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Not too long ago, in a theme park just down the road, a little corner of Walt Disney’s Hollywood Studios opened up to Premier Annual Passholders for previews. It was a very limited event, and reservations filled up almost immediately. To say that I was excited is an understatement. It’s very rare we get a whole new land opening, and this past year we have gotten two, with the opening of Toy Story Land last summer.
Disclaimer: I am a medium-sized Star Wars fan. I had not even seen the entire franchise until about 10 years ago when I did a small role in a friend’s Star Wars spoof film, entitled ‘Burb Wars (of which exactly 10 copies exist in the Universe and cannot even be found on YouTube – you know, copyright infringements). But I am a fan of anything that creates a fantasy well-done enough to transport you into an entirely new Universe, a rare form of escapism.
I felt like a kid at Christmas walking through the now-opened portal that for the past three years we have seen only as a mural depicting a “coming soon” teaser. Once you get through the tunnel, it’s like you’ve been transported onto an entirely new planet, one who’s citizens have a signature greeting – “Bright Suns!” – and still breathe the same oxygen as here on earth.
The planet is Batuu, and the village is known as the Black Spire Outpost. You can spot Rey walking around looking for scrap to sell, and will more than likely encounter a group of Imperial Stormtrooper guards just waiting to catch you off your best behavior. Even their surly boss (and my boyfriend) Kylo Ren can be seen stalking the citizens of Batuu enforcing his evil reign.
It was raining on Batuu the day of our visit, but the rain didn’t last long and soon gave way to a very humid heat, not unlke the climate we experience here in Florida.
First stop, Millenium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run, the only attraction currently fully operating on Batuu. Much like the Death Star, Rise of the Resistance is still under construction and expected to open this December. I was excited to see there IS a single rider line for the Falcon, for those of us who despise long wait times, although with all the detail put into the main queuing experience, you’ll definitely want to skip with single rider option on your first visit. You enter the queue through the front door to Ohnaka Transport Solutions – a COMPLETELY. LEGITIMATE. SHIPPING. COMPANY. Ignore any rumors that this outfit is just a front for illegal smuggling.
**** RIDE SPOILERS BELOW****
You’re greeted by Hondo Ohnaka in his office, his orange and dirt-white Artoo unit (with menacing teeth painted on) front and center, where you’re given your mission. Above the droid is a large window that looks out onto the sky beyond, where you can see large ships flying and landing. It was so immersive and cool, it was hard to focus on any one thing happening at once.
But your attention is grabbed pretty quickly when the Falcon approaches and lands just outside the window, and a large cargo door opens unveiling the ship you are about to board. Once on board the Falcon you are given your assignments: Pilot, Gunner, or Engineer. You’ll wait in the lounge of the Falcon with a few other groups waiting for their own missions. The detail in the Falcon’s lounge is simply amazing, down to the replica holochess table (a great photo op). There’s a lot to take in while you wait for your mission leader – I almost wished I could’ve stayed a while longer.
Once you enter the cockpit you’ll take your seats according to your position: Pilots up front at the controls, Gunners behind the Pilots, ready to fire, and Engineers in the back (who are there to fix the Pilots’ mistakes). The experience itself is completely interactive, and totally customized to your responses. A pilot misses a command, the ship crashes. A gunner misses fire, we git hit and the impact is felt throughout. It’s a completely different experience every ride, and all up to the crew as to what that experience is. There’s so much going on that it’s difficult to balance focusing on being in the moment, and doing your job. About halfway through I abandoned my position as left Engineer and watched while the mission carried on.
Disembarking the Falcon is just as much of an experience as the rest of the queue. You’ll definitely want to have your camera ready.
The mission left us thirsty, so next we popped into the Docking Bay 7 Food and Cargo for a beverage. I tried the Takodana Quencher, a pre-mixed cocktail made up of Bacardi Dragon Berry Rum, Blue Curacao, Simply Orange with Pineapple, and Kiwi. This was one of two alcoholic beverages you can get at this location, without needing a reservation for Oga’s Cantina. (Side note: During our Preview we were told we could choose between experiencing Oga’s Cantina, or Savi’s Workshop, but there was some miscommunication about how and when those would actually be reserved, so we were disappointed that a separate reservation was required and the Preview reservation did not guarantee the entry into our choice on the day of our preview, so we did not get to go into Oga’s, but that will be something to look forward to on my next visit to Batuu!). The Docking Bay also offers a ‘Gold Squadron Lager’ beer, which is 13.25 units, and the premix cocktail will run you 15.00 units (fortunately, Aurebesh currency conversion is simple math, with $1 US dollar equaling 1 Unit).
The drink I had been most excited to try on Batuu was the famous blue milk. You lactose-intolerant folks out there will be happy to hear that it’s actually diary-free – it’s a “plant-based blend of coconut and rice milks”, and is served frozen with the consistency of a smoothie for $7.99. If you want to make your milk alcoholic, you have the option of ordering the Blue Milk Cooler, the same recipe with the addition of Bacardi Rum, for $14.00. If you just want a plain old soda, you can pick up a Coke, Diet Coke, or Sprite in native Aurebesh packaging for $6.99, totally worth breaking my “no soda” rule to take home this awesome souvenir.
As the suns got lower on Batuu, the lines at the Droid Depot, your one-stop shop for Custom Astromech Units, was practically non-existant, so I popped in to make myself a new friend (literally). The Droid Depot offers a choice between an R2 unit custom build and a BB unit custom build, each option retailing for 99 units (plus Batuu’an tax – shockingly the same as Orange County sales tax rates). The choices of droid parts are on display at the front of the shop, but if you are coming in for a specific droid like I was, make sure you confirm it’s availability before you pay for it because they do not update the available parts on display and I found out after I had paid for my droid that the white and purple unit I really wanted had sold out. For $100, I want to get what I want. A manager agreed that I could bring it back in the future to exchange it for the part that I wanted, but then suddenly the purple and black Imperial model that was my 2nd choice showed up on the conveyor belt, re-stocked. Not wanting to give up the experience that day, or really try to come back and exchange a used unit, I settled for my second choice. (In hindsight, it was probably a good choice because after driving the unit around the Outpost for a while, they do scratch and pick up dirt, and white was probably not the best option). I got some video of the experience and will be working on my first YouTube so ya’ll can see what you’re getting into for your $99 plus tax. The experience itself is a large part of the value of the price tag, in my opinion. Also you should be aware that the builder can bring one guest with them to the table, but the rest of your party will have to stay behind the railing in the shop if they want to watch.
A visit to Batuu wouldn’t be complete without a little shopping, and The Market at the Black Spire Outpost is a great place to pick up a souvenir of your trip. I’m not typically a plush person, but I wanted to buy every one of these adorable plushies that looked hand-sewn. They also had cute little wooden pose-able figures that all need to live on a shelf in my house.
The best thing about getting to experience this Preview (thank you, Disney!) was how limited it was and the crowds were non-existent. It was such a great opportunity for photos without hoards of people in the background – like the TIE Fighter docked in the village. Even without the crowds, I had some very ominous photo-bombers who didn’t seem to care that we were in the middle of a shoot, but I was just lucky they didn’t whisk me off to space jail for impersonating a rebel princess.
My trip to Batuu went by way too quickly, and there was so much detail to take in. I can’t wait to experience it all again when Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge opens officially on August 29th at Hollywood Studios! Is anyone planning on braving the crowds for this epic Grand Opening? If so, map our your plan of attack (no pun intended) using the Preview Guide below!
Bright Suns, travelers!