Connect with us

Entertainment

Disney Star Wars park is late-stage galactic capitalism at its finest

Published

on

After the first hour of the opening night party at Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, the newest and largest and most expensive world of wonder ever constructed at Disneyland in Anaheim, there was a noticeable lull in the chit-chat. Our surroundings were just too distracting. 

Munching on Ronto beast — a fake alien meat allegedly roasted over a hot podracer engine — I started noticing all the deliberately unpatched holes in the walls. In replicating the Star Wars used-universe chic of crumbling desert buildings, no expense had been spared. 

Here we were, I mused, the fake elite of the Black Spire Outpost on the planet Batuu, literally sipping blue-colored Chardonnay, and nobody was fixing the infrastructure. 

A fellow observer nodded. “Late-stage galactic capitalism,” he deadpanned. 

That phrase became the watchword of the evening, in ways we didn’t anticipate. Because if its first weekend is any guide, this place is terrifyingly efficient at making people spend money by … hiding all the commerce and totally immersing you in fantasy. 

That’s a Jedi mind-trick if ever I saw one.  

The creature shop in the Batuu marketplace. Spot the porgs.

The creature shop in the Batuu marketplace. Spot the porgs.

Image: amy sussman/Getty Images

Late-stage capitalism” started life as a socialist concept — the supposedly inevitable point where capitalists stretch the system too far, causing the workers to rise up. But by 2019 it has become something between a meme and a shrug, applied to so many profiteering corporate outrages that it almost loses its meaning. 

Health insurance company drops coverage for your treatment? Late-stage capitalism. Silicon Valley company makes ads telling freelancers to work themselves to the bone? Late-stage capitalism. Politicians can’t fix our roads and bridges, but can pass a tax cut for their corporate clients? Definitely late-stage capitalism. 

The late-stage capitalism on display at Galaxy’s Edge is a little different. It is literally set in the latter stage of the Star Wars saga, after The Last Jedi; in Dec. 2019 it will be set after Rise of Skywalker. All the better to include (and sell you) items that can be found in all 9 saga movies, plus Rogue One, Solo and the growing roster of TV shows.

But it’s the way that Disney sells you those items that is unprecedented in the history of theme park consumerism, deserving a name all its own. 

Yes, there have been highly immersive and highly profitable worlds built in this realm before. The gold standard prior to Galaxy’s Edge was the hugely successful Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which straddles two Universal theme parks in Orlando. You start in a sorta convincing mini-London, visiting Diagon Alley and the uncanny valley version of King’s Cross, where you board an actual train to a highly impressive Hogsmeade. 

But though your wand and butterbeer may be screen-accurate, many of those shops are pushing merch emblazoned with Harry Potter logos that clash annoyingly with the goal of total immersive escapism. Yer an industry, Harry! 

To the relief of hardcore fans, Galaxy’s Edge shuns logos within its grounds. Its commitment to method-acting a galaxy far, far away, specifically the frontier planet of Batuu and its thousand-year-old civilization, is total. The words “Star Wars” appear nowhere except emblazoned across the chests of people who were foolish enough to buy product before they entered. 

There isn’t so much as a gift store at the end of the Millennium Falcon ride; nothing to break the fourth wall. Indeed, there’s nothing so gauche as a gift shop. Gifts are nowhere and everywhere. Whatever Star Wars-y thing you want, you have to figure out which of many Star Wars-y sliding doors in the Star Wars-y street it lies behind. 

And trust me, you absolutely will accept this mission. When it comes to warming nerd hearts, fulfilling our bottomless desire to escape completely, letting us live (and shop!) in the bubble of a fantasy universe, Galaxy’s Edge is, well, in another galaxy. 

The firework-studded Galaxy's Edge opening, starring George Lucas, Billy Dee Williams, Mark Hamil, Bob Iger and Harrison Ford.

The firework-studded Galaxy’s Edge opening, starring George Lucas, Billy Dee Williams, Mark Hamil, Bob Iger and Harrison Ford.

Image: Joshua Sudock/Disneyland Resort

At the opening night party, the Jedi mind-trick began with the simple fact that we were allowed to browse, but not buy from, the stalls in the attractive Marrakech-like marketplace. We petted anxious baby rathtars and looked longingly at Salacious Crumbs of various colors. 

All the while Resistance cast members moved among us (some 1,400 cast members rotate through the park’s various roles, each with their own name and backstory). They were avoiding the First Order stormtroopers and teaching the secret password: if someone says “ignite the spark,” you respond with “light the fire!” 

Before long, we were herded into the town square of Black Spire Outpost, where a face on a TV screen bellowed “ignite the spark!” and we shouted “light the fire” back, loud enough for us all to be rounded up by the First Order. 

What did the phrase mean, exactly? I had no idea, but I knew I could probably find out in the attendant media — the blizzard of Star Wars books and comics set on Batuu. Late-stage galactic capitalism is nothing if not multimedia. And in the meantime, all of a sudden, I was fired up to buy some “Resist!” pins.

Not until after George Lucas himself took part in a live-streamed opening ceremony in front of the Millennium Falcon could we spend our hard-earned galactic credits. (Amazingly, the galactic credit and the U.S. dollar have achieved a 1:1 parity! What are the odds?) 

Standing alongside Mark Hamill, Billy Dee Williams, Harrison Ford, and Disney CEO Bob Iger, the creator of Star Wars marveled at the new world around him and hearkened back to the first Star Wars ride in Disneyland, Star Tours, which opened in 1987. Galaxy’s Edge, he said, was “Star Tours on steroids.” 

Imagineering billionaires: George Lucas and Bob Iger.

Imagineering billionaires: George Lucas and Bob Iger.

Image: Richard Harbaugh/ Disneyland Resort

What we witnessed shortly after was shopping on steroids too. Perhaps Lucas, whose company helped make at least $32 billion for various vendors of Star Wars merchandise before he sold it to Disney, had anticipated that. Still, it was truly incredible how much my fellow partygoers spent. 

The Galaxy’s Edge party ran on the same principle as Las Vegas — make the drinks free, and profit follows. As we chugged free blue and green milk (normally $7 a pop), and an alcoholic concoction from the local Cantina called a Yub Nub, we could not spend our credits fast enough. 

The fact that store names were rendered in the alien language Aurebesh, translatable to English only via the Disney Parks app, did not deter spending. They encouraged it. 

The blue and green milk vendors of Black Spire Outpost.

The blue and green milk vendors of Black Spire Outpost.

Image: chris taylor / mashable

The more obscure and difficult the purchase process became, the more interested we were. The prime example was Savi’s Workshop, a build-your-own lightsaber facility. In-universe, we were told, metal merchant Savi is operating his Jedi supply store under the nose of the First Order. The exterior of Savi’s hovel was deliberately nondescript. It was a lightsaber speakeasy. 

Construction of the “scrap metal item” — a nod and a wink from the secret Resistance cell cast member — was by appointment only. In the 15-minute appointment, you got an inspiring speech on becoming a hero in the midst of the dark times, and you got to construct one of more than 2,000 kinds of saber based in part on your choice of Kyber crystal — the canonically correct way to build a lightsaber.

The cost? 120 credits. And all appointment slots filled up shortly after the Lucas-Iger opening ceremony. 

In the Den of Antiquities, even more expensive $200 custom lightsabers await.

In the Den of Antiquities, even more expensive $200 custom lightsabers await.

Image: amy sussman/Getty Images

The laws of supply and demand operated in other ways. We were only allowed to buy one item at each store, so desperate Star Wars fans conducted furtive trading in the hive of the corridors. Non-purchasers were duly paid and dispatched to bring back desired items for purchasers who had officially tapped out. 

They congratulated themselves on being smugglers, which in turn only added to the Star Wars atmosphere — while adding to Disney’s bottom line. 

Even a theme park skeptic and non-collector of merchandise, such as myself, was not immune. Far from it, especially in the highly intriguing creature store. I grabbed a 45-credit Porg puppet from the shelves to encourage my colleague and noted Porg lover Angie Han to buy one, then felt a pang of separation as I put it back on the shelf. I had inadvertently talked myself into buying one as well. 

By then we were all indoctrinated in the cult, or more accurately one of two cults that permeate Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge. I started making notes on all the lingo the cast members used: “Bright Suns” meant good day, “Rising Moons” meant good evening; “‘till the Spire” was farewell, and “may the Spire keep you” was the most cultish line of all. 

Strive as you might, you will never live up to how immersive the cast members look and sound saying this stuff, given that Disney has an odd prohibition against wearing cosplay gear — even the expensive stuff you buy in Batuu itself. It seems inherent to the nature of late-stage galactic capitalism that you, in your everyday clothes, will simply never be as cool as everything around you. You must always be aspiring to the Spire. 

I looked up from my notes to see colleagues who shall remain nameless appearing to lightly bow (or in their telling, “nod enthusiastically”) in response to a First Order trooper. This is the other cult in Galaxy’s Edge, of course: the lure of the Dark Side. Darth Vader may not be around the galaxy any longer, but Kylo Ren is. Aside from Chewie, Kylo is the coolest character you’ll meet in the park. 

Everyone loves a bad boy. Especially here in his element, with his ship, in a town square with a vast red First Order banner fluttering and Stormtroopers patrolling the wall. If you find yourself drawn to the First Order store, you won’t be alone.

Success for late-saga galactic capitalism seems all but assured. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter helped drive attendance at Universal parks up by 80 percent in the six years after its opening. At the moment we can only imagine how many extra Star Wars-loving attendees will swarm through the gates of Disneyland (and, starting August, Disney World). 

Regardless, the success will come down to this: unlike late-stage capitalism, Disney’s version doesn’t do anything outrageous to you. It simply allows you, willingly and without distraction, to immerse all your senses in a fantasy you’ve always longed to inhabit. 

Here, when your wallet gets vacuumed clean of galactic credits, there’s only one person to blame.

Uploads%252fvideo uploaders%252fdistribution thumb%252fimage%252f91398%252fea811f9f b399 4579 89de df3744cdb335.jpg%252foriginal.jpg?signature=4sq2fsqusqtvcyqmpsxi9ydik1o=&source=https%3a%2f%2fblueprint api production.s3.amazonaws

Continue Reading
Advertisement Find your dream job

Trending