A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away… (technically 1977 in Atlanta) I saw the movie Star Wars for the first time. As a youngster who had never experienced science-fiction, the film blew me away. It was a world beyond my imagination and I was hooked.
Then Disney decided to do something bold and create a Star Wars universe. Not recreate something that had already been established on film on television, but create something new, something different yet familiar. Somehow they managed to build a land that’s unknown and still known.
Welcome to Batuu.
Black Spire Outpost
In the world of Star Wars, Batuu is located in the outer rim. In reality it’s at the back of Disney’s Hollywood Studios, just beyond the Muppet theater and fake New York streets. We entered the park and headed to the left, past Star Tours. The path wound a bit downhill then beneath a bridge covered with symmetric grey blocks. Walking under the bridge, the aesthetic turned into something gritty, with battle scars and roughly constructed walls. We emerged to find ourselves planted on Battu’s Black Spire Outpost.
This last stop to the unknown regions of space is rugged. It’s gritty. Some might find it ugly. Star Wars geeks will find it beautiful. The buildings have a recognizable quality, with curved walls and roofs we’ve seen before, but can’t recall exactly where. It’s like visiting Germany, France and Belgium, seeing cities which have their own distinction yet leave a strand of familiarity between them that is quintessentially European.
The land has seen battles, as evidenced by carbon marks on the walls and blaster holes on nearly every building and ship. Wandering among the random tourists like us were stormtroopers and occasional Jedi. Disney’s cast members (their fancy word for “staff”) dove into their roles, using phrases specific to the planet and playing local card games with children at the marketplace. The details are the best part. It’s easy to rush from Batuu to catch a Lightening Lane at Tower of Terror without batting an eye. But the real enjoyment comes from stopping for a moment, listening to the sounds of droids, noticing footprints of a random creature beneath and enjoying a local beverage.
The movie scene which was imbedded in my memory from a very young age was at the Tatooine bar. I don’t believe I’m alone when I contend that I’d be perfectly happy to sit at that bar all day listening to those musicians, nursing whatever cocktail the bartender would serve, just soaking up the atmosphere. That’s exactly why Oga’s Cantina was my first choice dining reservation for our trip.
Walking in the door was like stepping into a movie set. Every detail was perfect, from the slugs floating in their green slime behind the bar to the multitude of wires dangling from the ceiling. Obviously, building codes aren’t a priority in a place beset by the First Order.
The menu is primarily drinks – after all, this is a bar – but two food items can be ordered. One is essentially a snack mix and the other a charcuterie board. We opted for the Batuu bits which contained an unusual combination of everyday snack mix pieces with unusual dried fruits and vegetables. The menu currently has nine cocktails with alcohol and seven without. There are two provisions, which is a slime-based concoction (think jello) mixed with unusual bursts of flavor (think boba). The menu also lists beer, cider and wine, but where’s the fun in that?
On a whim I ordered the non-alcoholic Carbon Freeze which we could all share. I’d like to think I was led by The Force, and was rewarded for my efforts. For those preferring the alcoholic-version, order the Bespin Fizz which floats on a cloud of dry ice. We didn’t have time to try the Tawntaun drinks which I heard have a tingling foam.
After leaving the cantina, we tried both blue and green milk at the stand around the corner. Blue is my personal favorite, but I can understand the appeal of green milk to certain humans. For those who appreciate Coca-Cola, purchase their special round bottles which can only be found on this end of the galaxy. Obviously Coke (like Disney) is everywhere.
In the Footsteps of Han
When I was a kid, my neighbor had the Millennium Falcon toy. I was jealous. We could place the mini Chewbacca and mini Han Solo in the cockpit and make it dive and soar around the yard, avoiding Death Stars and TIE fighters, through the magic of our imagination. It was the coolest toy ever.
Standing in front of the life-sized replica made that toy look like, well, a toy. It’s a feeling beyond words. The queue for Smuggler’s Run, a 3D ride in the Falcon, is likely going to be long. For a first visit it’s worth every moment. The queue tells its own story and leads visitors through a junkyard. Pass the time by playing one of many games on the Play Disney app. The interactive games pull you into the universe by acting on behalf of the rebels or the First Order, noticing details about the Falcon, translating Batuuese or scanning codes on crates.
Standing in line is about the only way to pilot the Falcon. Flight crews consist of six people: two pilots, two gunners and two engineers. For groups that are four or five people, generally the other slots are filled from the single-rider line. That’s a great way to ride quickly, as there aren’t many people waiting and there’s almost always a need for additional riders. It’s best for those who simply want to hitch a ride regardless of the job, as pilots are generally pulled from those who wait in the queue.
Of course I had to fly the Falcon. And crash the Falcon. It’s really not easy without a Wookiee copilot. No matter how many times we rode (5 – thanks single rider line), it never got old walking into the Millennium Falcon. There are many ways to reach the cockpit, with the best being a long hallway leading to the sliding door. It truly felt like we were boarding the ship, and worth all the different attempts to experience one that felt the most real.
A Rise of the Resistance
Speaking of reality, there is no ride more based in reality than Rise of the Resistance. For an amusement park ride that is supposed to be fake, Rise of the Resistance was about the most realistic-feeling experience possible. Part of the beauty lies in not knowing what to expect. Yet even knowing some of the story (being evacuated to a cruiser by the rebellion) didn’t spoil the awesomeness of being there.
There are a few tricks to avoid standing in the incredibly long (but worthwhile) lines for Rise: come early or stay late. We arrived at Disney Hollywood Studios at 7:45 with the intention of going directly to Rise of the Resistance. No passing Go or collecting $200. The line was reportedly 60 minutes long, yet we were completely finished with the experience in half that time. It was so incredible that we wanted to jump back in line immediately, but decided others should have the benefit. The next time we visited the park, we tried to arrive at the same early hour but were delayed by transportation. That extra 15 minutes meant an extra 45 minutes in line. Still worth it.
That same evening we got in line at 8:45 pm and were done by 9:30 pm, but the best part of the experience was the darkness. Not only was it a unique feel to be evacuated from the rebel base at night, but when we exited we were able to explore the Black Spire Outpost. Most of the crowds had left but a group gathered around Oga’s, no different from any bar in any galaxy. We took a last wistful look at the Falcon without the massive crowds, we let our eyes linger on the rocky horizon and we listened to the sounds of ships blasting across the skies overhead.
It may be more expensive than Florida, and grimier than Paris, but a trip to Batuu is about the most unique experience to be found on this corner of the galaxy.