Photo of Galaxy's Edge architecture | Courtesy Disney Park
A Long Time Ago
Of course, the Imagineers first had to determine which part of that sprawling universe to re-create. They considered familiar film settings such as Hoth, Endor, and Tatooine, but Beatty and the others saw risks in trying to reproduce, say, Luke Skywalker’s home planet. As Beatty explains: “You’ve seen it before, you’ve lived it before. It would never be as good as standing in line for the first time in 1977 to see the original film.”
As they mulled options, the Imagineers also met with J.J. Abrams, the phenom director-writer-producer behind Lost and Westworld. At the time, he was shooting Episode VII: The Force Awakens, and he’d soon be tapped to direct Episode IX. By the time the Imagineers returned to their Glendale campus, they’d come to a critical realization: Rather than re-create a world from earlier films, Beatty says, “maybe it’s better to lean forward into the future of the franchise, but leave a door open to the past.” (As someone who’s not ashamed to admit that images of R2-D2, C-3PO, Luke Skywalker, and Princess Leia adorned his bedding for the better part of a decade, I’m happy that door won’t be sealed entirely.)
The Imagineers decided to create Black Spire Outpost on planet Batuu. Named for the petrified trees that dot the land, the location has appeared in Star Wars novels but not films—at least not yet: Some fan websites predict that the outpost will make its big-screen debut in Episode IX, which is due to hit theaters in December.
Black Spire Outpost wouldn’t seem an obvious choice. Once a thriving refueling stop at the galaxy’s outer reaches, it has fallen in prominence—“kind of an old Route 66 story,” says Scott Trowbridge, lead Imagineer on the project. The village is now a haven for smugglers, bounty hunters, and other ne’er-do-wells. It’s dangerous and mysterious, yet it also presented Imagineers with a kind of narrative blank slate: Because fans don’t associate Batuu with Luke or other marquee characters, Trowbridge says, the location gives visitors a better chance to “live their Star Wars story.”
Bringing Batuu to life
With that key decision behind them, the team began considering how to bring the new land to life—what Imagineers call “physical storytelling,” or “narrative place-making.” What should Batuu look like, feel like, and sound like? Designers would draw on Star Wars films’ distinctive visual vocabulary—the familiar color palette of the First Order, for example, and the triangle shapes of Star Destroyers. But they also wanted to ground the land in actual places on Earth, which Lucasfilm execs say has been critical to achieving Star Wars’ timeless feel.
Batuu has been around for millennia, according to the saga, so Beatty and other Imagineers traveled to Istanbul, Turkey, and Marrakech, Morocco, to find visual cues that could help imbue the land with a sense of ragged history. By their own admission, the traveling band of Imagineers drove local tour guides crazy. The guides wanted to show off mosques and ancient temples, but as Beatty recalls, “They’ll turn around and we’re taking pictures of doorknobs and rusty wires up on a building that looks like a rat’s nest.” He points to a photo the team took of an electrical box plastered onto a leaching, weather-stained wall—an image that has helped guide the look of the buildings. The black spires, meanwhile, were inspired by rock formations in Arizona’s Petrified Forest National Park.
Back at the Glendale campus, as initial plans were coming together, the team donned virtual reality goggles to experience the feeling of walking through the new land. By using such virtual reality technology, the Imagineers could make adjustments to maximize the impact of key viewpoints—what Beatty calls “reveals.”
An example is the tunnel that will usher parkgoers from Frontierland into Galaxy’s Edge—one of the land’s three entrances (only two will lead into Florida’s version). “As you come through, there’s a moment where we reveal a little bit of the architecture,” Beatty says. Visitors will see spires in the distance, but trees will obscure part of the view. That, he says, is by design—to provoke visitors’ curiosity and sense of adventure. If you then turn left as you come out of the tunnel, he adds, “You see spaceships and domes and canopies billowing in the wind. Just like in a film, we’ve framed that establishing shot.”
The goal at every turn, Imagineers say, has been to create Disney’s most ambitious, immersive, and interactive land ever. Cast members—some Batuu citizens, some Resistance sympathizers hiding out here—will wear distinctive ensembles. New music written by John Williams, the Academy Award–winning composer behind the original Star Wars theme, will play at key moments. The Disney Play Parks mobile app will allow for interactive experiences. And visitors will find food, drinks, and merchandise designed exclusively for the new land.