Harnessing the Force
Well before “Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance” opened, Walt Disney Imagineering created a precedent, calling the attraction “a new standard for what a Disney theme park experience can be.”
The high expectations led to one of the most immersive and technologically advanced attractions ever created for a Disney park. The new attraction can be best described as “an experience,” as “Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance” seamlessly weaves together four ride systems working in tandem, multiple indoor and outdoor preshows, stunning special effects, a new generation of Audio-Animatronics, and a massive visible cast.
“Bob Chapek asked us to be to be ambitious,” Imagineer Jon Georges recalls of the mantra given to designers by the chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences and Products.
Warning: Spoilers Ahead
The ride—which opened on Dec. 5, 2019, at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Orlando, Florida, and Jan. 17, 2020, at Disneyland Park in Anaheim, California (at press time)—features a sprawling narrative that begins outside. Remaining true to the story that visitors are on the remote planet of Batuu, there is little signage pointing to the attraction’s subtle entrance (the gateway is marked only by a large turret). As future passengers enter a lush garden, they find winding pathways leading to a peaceful waterfall that conceals a cave serving as the ride’s indoor queue. Anticipating high rider demand, Disney formed benches in the interior rockwork, allowing guests an opportunity to sit when the line stops.
“The size demands it,” says Scott Trowbridge, portfolio creative executive for Walt Disney Imagineering, of the creature comforts. “We listen to our guests.”
Other in-line amenities include rustic-looking water fountains, where waiting riders can get a drink or refill their water bottles.
Upon exiting the queue, riders will enter the first of several preshow spaces. Initially secluded, famed droid BB-8 rolls into sight before Rey—a Star Wars heroine—appears as a hologram to instruct riders on their mission. Following a devastating battle, the Resistance (good guys) finds itself hunted by the First Order (bad guys). By joining the cause to save the galaxy from tyranny, park guests agree to board an intergalactic shuttle.
The Ride Begins
After exiting the indoor preshow, guests find themselves back outside before boarding the first ride vehicle: the Intersystem Transport Ship (I-TS). Riders remain standing, as there are no seats aboard the simulator-like spacecraft that recreates the feeling of a liftoff and flying. Soon, an Audio-Animatronic of Lieutenant Bek, a Mon Calamari species of creature with giant eyes, informs riders their I-TS shuttle is doomed once caught in a tractor beam deployed from a Star Destroyer. When the vehicle doors reopen, riders find themselves now before 50 waiting Storm Troopers standing inside a hangar bay. Guests are then then allowed to explore the hangar bay and snap selfies, as stoic cast members dressed in dark First Order costumes maintain a watchful eye without cracking a smile.
“Our cast is doing an incredible job,” says John Larena, a creative director with Walt Disney Imagineering. “There is a human level of interaction that contributes to the storytelling.”
After navigating a corridor inside the Star Destroyer, groups of riders are placed inside an interrogation room that doubles as the next preshow. Soon, cast members posing as Resistance freedom fighters seemingly use a laser to cut open a passage leading to escape pods. Once seated in the trackless ride units—driven by an R5 droid—the second ride begins. The sleek, low-profile dark ride vehicles move forward, backward, and sideways as they dodge blaster bolts emitted by stormtroopers, scurry under AT-AT walkers, squeeze past active turboloader cannons, enter an elevator, and face supervillain Kylo Ren. Featuring dynamic movements, Ren is a next-generation A-1000 Audio-Animatronics figure—the most lifelike Animatronic Disney has used to date.
The dark ride experience concludes when the trackless escape pod vehicles lock into the final ride system: a motion-based platform sitting atop a drop tower-like mechanism.
“It’s a triple ride sandwich!” Georges says.
Riders quickly find themselves inside a simulator that free falls in sync with action on the screen in front of them.
“We took things learned with ‘Star Tours’ and ‘The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror’ and then built upon these prior attractions,” says Larena.
Upon emerging from the drop sequence chamber, the trackless ride vehicles scoot outdoors to an exit platform, leaving riders to contemplate what just happened.
“Seeing the reaction of the audience is my favorite part,” says Trowbridge, adding he witnessed several riders on opening day disembark with tears of joy.
The all-encompassing experience lasts about 18 minutes, making “Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance” one of the longest Disney Parks attractions in operation.