rise through the ranks of this Neo-Imperial genocidal galactic power. Why not pick up a recruitment propaganda poster, challenging kids to “protect” and “defend” the galaxy? Perhaps most sickening, is the blood red banner with the stark black cross emblazoned across a white circle. Close your eyes a bit and baby, you’re in Berlin. In a time when White Nationalists chant “Jews will not replace us!” in the streets, the Disney corporation is gleefully rolling in the reichsmarks as they help normalize the fetishization of the Nazi aesthetic.
But hey, aren’t the Space Nazis the bad guys?
Sure, but the strangest thing about Galaxy’s Edge is the supposed antidote to the First Order’s reign of terror. On the opposite end of Batuu is a gift shop for the Resistance, offering an array of sartorial homages to Mid-Century Communist Chic. Blink for a moment and you’d think you were in a military surplus store out in Burbank rustling around for Salvador Allende cosplay accouterments. Purchase yourself a Che Guevara-like fatigue jacket or a Fidel Castro-inspired military cap. Family fun for everyone.
So this is Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge. One side is a Sieg Heil to Haute Couture, the other a pret-a-porter Politburo. In the middle? A food court. I hate to say it, but Batuu is the perfect expression of our nation’s current political polarization. Nationalists on one end of the spectrum, Socialists on the other, and the vast majority of people mindlessly gnawing on kettle corn in the center.
Stop Yelling at Me!
Earlier that afternoon I’m sitting around the Millennium Falcon Holochess table while a kid explains to me everything I’ve missed in the Star Wars universe since the Disney takeover — some shit about how Darth Maul got robot legs and why Ahsoka Tano has white light-sabers or whatever. Meanwhile, I elucidate the parallels between Palpatine’s ascension from Chancellor to Emperor and Hitler’s rise from Chancellor to Fuhrer.
A “cast member” calls out for the Red Group and we assemble with the rest of our flight crew. She delivers a well-rehearsed instructional monologue “in character” and I channel the power of the Force to prevent my eyes from rolling into the back of my skull. We clamber into the cockpit of the Falcon, I’m assigned an engineer slot, the kid is a gunner and a middle-aged couple are the pilots. The ride begins and I dutifully push the flashing buttons while the kid fires volley after volley of blaster fire. Meanwhile, the two pilots flail miserably about the controls and the Falcon careens against rocky walls as our shields falter. The squeaky-voiced kid suddenly turns into a seasoned Rebel officer, barking commands at the pilots.
“Pull up!” he shouts. The pilots shake their heads in confusion. “Push the lever!” he yells desperately.
“I’m trying!” the lady howls.
We seem to smash into every obstacle imaginable as the Falcon wobbles towards destruction. “PULL UP!” the kid tries again.
“Stop yelling at me!” the adult woman whines at the top of her lungs, like a sullen baby being scolded at.
I cackle with glee. So far this is my favorite part of the new attraction. The ride is whatever but watching a grown-up lose her mind from getting yelled at by a child is the most entertaining shit I’ve seen in years. Talk about immersive. The ride lurches to a stop and we all file out, the pilots storming off grumbling in embarrassment. I turn to the kid and admit, “I think you were the captain of that ship dude.”
The kid shrugs. “I guess. That lady didn’t need to be so mean though.”
“Don’t worry about it,” I assure him, “the Force will be with you, always.”
“And may the Force be with you,” the kid nods.
The Lonely Debutante
It’s been a strange summer in Anaheim. Analysts and insiders had predicted huge crowds and agonizing congestion around the resort thanks to the highly-anticipated opening of the Galaxy’s Edge attraction. In fact, Disney did such a good job hyping up what a mob scene the ribbon-cutting season would be, that everyone took the hint and stayed away. Annual pass-holders were blacked out, locals were warned away and many tourists decided to hold off on visiting until the supposed frenzy died down. Galaxy’s Edge is far far away from a failure but somehow managed not to live up to everyone’s expectations of mass chaos.
Disneyland is like the haughty debutante who was so selective about whom she invited to her coming out party, that when the big day arrived, no one came. So Bob Iger sits alone into the empty ballroom, softly weeping into his tax returns.
Underlying the underwhelming opening Galaxy’s Edge are the ridiculous price-hikes made in anticipation of the new attraction. Normal families aren’t just turned off from visiting the resort, they’re priced out. This isn’t consumer frustration. It’s theme park gentrification. The result? The park has been a ghost town all summer. Hours-long rides have become walk-ons, normally congested walkways are near-empty and the park finally feels like the promised land of Walt’s delusional nostalgia-induced hallucinations.
I hope this serves as a wake-up call to the House of Mouse: That price-gouging the imagination of children has a limit. That monopolizing the memories of whole families has a breaking point. I dream of a Disneyland dark age. Roaming scavengers wandering the wasteland of the Happiest Place on Earth while stale popcorn kernels roll across the pavement like so many tumbleweeds. I smile at the thought of riding empty train cars in circles around Thunder Mountain ’till the sun sets. But before you label a crazed communist, some anti-capitalist crypto-currency counter-insurgent, let me make one thing abundantly explicit. Allow me to clear the air:
I am a Disney shareholder
Yes, I invested in a business I pray will fail. Not for financial gain, but to exercise a modicum of control over a company that has quickly and quietly gobbled our entire childhood, threatening to own the exclusive streaming rights to our collective imagination. I have Force visions of majority shareholders’ vast fortunes crumbling into oblivion like Malibu mansions gobbled up in climate-induced global catastrophe. Meanwhile I cackle in my ivory nonprofit tower as I use my worthless Disney stock for beverage coasters. Some investors expect a reasonable rate of return. Others want an opportunity to poke holes in executive golden parachutes with sharpened Churros. I yearn for Project Mayhem and Operation Goldeneye wrapped into one exclusive all-expenses-paid vacation to a day of reckoning for the ruling class.
The outlet mall at the edge of the galaxy
Opinions have been split among Disneyland fans and Star Wars buffs since Galaxy’s Edge was announced. To some Disney purists, adding a new section of the park is blasphemy. Many Star Wars fans cynically complain that the new attraction is a sickening display of Disney’s efforts to squeeze every last cent out of the franchise. I’m somewhere in between. I’m always interested to see new advancements in Imagineering, but often chafe at changes to my beloved park. I once called the Disneyland smoking section the “last bastion of freedom in America” before they turned it into a walkway to Galaxy’s Edge. When I found out you could no longer buy toy guns in Frontierland, I poured out a Dasani bottle in disgust and declared “this is the day Disneyland died.”
Yes, I will always miss Uncle Bruce chain-smoking cigarettes in front of the Rivers of America, smiling while my cousin and I pistol-whipped each other with orange-tipped Colt Peacemakers. But as Kylo Ren once wisely said: “Let the past die, kill it if you have to.”
The good news is, wherever your opinions lie, Galaxy’s Edge is good for Disneyland. The expansion has greatly improved the entire flow of the park, clearing up the usual congestion by allowing guests a way to take larger laps around the resort. This means fewer people clogging up the lines and walkways of the old attractions. If you are pissing your pants in anticipation of exploring Batuu, the attraction’s location at the back of the resort and the pissed-offedness of the park purists leaves Galaxy’s Edge honestly less crowded than the Citadel Outlet mall you see on the way to the park. If you’re a Disneyland fundamentalist, Galaxy’s Edge will clear out the rest of the park for your enjoyment. As the Master Qui-Gon once said: “Either way, you win.”
But what’s it like?
Honestly, Galaxy’s Edge is pretty cool. The Bisti Badland-like spires of Batuu blend beautifully with the Bryce Canyon-inspired hoodoos of Thunder Mountain. The skillful use of forced perspective makes the relatively contained area seem like it spans for miles. I’m not the first to say that the sight of a full-sized Millennium Falcon made me tear up a bit. And the fact that you can’t even catch a glimpse of the rest of the park, let alone the outside world, makes Galaxy’s Edge feel as immersive as advertised. It doesn’t quite feel like you’ve landed on another planet, but it does feel like you’ve been loaded into a hub-world level of the Knights of the Old Republic video game. At the end of the day, the Millennium Falcon is the best place to watch the fireworks in the whole park and Oga’s Cantina is the only place in the where you can grab a drink. Galaxy’s Edge isn’t the first place I head to in the park these days, but it’s usually where I end up.
A galaxy of stars sparkle above my head as I stroll the streets of Batuu waiting for the fireworks to start. I see a familiar figure lumbering toward me. The Mighty Chewbacca. It’s funny, I know he’s just an off-season college basketball player in a furry suit, but I feel the same way I do when I used to see a friend in the hall at school.
“Hey Chewie,” I tilt my hat.
“Narf narf narf narf narf,” Chewie nods with recognition and pats me on the shoulder as if to say “good to see you!”
It’s a simple illusion in a park filled with smoke and mirrors, but it’s an effective one. I’ve “known” Chewie all my life so naturally he “knows” me too. So when he greets me as an old friend, everything around me turns stunningly real.
I’d love to stay and play a round of Holochess, but Chewie is a busy beast. He waves goodbye and walks over to a young boy in a wheelchair. The mighty Wookie leans to one knee, and the starstruck boy beams with happiness from the confines of his chair. My liberal guilt glands go into overdrive seeing someone with different abilities than the other children treated with dignity and respect. I find myself weeping openly on the outskirts the Black Spire Outpost. Those Strormtroopers may not have be real bad guys, but this dude in the Chewbacca getup is a real good guy. America may continue goosestepping towards corporate-sponsored authoritarianism until Disney owns the rights to the Constitution itself. But if all this Resistance bullshit tells us anything, it’s that no entity is powerful enough to control us all. Disney may own the rights to Star Wars, but the Force belongs to us.
See you at the park.