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Alarms blared, buttons blinked furiously and the cockpit lights went dark. The view outside tipped sharply downward and I realized it was my fault. I had crashed the Millennium Falcon.

Thanks to my crew members’ hasty button pushing, we made it out alive and returned safely — mission accomplished, a few new dings on the fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy.

Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, the newest land at Disney parks in California and Florida, is engaging entertainment: A land that launches guests into an ever-evolving galactic story and literally hands them the creative controls.

This hotly anticipated, immersive Star Wars playground opened at Disneyland in California on May 31. The Orlando version launched at Walt Disney World’s Hollywood Studios on Aug. 29.

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I recently had an early look at Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge in Orlando. Here are five interstellar takeaways.

The planet

When you visit Galaxy’s Edge you’re visiting the Black Spire Outpost on the remote planet Batuu.

I sank into the scenery, as the land sprawled through wooded areas dotted with recognizable spacecraft, past a buzzing marketplace, and out to a First Order base. Domed buildings and rocklike spires (petrified trees if we’re following the narrative) soared high above, almost embracing visitors. Alcoves and stone stairwells added authenticity, the kind of place where scum and villainy — and tourists — would lurk about.

It felt simultaneously alien and familiar. It felt like stepping into a Star Wars movie.

The Millennium Falcon

The centerpiece was undoubtedly the full-size Millennium Falcon starship. The rest of Black Spire revolved around it, which makes sense since it is awe-inspiring, dream fulfilling, and selfie-worthy.

It is also home to the land’s only ride, for now, Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run, where guests become active crew members: two pilots in front, closest to the rounded viewport, two gunners behind and two engineers behind them.

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On my aforementioned flight, I got to pull the hyperspace lever and launch us into the midst of an exhilarating, rollicking, admittedly inelegant ride across alien environs. As a ride, Smuggler’s Run successfully plays somewhere between other Disney virtual simulation rides like Star Tours and Avatar Flight of Passage at Disney’s Animal Kingdom; much more amped up and crisp than the former, less dizzying than the latter. Regardless, everyone I saw leave the ride was smiling as wide as the Milky Way.

The Cantina

Reminiscent of the famed cantina scene from the original Star Wars film, Oga’s Cantina was dominated by a large, glowing central bar, adorned with neon-filled bottles and creature-filled tanks. The space was tight but sufficient, with rounded booths running along the perimeter wall and a ring of hightop standing room rail tables.

Like other famed Disney World theme bars, such as Jock Lindsey’s Hangar Bar or Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto, Oga’s was fashioned as both a precursor to adventure and a needed respite. My Jet Juice cocktail — a smoky, enjoyable concoction of bourbon, chili liqueur, and juices — tasted like both.

The unique shopping

No Mickey ears here. Galaxy’s Edge shops and shopkeepers are part of the story.

The marketplace area felt half exotic bazaar, half neighborhood farmers’ market. One shop sold stuffed toys made to look hand-woven, as if a wry old local was out back sewing Ewok dolls.

In Dok-Ondar’s Den of Antiquities the many strange objects on the walls and shelves — weapons, helmets, ferocious animal heads, and the life-size animatronic alien proprietor — made for an enigmatic stop.

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The flavors on Batuu are just as unique. For a snack, Ronto Roasters served a warm flatbread wrap filled with flavorful barbecued sausage, tender pork, and still crunchy slaw — not what most would expect from theme park fare.

The immersive experience

The core of Galaxy’s Edge is its immersive theming and inspired narrative, which calls back to the original Star Wars trilogy while folding in the current run of films.

Star Wars characters and in-character cast members strolled and greeted visitors, using special phrases and greetings. Our server at Oga’s gossiped about local happenings.

While waiting in the marketplace, a boisterous woman with a shock of blue and black hair recruited me to assist the famous Chewbacca. Stormtroopers were up ahead and a group of us had to crowd around the massive Wookie, shuffling down the main thoroughfare hiding him from view.

Later, I saw Chewbacca at the Millennium Falcon, whooping in aggravation while faux fixing the ship’s hull. I dared not tell him it might have been me that caused the damage.


Michael Hartigan can be reached at mhartigan04@gmail.com.