Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, which opened last year at both Disneyland and Disney World in Anaheim and Florida, respectively, was the largest themed land expansion in Disney park history, coming in at a whopping 14 acres. A collaboration between Disney Imagineering and Lucasfilm Ltd., the land recreated the remote planet of Batuu, with details including shops, interactive experiences and dining. But it only had one main attraction when it opened back in May; Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run, an interactive motion experience where guests actually climb into the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon, was met with much fanfare. But it was always a prelude to Rise of the Resistance, which has been touted as one of the most interactive experiences in any theme park, ever. Rise finally opened last week, and for Star Wars fans it truly proves irresistible.
“Immersive” is a word that Disney PR uses a lot to describe the attraction, and it’s definitely accurate. What sets Disney apart from all other parks is the way their rides tell a story or follow a theme. No roller coaster or water ride goes unbranded. Rise of the Resistance has its own tale to tell. The 15-minute experience puts guests into the battle between First Order and the Resistance, by blurring digital and reality. There are screens that project our favorite actors throughout the ride, reprising their roles from the films. At the same time, the animatronics Disneyland is known for are there too, seamlessly merging media with the physical world. In this way, Rise of the Resistance is a descendant of the Ratatouille ride at Disneyland Paris and the Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for the Sunken Treasure ride at Disneyland Shanghai. For those unfamiliar with those attractions, it’s also like a more animatronic-heavy, state-of-the-art version of the Transformers ride at Universal Studios.
There are multiple “scenes” inside of the Resistance journey — and yes, a long wait in line is part of it. But as has been the trend with most big rides in recent years, a lot of that waiting is incorporated into the overall story. So what exactly is the story? (Spoilers ahead!)
After a devastating battle, the Resistance has fled with General Leia Organa to an undisclosed location. As the First Order and Supreme Leader Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) hunt the Resistance and their supporters, they set up a temporary outpost in the forested areas along the outskirts of Black Spire Outpost on the planet Batuu, where they are looking for new recruits to join their cause. That’s where you come in.
With Star Wars: Datapad, a land-wide interactive experience available through the Play Disney Parks mobile app, guests can choose to support either the First Order or the Resistance while moving through the attraction beginning at the start of the line. If you choose to help the Resistance, you’ll receive a distress signal from Finn (John Boyega) undercover on a Star Destroyer, and be able to help him and the Resistance in various ways while in line. If you are a First Order loyalist, you’re tasked with surveilling and reporting back on the status of Resistance supplies. If you don’t pick a side, you’ll get assigned to one randomly later on inside the attraction.
The first part of the queue for Rise of the Resistance is your standard Disneyland-style, line-meets-narrative walkthrough. You’re following a pathway that leads deeper into the forest toward towering cliffs and the remains of an ancient civilization. Guests pass through stone walls, pillars and tight corridors as they get further into the base, with military communications chatter and military plans seen and heard along the way. This leads to a briefing room where rolling droid BB-8 pulls up a hologram transmission from Rey (Daisy Ridley) to welcome the new Resistance recruits. She reveals a plan to reunite with General Leia at an off-planet location that must be kept secret from the First Order.
From the briefing room, guests are taken through an airfield, where they see BB-8 getting ready in Poe Dameron’s (Oscar Isaac) signature X-wing starfighter Black One. Then it’s onto a transport ship that’s piloted by animatronic versions of Nien Nunb and Lieutenant Bek, a new Mon Calamari Resistance officer. It’s also escorted by Dameron, who appears via screen, and other X-wings, but he is forced to leave and go for help when the transport and fighters are attacked by a First Order Star Destroyer. Guests exit the ship to find a hangar bay filled with 50 stormtroopers and a handful of First Order officers. The stormtroopers are not projections, but rather stationary statues. The officers are cast members. The giant hangar “window” (which is a projection screen) shows outer space as Star Destroyers fly by. This scene is one of the most breathtaking of the entire ride and getting the chance to take a photo in front of the room full of stormtroopers is a great gift for any Star Wars fan.
And don’t be put off when the First Order officers on the Star Destroyer aren’t displaying the usual chipper vibes of most Disneyland cast members. Having to “get in line” for them is all part of the fun. As they separate guests into smaller groups to enter an interrogation cell, they even yell at individuals to line up straight.
Inside the interrogation cell you’ll see stormtroopers standing atop a balcony above. It’s honestly hard to tell at first if these stormtroopers are real or not. Then, Kylo Ren and General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) appear, and suddenly, Finn reveals himself to be disguised as a stormtrooper, instructing guests to board a hijacked First Order Fleet Transport — reprogrammed and piloted by an R5 series astromech droid — to travel to an escape pod.
Technically, this is where the ride actually starts. It’s the first time guests get to sit down (inside an eight-seat vehicle). Nevertheless, it doesn’t really feel like waiting up to this point — a purposeful strategy that Disney has really pulled off with Rise of the Resistance. The trackless cars have the moving R5 droids at the front and the remainder of the ride features more digital media mixed with physical action, grand sets and animatronics. Guests come face to face with a docked TIE fighter, AT-AT walkers and turbolaser cannons, as well as stormtroopers firing blaster bolts and Kylo Ren with his signature red lightsaber. One particularly thrilling moment involves a motion-based Star Tours-type of experience unexpectedly followed by a free fall drop.
For 64 years, Disneyland has been on the cutting edge of the theme park industry, setting a new standard modern-day guests have come to expect in exchange for increasing ticket prices. Rise of the Resistance definitely delivers on its ambitions, offering some of the most advanced, state of the art technology that theme park fans or any thrill seekers could want, especially one belonging to a brand as beloved as Star Wars. The force has been with us for 43 years now and, thanks to Disney’s imagineers and Lucasfilm’s effects experts, it looks like it will continue to be for generations to come.
Rise of the Resistance at Disneyland, 1313 Disneyland Drive, Anaheim; open daily. Tickets and information at Disneyland.com.