Why Galaxy's Edge is Not What you Think It Is

Post date: Jun 13, 2019 3:55:49 PM

Today's blog is entitled "Why Galaxy's Edge is Not What you Think it Is" but I debated naming it "I Just Bowed to A Storm Trooper." Read on to find out how complete dedication to immersion can guide audience behaviors.

I visited Galaxy's Edge, the new Star Wars land at Disneyland, for the first time today. I thought I knew what I was getting into. I imagined Cars Land from California Adventure only bigger and Star Warsier. Cars Land is stunning. It is well-realized, immersive and fun.

Galaxy's Edge exist on an entirely different level. So many small things there make it different from any Disney experience I've ever had. The immersion is unbelievable. I'll start with my evidence and then explain why I think it is the way it is and what we can learn as educator's from it.

As I was wandering through the vast new land I came upon two Storm Troopers and a 1st Order Lieutenant (characters are EVERYWHERE in this new land). I've had some fairly interesting encounters with Storm Troopers at Disneyland in the past so I was excited to see them. In my excitement I forgot to remember I was no longer in Disneyland. I was in Batuu - a trade outpost on the far edge of the galaxy. So, as I stood there gawking like a child they walked up to me and stopped. I smiled. They didn't. The Lieutenant told me to move aside and not block their path. I quickly apologized and said "No, I'm with you!" and pointed to my Storm Trooper shirt. At which point he replied "If you were with the First Order I wouldn't have to ask you twice." Well, great point. So, I did what any law-abiding citizen would do, I bowed my head and got the heck out of the way. I, a 38 year-old man, bowed down to a dude in a costume. Immediately afterwards I thought to myself - why the heck did I just do that? Am I really that much of a dork? (Yes) Why haven't I cared about interactions with a character before?

Simple, because Galaxy's Edge is not what I thought it was. It isn't just a new land turned up to 11. It is a live play where the guests are the actors. At that moment I wasn't in Disneyland. I was in another world. The land is the attraction. If my classroom can stop feeling like school then I can get my kids to do anything (maybe even bow!)

So, what was it that made Galaxy's Edge different?

1. The attention to detail and focus on immersion is unmatched.

From perfectly aged looking ships that were build in the last year to charred blaster holes on the hull of the Millennium Falcon - everything in Galaxy's Edge is extremely detailed.

Smuggler's Run, the only ride currently in Galaxy's Edge is a master class in detail and immersion. The story is that you've applied to run deliveriess for a smuggler in Batuu.

<<MINOR ATTRACTION SPOILERS FOR THE REMAINDER OF THIS PARAGRAPH>>

The line takes you through the docking bay on the way to your craft. Just before you get to board you walk down a narrow, carpeted corridor where the floor clearly has some give. While in this corridor you hear the constant drone of a jet engine. Without a doubt you are passing through the boarding tunnel like you'd find at any modern airport. Nowhere is that stated but the attention to the tiny details (the floor having some give really puts it over the top!) makes it clear exactly where you are and what you are about to do. You're getting on an aircraft and you're going to fly. There are plenty of moments like this throughout the line and a ton while on the ride itself but I'll leave you to experience those on your own!

<<<END SPOILERS>>>

The attention to detail is just as present in the shops. Whether it is in the marketplace where small stalls line either side or the the signature shops like the Droid Depot where an assembly line of droid parts slowly floats by you, you are going to find so many little things to enjoy. Every store is unique and yet all maintain that distinct Batuu feel. That really is the story of the whole land. Everything has it's own feel and yet feels like a perfect fit in the land. There is nothing that pulls you out of the experience which is important because...

2. It challenges the guests.

It is really, really hard to find anything in Galaxy's Edge. There's no signs anywhere and everything is written in squiggly space language. The only hint of English is the digital display showing the time on Smuggler's Run and the shops themselves. All of the signage of the land is indecipherable without using the translator app. The most important locations from Oga's Cantina to the Droid Depot look like every other building with no signs to tell you otherwise. It is, quite frankly, completely unDisney. One of Mickey's Ten Commandments it to communicate with visual literacy. This place barely communicates at all! For the first hour or so in the land I hated it. I even bet my mom that within a year there will be very simple signs with English words just like the rest of the park.

You are challenged to figure it out for yourself but you are given all the tools you need. There is a map in the app that shows the locations. There are cast members everywhere for you to interact with and ask questions of. As the time passed I became more comfortable doing so. I learned that the cast speaks in their own Batuu phrases such as "Bright suns!' as hello. I also found the opportunity to be the one "in the know" when I'd hear other guests commenting. I learned more about the app and how to hack into panels to earn points. And I did nearly all of it on my own or by asking for help. I think they wanted to force the guests to interact with the cast to recognize that the thing that really makes Galaxy's Edge different from the rest of Disneyland is that...

3. It is collaborative and communal.

Never before have I felt more connected to my fellow guests and the park cast than I did today in Galaxy's Edge. The entire land has and ongoing game layer that happens through the Disney Play app. It is a battle for control of Batuu among the Resistance, the 1st Order and the Smugglers. Many of the things you do throughout the land contribute to your team's score. None of this requires you to work with anyone else but it does build a sense of working together for something bigger. Though I admittedly lean toward the 1st Order (they get things done!) I found myself playing a rebel more and more through the day. I kept trying to find other rebels using their secret greeting of "Ignite the spark!" but with no luck. I did have a random rebel encounter that I'll talk more about in a later blog but no real connections. Still, just the fact that I was looking made for a different experience than any before.

The only attraction (ride) currently in the land is Smuggler's Run. The ship you fly has six seats. You have two pilots, two gunners and two engineers. When you reach the entry point to the attraction you enter sort of a lobby area. You leave the orderly line and find yourself in an open space to mingle. You are encouraged to hang out and take pictures. Each time I rode I ended up chatting with my new crew. While part of that just had to come from the excitement of being in the new land but I think most of it was by design. The ride intro video talks about how you'll need to work as a team to succeed in delivering much needed supplies for the rebellion. In each case we discussed our roles on the crew first but proceeded to talk about our hometowns and such things. During the ride we cheered each other on, apologized when we made a mistake and regularly called out directions to guide our crew. Every time the ride ended we walked off talking together. That just doesn't regularly happen to me. I'm friendly with people but taking extra time to say goodbye just doesn't happen with strangers. They weren't strangers though. We'd worked together and hung out together, all in the span of about 10 minutes.

One of my flight crews.

Once you realize this is what the entire land is about, being part of something, it really takes on a whole new life. It's no longer this confusing, vast expanse of a land with not much to do. It's a confusing, vast expanse of a land that you get to live in and explore until you find exactly what you want to do.

So, what does all this mean for our classrooms?

Most of us don't have the budget or creative expertise of Disney Imagineers so doing the whole detail thing is tough. We may not reach their level but we can do a ton to add those little touches to our classroom lands and our presentations (please, no more bullet points!). I'm planning to do a bunch more tutorial video this summer on just how we can do that.

Also, I'm very interested in further exploring the confusing and complex idea for my room. In the last few years I've made things as simple as possible. I've just grown tired of answering the same questions over and over so I've eliminated them when possible. That, until recently, was the Disney way. I imagine the cast of Galaxy's Edge gets asked hundreds of times a day where the Droid Depot is because goodness knows you can't find it on your own. That's okay. That's part of the journey. I need to remember to build experiences where my students NEED to ask questions to proceed. I shouldn't design everything around removing all those questions before they come up.

Lastly, I really want to push the communal feeling in my classroom this upcoming year. I've always done it with my AVID kids simply because we have the time and it pays off huge. I can get those kids to do anything. With social studies I don't spend nearly enough time building that community. Yes, my room is welcoming, safe and fun but that's not enough. I need to design specific experiences where kids must collaborate and are excited to do so. I've cut back on collaboration of late because it drives me nuts when one kid won't play along. When that one student would rather check their Instagram than even acknowledge their group members exist. Getting rid of them is not the right answer. Designing them to ensure everyone is needed and valued is.

Time to get educationeering!