Disney’s Rise of the Experience: Welcome to the Age of Unparalleled Theme Park Technology

It’s been a week since Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance opened, and by now you’ve seen and read all the blogs reviewing the ride, and you’ve exhausted all the “What To Expect” type articles. Words and catch phrases like “epic,” “ground-breaking,” “best ride ever,” have been used over and over as media and bloggers alike have had to over come one of the most difficult tasks we’ve faced; Trying to find the words that would accurately describe Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, while simultaneously doing it justice. Not an easy thing, especially when we were all rendered speechless immediately after riding it.

Your smartphones, tablets, and computers have been flooded with reviews, but there is a select group of people we haven’t heard from. Anyone whose been on it, loves the ride so much, we quite literally want to shout it from the roof tops. The only people who have managed to stay quiet on the topic are the same people who from the beginning, were the doubters and naysayers of the entire Galaxy’s Edge concept. Oddly enough, the silence of those critics speaks volumes and is perhaps, the loudest noise of them all.

I don’t want to discredit any articles you’ve previously read. In fact, you should absolutely believe the hype because this attraction deserves every bit of hype that’s out there. There isn’t one bit of “media fluff” or “fake news” when it comes to the reviews you’ve read. Bob Chapek (Chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences, and Products- and I’m willing to bet, Bob Iger’s replacement) has been quoted as saying:

“Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance is the most ambitious, immersive, advanced, action-packed attraction we’ve ever created. We threw out the rulebook when designing this attraction to deliver experiential storytelling on a massive, cinematic scale.”

Disney not only threw out the rulebook, they completely re-wrote it. In doing so, they’ve raised the bar so high that other theme parks seem to be lightyears away in an entirely different galaxy.

That being said, I chose to approach this article differently. Like most writers, I sat down within hours of experiencing it for the first time. But my heart just wasn’t into it. I didn’t want to write something just for the sake of being one of the first to get my review out there. I began to look at this attraction as Disney’s most ambitious and technologically advanced ride ever, not just your typical theme park ride. By doing that, this article became something much bigger than a review with some of my Disney mom tips woven throughout it.

It’s my hope that readers will truly understand why this ride is a game-changer. It’s important to know the significant role the ride’s technology plays in shaping the history of the Walt Disney Company, and I had to make myself understand how I went from wondering why this ride didn’t debut when the land opened, to not being able to picture the land without it.

If Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance were a Jedi,

it would certainly be the last one. 

To understand its relevance, let’s go back to the very beginning- where a handful of Disney Imagineers sat down at a table and tapped into the greatest resource of them all, their imaginations. As per usual, Imagineers did what they do best- storytelling. Then they had to think of ways to convey those stories through an attraction, and whether they knew it or not- throughout this process, they would be completely altering the theme park guest experience. What was once considered to be cutting edge, was no longer relevant. Everything Rise of the Resistance was going to be, everything it stood for, immediately became the gold standard.

A single brainstorming session amongst Disney’s finest ushered in the dawn of an entirely new era for Disney and theme parks as a whole.

Eventually, an original storyline was created for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance. Taking place between The Last Jedi and the soon to be released, Rise of Skywalker, the ride clocks in at just under 20 minutes and includes three distinct acts. At one point, I had been inside the attraction for 10 minutes or so and I realized that I hadn’t even been on the ride yet. I was so immersed in holograms, special effects, and walking into a TIE fighter hangar with 50 plus Stormtroopers staring me down- I was just happy to be there. I couldn’t help but wonder, I was experiencing never before seen ride technology, but was I also watching the evolution and future of the way theme park-goers would now wait in line queues?

As you move through the various acts, you eventually embark on the attraction itself. Park-goers play the part of new recruits on an assignment by Rey. Obviously, you immediately accept the assignment because it’s Rey- enough said. Your journey then takes you from Black Spire Outpost to a transport ship, to being captured by Star Destroyer and imprisoned in a cell block.

With a story in place, Imagineers had the task to actually create, build and exicute an attraction that would be big enough to house their original story, while also putting guests in what seemed like a legitimate Star Wars movie set. A week later, I find myself still wondering “how did they do that?” I replay the sequences and special effects in my head over and over- and for the life of me, I still can’t make sense of the human-like Kylo Ren hologram, or how his light saber seemed to actually poke through and be cutting open the ceiling of the room we were hiding in.

The following morning, I had the incredible opportunity to take part in a panel discussion with Disney Imagineers Scott Trowbridge, John Larena, Jon Georges, and Bill George. I had so many questions to ask them, but the Disney mom side of me was starting to show. My questions fell to the wayside and all I wanted to do was give them a big hug and say “thank you.” Sure, they broke the mold with this one. But what they also accomplished by keeping families in the forefront of their design and planning, was they created a thrill ride that families could ride together. The moment a family can actually ride together and not be separated or take turns as one parent rides and the other stays with the kids, is one of those never-forget family vacation moments. When our youngest finally reached that 40″ mark last fall, our Disney vacations became even more magical. No other theme park can say they creates rides for kids of all ages, like Disney can.

Because families are able to experience this ground break attraction together, we’re afforded the opportunity to create those core Disney family memories. In return, those memories turn into Disney nostalgia and let’s be honest- Disney knows how to work the nostalgia angle like nobody else. It’s their kryptonite. Ultimately, nostalgia is what creates this sense in all of us that Walt Disney World vacations are essentially priceless. Hence why even among rising costs of resort, park admission, food, and merchandise, we keep coming back for more. Tale as old as time, people. Need I say more?

While the Imagineers were answering questions posed to them by various members of the media, I noticed that all of them had this specific look on their face. A look that was made up of validation, relief, and sheer happiness. The most accurate way to describe it is, it was the same look a child gets on Christmas morning. Right then and there it dawned on me, this was their Christmas morning and I was the exhausted parent sipping my coffee as I watch them open their presents.

They had done it. They pulled off an attraction that would forever go down in the history of Disney Parks and the Walt Disney Company. We’re talking about a real modern marvel of theme park technology. And not only did they pull it off, but it was a critically acclaimed success. So when you question what significance this ride has to Imagineers or the Walt Disney Company, the proof is in the blue milk.

Something that should absolutely be brought to attention is that the attraction debuted to the public on what would have been Walt Disney’s 96th birthday. It wasn’t lost on those in attendance that day or the Imagineers who worked on the attraction, that Walt would have been so proud. Like all of us, he would have marveled in its original story and the technology of it all. I’d be willing to bet that just like ours, Walt’s jaw would have dropped as he entered the room with the life-size AT-AT Walkers. It was Walt who once said;

“It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.”

This group of Imagineers had not only done the impossible and had fun doing it, but I got the sense that they had the time of their lives. In every aspect, Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance seemed to be the crown jewel of their career as an Imagineer. If you think about how this company got started, the very foundation it was built on, the evolution of WED Enterprises and the current state of Walt Disney Imagineering, you’ll come to a realization- this was the Imagineers’ full-circle moment. The rest of us were just lucky to be there in that moment with them, giving them the praise they rightfully earned and deserved.

When Galaxy’s Edge opened without its signature attraction, leaving only 1 ride for those who visited the area to go on, we were all left scratching our heads a little bit. I’ll be the first to admit, I didn’t understand why they wouldn’t open with both rides. However, it makes sense now and unlike other parks where rides are rushed, opened before they should be, ultimately resulting in rides being down most of the time- Disney doesn’t take those risks. Nor should they, that’s not their style. As I left Batuu after the Rise of the Resistance dedication ceremony, I tried to picture the land without the new attraction and I couldn’t. With extreme confidence I’m happy to say that Galaxy’s Edge is now complete. Everything is as it should be in the galaxy.

Do yourself a favor and bring your family, bring your friends, or ride it by yourself. Whatever you do, don’t miss the chance to be apart of Disney history in the making. There truly hasn’t been a better time to visit the happiest place on Earth. What you’ll come to understand is at the end of the day, my words and the words of countless other reporters and bloggers before me, ultimately mean nothing. You have to experience Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance for yourself. In this particular case, seeing is believing- and you won’t believe your eyes.

Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance has forever solidified its spot in Galaxy’s Edge, while also claiming a title that seems like it was 64 years in the making: Supreme Leader of Disney Parks and Attractions. 

Make 2020 the year you ignite the spark and join the Resistance. 

 

Kristi is the Media and PR Director for The Kingdom Insider. She's a lifelong Disney fan and grew up spending her family vacations at the Happiest Place on Earth. She resides in Florida with her husband and two boys, ages 4 and 6.