Kids have played inside the Star Wars universe for more than 40 years. From running while hoisting plastic spaceships aloft to swinging wrapping paper tubes like laser swords while making deep breathing noises, the galaxy far, far, away has always had a hold on the imagination.
Now, with the opening of Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance at Disney’s Hollywood Studios theme park in Walt Disney World, the Walt Disney Imagineers have created the ultimate Star Wars playset, teaming with Lucasfilm to create the longest, most immersive action-packed ride at any theme park ever.
The story for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance takes place 6 months after the events of Star Wars: The Last Jedi. The remnants of the Resistance have established a base on the planet of Batuu, and they’re recruiting help in their struggle against the ruthless First Order. Fans of the original 1977 film will recognize its three acts: departure from the home planet, capture by the enemy, and ultimate escape.
“You’re Our Only Hope”
Families wind through a forest, past towering cliffs with waterfalls, crumbling stone walls, and tight passages, until a clearing reveals the black-and-orange X-wing starfighter of ace Resistance pilot Poe Dameron. This is the first hint of many appearances of characters from the latest Star Wars movies.
Resistance forces hustle the group into a military briefing room where perky droid BB-8 works on a communications panel and heroine Rey appears via hologram to brief everyone on the desperate mission at hand. Quickly it’s time to board a shuttle transport off planet piloted by an intricately detailed animatronic alien. Poe Dameron pops on screen as wingman to the launch.
Alas, as with any good theme park attraction or Star Wars story, something goes terribly wrong. The shuttle is caught in a tractor beam and pulled into the massive hangar bay of a First Order Star Destroyer.
“I Have a Bad Feeling about This”
Each act of Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance has its jaw-dropping, wow moment.
Jack-booted soldiers force innocent guests off the transport into a cavernous space containing a phalanx of Stormtroopers and a full-scale TIE Fighter. Cast members portraying the First Order officers enhance the experience with their menacing scowls and demeanor as they usher the rabble into interrogation cells to face the villainous General Hux and Kylo Ren.
With the help of the Resistance, a daring escape ensues aboard an 8-passenger First Order Fleet Transport. The droid that seems to control this high-tech, trackless ride vehicle may be science fiction, but the autonomous car run by computer now makes the fiction a reality.
“Somebody has to Save our Skins”
The rescue mission takes many twists and turns throughout the First Order Star Destroyer. Stormtroopers fire as the transport weaves in and out of the legs of 50-foot-tall AT-AT walkers, dodges huge laser laser turbocannons blasting out into space, and even mistakenly stumbles onto the bridge surprising Kylo Ren and General Hux. This elicits the ire of Kylo Ren and causes him to stalk and hunt down the transport the rest of the way. All the while, a dramatic space battle takes place between the Resistance Fleet and First Order on window screens looking into deep space.
The characters in Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance are portrayed by actors from the current film trilogy including Rey (Daisy Ridley), Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), Finn (John Boyega), General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). They all recorded original scenes and dialogue for the attraction. Some characters appear on video, while others are re-created with elaborate, life-like, next-generation, audio-animatronics.
“First step into a larger world”
For those who have dreamed of following a hero’s journey and getting swept up into an epic struggle larger than themselves, Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance is a fantasy 40+ years in the making. The attraction is a combination of live theater, and theme park ride with massive, immersive, special effects.
It’s also a game-changing ride for the theme park industry. In 20 minutes, riders experience three different acts and four different ride systems – climaxing with a crash-landing free fall to the planet surface. Interactions with cast and characters adds to the ride’s repeatability – multiple tracks wind through the scenes allowing guests to notice new details with each ride. After the journey ends, guests wind up back in the Galaxy’s Edge theme park to swap their tales of adventure over drinks at the local cantina. As Master Yoda would say, “the Force runs strong in your family. Pass on what you have learned.”