One of the first movies I remember watching is The Empire Strikes Back. It was playing on the TV at daycare and although I was definitely interested enough in it to remember it being on the screen ~35 years after the fact, I also seem to remember not really paying attention to it. The Battle of Hoth is what sticks out in my mind, so I’m guessing the big ol’ AT-AT walkers were what drew my attention away from whatever toy I was playing with long enough to make a lifelong memory, but outside of that, I don’t remember much from that early viewing.
The truth is, although I remember watching the Ewok made-for-tv movies as a kid, and certainly seeing Return of the Jedi, I don’t really remember having much interest in the series until high school. It was there that I first became aware of how much people were absolutely in love with this film series. And it was there that I first remember actually sitting down and watching the original trilogy as a single saga and becoming fully immersed in all that is the Star Wars fandom.
Not that I’ve ever been a super-fan or anything. I may have been to the opening night showing of Phantom Menace (and the other two prequel trilogy films as well), but I didn’t show up in costume. I didn’t own a lightsaber until after I had children. And although I was in love with characters like Han Solo, Star Wars had become, for me, something that extolled the pinnacle of sci-fi action in film, but not something I felt I needed to exactly devote my life to.
All the same, one of my favorite things as a father has been introducing my kids to the film series. Watching as they become enamored with all of the majesty of the Jedi and the depths to which the Sith can fall. Having lightsaber battles with them on our front lawn as my phone plays Duel of the Fates. When we visited Disneyland over half a decade ago, we went during Halloween, dressed as Star Wars characters, and I, being dressed as Han Solo, had an amazing moment with Chewbacca as he wondered why Han now had a beard.
To be completely honest, though, none of the new Star Wars movies have quite held the same magic for me as the original trilogy did, even back when I wasn’t exactly paying attention to them at daycare. It’s probable that this is because of the lens of childhood playing a bigger role in the whole thing, but I think it actually has something more to do with the scope of world building that occurs in the first movies. Where the Millennium Falcon can land in a seemingly innocuous asteroid only to find out they’re hanging out on the head of some giant space worm. Or the dianoga hiding just under the water in the trash compactor. In fact, there are so many moments in those first movies where the background suddenly becomes a living character that you feel the actors are completely immersed in this far away galaxy, as opposed to pretending they aren’t standing in front of a green screen.
Which is why I’m so excited for the moment I get to take my kids to Star Wars Land at Disney World some day. Galaxy’s Edge is this ridiculously immersive experiment in theme park design where although you’re not being taken to a location available in any of the films, you literally feel as though you’ve stepped into a Star Wars movie. My wife and I had the opportunity to visit sans-kids (quick note to make me feel less guilty: this was an anniversary trip for the two of us, and it was during that brief period of time during the summer where it really felt like we had this whole pandemic thing in the rearview mirror) and it felt like every corner of this place had something new to find, even if it was just some nod to some little moment in a movie that only the nerdiest of the nerds would understand, including a dianoga hiding out in the water tank for a water fountain where he only appears as you’re taking a sip.
Standing underneath the Millennium Falcon is such an incredible moment, but I think turning the corner to see a full-sized TIE fighter (I guess, according to the Internet, it’s actually a TIE/ES Assault Shuttle), was the moment in which I first felt as though I had arrived somewhere new. It was almost like experiencing the original movies again for the first time, where although maybe my full attention wasn’t on the story being told, I kept being completely stopped in my tracks to experience the things around me.
And then there was the showstopping ride, Rise of the Resistance. If you’re like me, you’d probably expect the chance to drive the Millennium Falcon in the other ride in this park, Smuggler’s Run, to be the end-all experience for a fan of the movies, however, considering that was little more than another Star Tours, but with more button pressing, it wasn’t as exciting as I had hoped. But Rise of the Resistance makes you literally feel like you’re in the movies, being captured by Space Nazis and having to escape through a series of chaotic action which includes lightsabers cutting through ceilings, watching blaster fire overhead, and coming face to face with a full-sized AT-AT (which, as you might remember from a few paragraphs ago, is one of my earliest memories of anything). This ride is not only the next step in themed entertainment from the fact that there are three different rides stacked into one ride experience, but also because of the emotion of it all. You’re not just standing in line after the pre-show waiting to be loaded into the ride vehicles, no, you’re lined up by the First Order, waiting to be loaded into a prison transport, standing next to a wall covered in flashing buttons that simply beg to be pressed whenever your captors turn their backs.
They made a movie that you can ride. And all I wanted to do when I got off it was to ride it again because it all happened so fast (although it’s an 18 minute ride) that I simply knew I had missed at least half of what was going on. You weren’t an actor in front of a green screen, you were a traveler to Batuu in a scene in which anything around you could suddenly jump to life and take you on to the next part of the adventure.
And that’s pretty awesome.
I’m writing this while watching a Star Wars cartoon, thinking about how amazing that experience of a few months ago was. It has held on to me for almost half a year already, and all I want to do is to find the time (and money) to take my kids down there to experience it with me, just like the first time I put on Episode 4 for them. And I think that’s a pretty incredible thing to come out of any ride.
And while I know the above sounds like it might be nothing more than a sponsored post trying to get you to give Disney more of your money than you already are for things like Disney+ or the latest Marvel movie, or whatever else you’re giving them your money for, the truth is, I just really felt the need to express how impressed I was at the storytelling played out in this new area of a 50 year old resort.
That being said, if Disney wanted to throw a few park tickets my way or something, I wouldn’t be opposed. Heck, I’d dedicate a lot more time on here to them just for some more time in their parks. Maybe I could write a follow-up sharing how once I finally took my kids to this park, they just shrugged at me afterwards and asked if they could go swim in the pool now.