How Disney theme parks made Galaxy's Edge part of the Star Wars storyline
Batuu used to be a quiet nowhere. Now it's on the front line of conflict.
The planet's way-station for interplanetary travelers, Black Spire Outpost, is like an old Route 66 town in our world, bypassed by modern lightspeed transit routes. It literally sits on the Galaxy's Edge, which gives this 14-acre Disneyland and Walt Disney World experience its name.
If that sounds like the title of a Star Wars movie — that's intentional. Your visit is meant to feel like part of the galactic timeline, set somewhere after the events of The Last Jedi and shortly before this December's Episode IX.
That meant creating a story and a history around Black Spire Outpost, with room to adapt to future Star Wars storytelling.
"We want to give the impression that this planet has always been around, and that we're coming into it as travelers for the first time onto Batuu," says Margaret Kerrison, managing story editor with Walt Disney Imagineering. "There are layers and layers of history and all of these other characters, familiar and new, who have come and gone to this planet."
An Occupied City
This isn't a sleepy backwater anymore: The First Order recently sent a garrison here seeking … something.
We don't know what they're trying to find, but we know a little about the Stormtroopers who are doing the hunting:
"The 709th, the Red Fury," says Scott Trowbridge, the Imagineering creative executive in charge of Galaxy's Edge. "There are some stories to be told about those folks, and why they're here, what they came looking for — or who they came looking for."
This elite squad from The First Order has arrived on a new ship — the TIE Echelon, which has a cockpit similar to Kylo Ren's batwinged shuttle but the curved foils of Darth Vader's TIE Advanced x1.
A lifesized version of the TIE Echelon is parked in the First Order-controlled sector of Black Spire Outpost, near one of the entrances to the land. Don't try to touch it. The Red Fury doesn't like strangers approaching their ship.
Just keep your head down and head to the Blue Milk stand on the other side of the courtyard.
The Alien Landscape
Early concept designs from Lucasfilm showed Batuu with a jagged geography (which also helps block out views of nearby Earth structures), and the writers reacted to the illustrations by asking questions that eventually became canon.
"Could they have been these tall, towering trees from hundreds of thousands of years ago, and could they have eroded and petrified over time into rock?" says Kerrison. "And what if one of these spires was really special? It's in the middle of the outpost, and that's how Black Spire Outpost got its name, because it was blacker than all the rest."
You can see it in the center of this concept image:
Most of these skyscraper spires look like granite threaded with rusting iron strata, but one spike in the center of town is glistening black like onyx, and its haunting presence is what made beings both ancient and modern choose to gather here.
"Everyone has different theories of what it is, so there isn't one answer because it happened so long ago," says Kerrison. "We were inspired by a lot of the mysteries that we have on Earth that we don't have answers to."
Although it's a natural formation, the Black Spire holds a similar place in the minds of Batuu travelers as Stonehenge. "Everyone has a story to tell about what the Black Spire is," Kerrison said. Even parents have a bedtime story about its origins. "There is no one answer, but there is something unusual about it and there's talk and whispers among the locals."
References in Other Star Wars Tales
Lucasfilm story group member Pablo Hidalgo says fans should expect to see some of those stories turn up in Star Wars publishing in the near future, but it's already referenced in a few books and one movie available now.
In Solo: A Star Wars Story, the droid L3-37 tells Lando, "You couldn't get from here to Black Spire without me," and Lou Anders' middle-grade novel Pirate's Price features Hondo Ohnaka remembering a long-ago Han and Chewie adventure while setting up his new Millennium Falcon smuggling operation on Batuu.
In Timothy Zahn's Thrawn: Alliances novel from last year, we learned that during the Clone Wars, Padme Amidala went missing on Batuu and Anakin Skywalker came to Black Spire searching for her. Years later, Darth Vader would venture back to Batuu with Grand Admiral Thrawn on a mission from the Emperor.
"As people come to visit the Cantina on Black Spire Outpost, this is the place where Vader once walked, and Thrawn, and Padme," says Matt Martin, Lucasfilm creative executive. "We even know what Padme ordered at the cantina."
Future books about Black Spire Outpost include Ethan Sacks' Galaxy's Edge comics for Marvel, the Black Spire novel by Phasma author Delilah S. Dawson, and Zoraida Cordova's YA book A Crash of Fate.
Employees as Characters
Each park worker, or "cast member" in Disney parlance, will also be playing a character as they go about their jobs. They may be serving up sandwiches at the Ronto Roaster, guiding you onto rides, or cleaning up the grounds, but they're also being trained in improvisation and role-play.
"We're encouraging them to create their own identities and personas," said Kerrison. "They are local Batuuans … but remember, some of these cast members might know nothing about Star Wars. We are encouraging them to know about their daily lives. Where you work, you know what you're selling, and who you're working for."
They're also being encouraged to talk about politics, although … not Earth politics.
Every worker will "have an opinion of what's recently taken place here, which is the First Order arriving a couple weeks ago," Kerrison adds. "There's a lot of gossiping, there's a lot of whispers and rumors about what's going on. There might be cast members who are Resistance sympathizers helping them out. There might be some cast members who are First Order loyalists who are like, 'Finally! Order! My gosh, someone's going to do something about this place, right?'"
While training those who aren't savvy about Star Wars lore, they also have to restrict the workers who are superfans. "We do have to set guard rails and parameters," Kerrison says. "Some are so incredibly excited that they're making up things that make us go, 'Okay, okay, wait, wait, wait! You can't be Han's second cousin, okay?"
Exploring the Village
Just months from opening (at Disneyland this summer, and Walt Disney World in the fall), Galaxy's Edge is still a work in progress. Most of the exterior buildings and spires have been constructed in Anaheim, but the interiors and ride mechanics are still being finished. The streets were slicks of mud when EW visited, thanks to a deluge of recent Southern California rains.
During our visit, Masons were pounding in stones for walkways, plumbers were busy installing the "Refreshers" (which is the Star Wars word for bathrooms), and landscapers were prepping to move in trees and plant life. There are countless control panels and other objects that can be interacted with via the Disney Play app. (More about that in this story: How your phone will unlock the story inside Galaxy's Edge.)
The marketplace will feature a water fountain that appears to be connected to a glass cistern. Every now and then when a guest stops to take a drink, the eyestalk of a dianoga creature — that water-dwelling thing that menaced Luke, Leia, Han, and Chewie in the Death Star trash compactor — will dart up into the cistern, then vanish back into the pipes amid the sound of it squirming through the plumbing.
"The stories are literally written on the walls around you and in the ground and in the spaces," says Robin Reardon, an executive producer with Imagineering.
Venture beyond Black Spire's gates and you'll find a place in the woods where the good guys have set up a hidden headquarters.
The Resistance Sector
Out here, you'll find a Blue Squadron X-wing, parked on a low platform alongside an A-wing fighter. This area is meant to be part of Batuu's tranquil Surabat river valley, where early planetary beings set up their own community.
The ruins of living spaces built into the rock face call to mind centuries-old Earth structures, like the Pueblo cliffside dwellings carved into the sandstone of Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado. On Batuu, a group of new residents have moved into these otherworldly caves and structures.
These ruins are where the Rise of the Resistance ride begins, and nearby is a gigantic, scuttled starship — ruins of a more recent sort — where that experience ends. (Click here for EW's deeper exploration of Rise of the Resistance.)
Keep in mind, the Resistance doesn't think of this home base as permanent. They are in a weakened state, and if The First Order strikes, they'll have to take off in a hurry.
They're here on Batuu out of necessity, but you'll have to visit the park (and maybe see Episode IX) to understand exactly why this place is important to both sides.