What We Learned Touring STAR WARS: Galactic Starcruiser - Nerdist
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What We Learned Touring STAR WARS: Galactic Starcruiser

Above me, a tall young man in a Wookiee hoodie wearing a sash identifying him as Chewbacca snuck along a walkway. He tried to avoid the First Order’s notice. I noticed Sammie, the ship’s mechanic, looking incredibly nervous in the corner of the atrium and approached him. After feeling out my opinion of the First Order (firmly against, thank you), he asked me to help him with a mission: hide Chewbacca from the First Order lieutenant and stormtroopers patrolling the atrium. I told him I would protect the Rebel Alliance and Resistance hero with my life. And I think I startled him a little with my fervor.

Sammie gathered fellow like-minded individuals. He asked one of us to distract the First Order with a patriotic salute. I stepped up and soon found myself under the sneer of Lt. Croy. Then I promptly pretended to support the First Order. I kept Croy and the stormtroopers occupied while a group of fellow passengers helped Chewie get to a secure space—an act that would later come back to haunt me. I didn’t intend to play both sides, and in my heart, I was only true to the Resistance. But not everyone knew that…

I was living in Star Wars and I was positively giddy.

Nerdist recently joined a small group of reporters in learning more about Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser. We sampled food and beverage, previewed merchandise, and found out about some of the ship’s characters. We toured the Halcyon and participated in a playtest, the latter with groups of families. Emphasis on playtest. Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser doesn’t open until March 2022, so the ship isn’t finished, nor is its experience or the characters’ costumes. We skipped through a few possible scenarios and situations that could happen during the voyage. The above experience could happen to a guest soon after boarding the ship and gathering in the Halcyon’s atrium. And based on it, I want more.

Humans and aliens in an atrium in Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser concept art
Disney
What Is Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser?

Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser is a two-night immersive experience that puts guests inside Star Wars. As Walt Disney Imagineering portfolio creative executive Scott Trowbridge told us, “It is unlike anything that anyone has ever done before, certainly unlike anything we’ve ever done before. I think it is very exciting. It’s actually very much in keeping with Imagineering and Lucasfilm to invent new ways of delivering experiences, new ways of telling stories, and this is absolutely a next step in innovation of how immersive we can be, how we can integrate live performance with amazing placemaking with new technology and high-touch guest experience and service.”

Part live-action roleplay, part video game, part immersive theater, and part luxury service experience, Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser incorporates multitudinous facets. In the early days of figuring out the experience, an operations partner suggested treating it as a cruise-style outing with a fixed itinerary. That comment brought things together.

Walt Disney Imagineering executive producer and creative director Ann Morrow Johnson explained, “One of the ways that we talk about this experience is that it’s this giant living ecosystem where you get to take a place in the story. But another way of thinking about it, that we use a lot, is that it is a simulated cruise-style experience. And so if this is a cruise-style experience in a galaxy far, far away, the starship is the Halcyon, which is where our guests will get to jump on board and cruise throughout the galaxy. But of course because it’s Star Wars, not everything will go according to plan.”

She continued, “When we think about the structure of this experience and how it plays out, it really has an arc and itinerary that is very much like a cruise-style experience. All of our guests arrive together on day one. Just like a cruise, they have a mixture of activities on board. We’ve got a seated dinner that our guests can enjoy. And then on day two there is, similar to a cruise again, an excursion, and in our case it is of course to the planet of Batuu, which is Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. You come back on board, have more activities, dinner, and then a big party at the end of night two where we’re going to party like it’s 1999, and then you get off the ship on the morning of day three.”

However, that’s where the similarities to the cruise model end. It’s a two-day story that unfolds as guests take part in the story. Rather than being mere spectators, the guests become participants. They’ll go on missions and meet with different characters; their choices will influence their entire adventure aboard the Halcyon.

A group of guests eating in a dining room in in Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser concept art
Disney
Is It Only for Star Wars Fans?

Just from the overview of Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser, it’s not surprising that the question of “how much Star Wars do I need to know?” comes up. Trowbridge assured us it works for anybody with any level of Star Wars knowledge or lack thereof. He said, “We are designing it for—there are levels and layers here that you can come in without knowing, without ever hearing of Star Wars before, and still have a great experience, because everything you need is going to be inside this experience.”

Disney Live Entertainment executive creative director Wendy Anderson followed up, “All you have to know to get on board is that ‘I’m going on vacation.'”

Given that we didn’t see the finished experience, I can’t weigh in on that. But as a Star Wars fan, I didn’t feel like what I saw spoke down to me. And I tried out a couple activities that required zero Star Wars knowledge, only a willingness to push buttons.

No, You Don’t Have to Roleplay

Maybe you’re into Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser only for the ambiance and the Sublight Lounge. That’s okay. Imagineering has previously emphasized guests will receive a series of invitations to engage, but it’s never an obligation. You can totally inhabit the Halcyon as an all-in character, or you can sit back and watch. Hotels and Resorts vice president Elizabeth Mullins put it succinctly, “If you’re playing hard, we will take care of you in that moment. And if you choose to stargaze or just sip a space cocktail, we’ll be there and be able to accommodate that as well.”

Official Chandrila Star Line cruise activities appear on the schedule, but then other things happen. Guests can choose how much they want to bounce between the two. Crew members want to make sure you have time to enjoy the setting and the ship, and even in the traditional spaces, you’ll encounter characters outside of officially planned things in interstitial moments. Johnson explained, “A lot of what we’re doing is giving you invitations of places to show up to, but unexpectedly, a character might also show up halfway through whatever it is that you’re doing.”

The more guests play though, the more their actions affect their cruise. Walt Disney Imagineering Research and Development senior R and D Imagineer Sara Thacher told us, “All of these layers are set out for our future passengers to explore, and as they’re doing that they have invitations to make some choices of which relationships with those characters they want to—who they want to help, who they maybe want to sell out. And those choices, again, because this is multiple days, we’re able to actually let that unfold and let those choices matter. So your choices change what comes next for your story. Which characters you have chosen to develop a relationship with will ultimately change what happens on the planet when you go on that planet excursion, what happens when you come back.”

In my brief time playtesting, I experienced firsthand what it was like to see my decisions have consequences on the story.

The bridge of the Halcyon ship in Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser concept art
Disney
Yes, You Can Dress Up

We’ve known for a while that Halcyon passengers can bring a costume (or more than one) and don alien makeup. And of course the ship will offer costumes for purchase, as well as Twi’lek or Togruta lekku. However, the stay includes a trip to Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge in Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Disney Parks have stricter rules on costumes for adults. Johnson said when it comes to visiting Batuu, “We encourage you to adhere to the local etiquette.”

So, adults, save the costumes for the ship.

Touring the Halcyon
The entrance to Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser in concept art
Disney

The exterior of Galactic Starcruiser is a nondescript building near Disney’s Hollywood Studios. A concrete bunker, it very much looks like a place you leave as soon as you can for more exciting things. Disney cast members will valet park cars and guests will check in before entering the terminal and hand off their luggage, which crew members will deliver to their cabins. We’re not in the Star Wars story yet. A preshow area, which was not operating at the time of our visit, will set up the experience before guests take the launch pod to the Halcyon, the name of the “ship” they’re “boarding.” (You remain in the same building).

The launch pod, also not yet operational, can hold a couple of travel parties. The doors open to the Halcyon’s grand atrium where crew members will welcome guests. It’s an immediate impact leaving the small launch pod and entering this grand space. Your world compresses and then there’s this huge reveal. It’s a classic Imagineering move. The atrium made me gasp. It’s an immediate transition into Star Wars. Into something special.

After a brief tour of the atrium and a visit to their cabin, guests will attend muster in the atrium. They’ll meet the Halcyon’s captain, Captain Keevan, at the muster. Large holographic columns flank either side of the atrium; they showed the Chandrila Star Line logo while we toured. The atrium is adjacent to the bridge, which we briefly stepped into. The bridge looks bigger than it did in a recent video, with multiple stations and screens covered in Aurebesh, an alphabet that appears in Star Wars. The window, as all windows in the ship, look out into space. Ship-wide announcements will call out notable landmarks as they pass (we did not experience this in action).

A group of people and aliens playing sabacc in Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser concept art
Disney

Just off another side of the atrium sits the Sublight Lounge. The space is surprisingly intimate. Or maybe not surprising given that the Halcyon has only 100 cabins. Tables line the walls in shallow alcoves, while liquid bubbles in containers behind the bar. But a playable hologram sabacc table (not on at the time of our tour) commands the focus of the lounge.

On the other side of the atrium, guests can find the gift shop, The Chandrila Collection. It’s the place to find Halcyon souvenirs, costumes, and accessories.

A stroll down a corridor leads to guest cabins (the ship has three decks of cabins and two decks of central gathering spaces). The most important news: a six-foot tall person laid down in the bottom bunk and fit! The cabins sleep up to five and have a bathroom that is not split, so the toilet and the shower are in the same space. A room window gazes into space, and guests can push a button to bring down “blinds” if they’d like to block the view for sleep. While the bunks look bigger than you’d think, the rooms feel tight. Admittedly, guests may not spend a ton of time in their cabins, but it’s worth noting.

We went past the lightsaber training room (more on that shortly) and learned about the Halcyon’s climate simulator. We didn’t view the simulator though. In-story, it’s a simulator with a garden that exactly replicates the climate of wherever the ship is visiting, including a realistic sky. Out-of-story, it’s an outdoor space for anyone who needs to see the sky or get some fresh air.

Finally, we ended our tour in the Crown of Corellia dining room to meet up with others who would join us in playtesting. Though still in progress, the pieces of Crown of Corellia that are in place come across as elegant. Very posh, Canto Bight aesthetics. Blue velvety chairs, multi-hued chandeliers… I could easily imagine a formal evening here.

Playtesting

While Imagineering has been playtesting the concepts of Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser from the beginning, they’ve been bringing in parties of playtest participants for over four months. They study them to piece the whole experience together and understand how it will function as guests come aboard. This helps them learn how real people interact with their ideas and plans. While playtesting we jumped into situations that take place at various points on the journey, from the beginning muster to the finale. I won’t spoil any details beyond what I shared above about helping Chewbacca.

I thought the immersive experiences might be like a live-action version of a Star Wars tabletop roleplaying game. And to an extent, it was. But making my decisions and becoming part of the story while in a fully themed Star Wars environment? It goes beyond rolling dice. I got invested in a way I didn’t anticipate and fell into the story quickly.

A girl wielding a lightsaber in Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser concept art
Disney

In addition to interacting with characters, we participated in bridge training and lightsaber training. The former moved groups of playtest participants through different stations key to operating and protecting the ship. Lessons learned in training proved helpful in a later situation. The bridge training with around 30 other guests involved a lot of pushing buttons at various stations. Though I can appreciate the reasons that training is helpful for story reasons, this aspect of the playtest did start to feel repetitive. Lightsaber training… well this activity was quite unfinished. We didn’t get any context or story to go with the training. So I can’t say what it will be like. Not beyond knowing that yes, guests hold lightsabers (and shields) and learn to block blaster bolts.

Based on the still-in-progress scenarios, Galactic Starcruiser shines brightest when it provides guests those moments of interacting with the Halcyon’s characters. You might think: I can’t pretend to be part of this galaxy without feeling silly. I promise you can. If you come willing to try and lean into it, I think inhabiting this world will come easily. In my short time trying things out, I came away needing to excitedly babble about my experiences to my fellow reporters, trying to process everything we saw and did. Days later, I feel like I’m still processing.

I only saw a small portion of the Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser experience—enough to make me curious about more but not enough that I can pass any kind of judgment. I know that if I do return, maybe I won’t try to play both sides. Resistance all the way.

Amy Ratcliffe is the Managing Editor for Nerdist and the author of A Kid’s Guide to Fandom, available now. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

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