Disney’s New ‘Star Wars’ Hotel Is Beyond Ambitious – And Oddly Moving

TheWrap got an early look at the all-immersive, two-night experience

Star Wars Galactic Starcruiser Bar

Ready to take part in your own “Star Wars” story? Starting next week, you can.

That’s when Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser, a first-of-its kind premium hotel/immersive experience, is set to open at Walt Disney World, just outside of Orlando, Florida. First announced in 2017, Galactic Starcruiser was sold as a companion of sorts to Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, the 14-acre “Star Wars”-themed land at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Except this time you could sleep there. For a long time, that was all we knew; details were vague and scarce. Speculation ran through certain channels of the Internet like unchecked womp rats. That is, until now.

TheWrap was among the first to experience Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser, during an event hosted by Disney that included a live panel and several hours onboard the Halcyon (the official, in-universe name of the ship) sampling what the full, two-night event entails.

An almost indescribable adventure, the Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser combines immersive theater, classic Disney storytelling, live-action role-playing, escape room-style puzzle-solving, old-fashioned improv and cutting-edge technology into an entirely unique and enveloping experience.

And maybe, with this being the product of a collaboration between Walt Disney Imagineering and Lucasfilm, this was to be expected. But what’s entirely unexpected is how moving the entire adventure is.

Entering the Starcruiser

The Galactic Starcruiser is a wholly immersive experience — once you board the “ship” you are inside a “Star Wars” story of your own.

Since the Galactic Starcruiser was announced at the D23 Expo in 2017, the exploits of the Halcyon have been slowly creeping into official “Star Wars” lore. A luxury cruiser that was built during the High Republic, an era more than 100 years before the events of the original “Star Wars” trilogy, the Galactic Starcruiser has already inspired a line of comic books and been name-checked in more than a few official novels. (A forthcoming book details how Han and Leia spent their honeymoon aboard the Halcyon.) That backstory might enrich your experience aboard the Galactic Starcruiser, but it’s not necessary.

When you come aboard, you are immediately greeted by a grand atrium. The clean, sleek lines invoke imagery from the franchise’s past, namely the casino planet Canto Bight from “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” and Dryden Vos’ hideout in “Solo: A Star Wars Story.” This is very far from the “used future” aesthetic that has defined much of the series, but the Halcyon isn’t free from that style either (more on that in a minute). There’s a bar and a gift shop off the main room, just like in an earthly hotel, but everything is heightened. A weird floating creature on the bartop is said to be responsible for some of the drinks and the gift shop sells clothing unique to Galactic Starcruiser (that you can wear to enhance your character). These elements help to create a sensation that much of the Halcyon produces, one both familiar and appropriately alien.

Walt Disney World Resort

Within a few moments from arriving (in a capsule that seamlessly transitions you from Earth to space), you’ll probably meet various members of the crew — goodhearted, blue-skinned Captain Keevan; eager young cadet Sammie; glamorous lounge singer Gaya; and Rodian (like Greedo) back-up singer Ouannii. These characters are not anonymous faces on video screens or animatronics; they’re played by real human Disney cast members.

At first these characters’ greetings just seem like casual hellos, but soon it becomes apparent that all of these characters are deeply essential to your journey. By the end of your stay they might be as beloved as your favorite legacy characters. And, yes, more than a few legacy characters show up throughout the course of your stay. But you still might like your new friends more.

Your Experience Changes Based on the Choices You Make

Even before you arrive on the Halcyon, you’re encouraged to start customizing your experience. You’re meant to concoct a backstory for yourself –- are you a potential Rebellion sympathizer or do your emotions align more with the First Order? Or are you a scoundrel like Han Solo, a morally nebulous drifter whose allegiance goes to the highest bidder? You enter your information into the datapad, an in-app program first used at Galaxy’s Edge that is utilized extensively as part of the Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser. On the ship, the datapad will track your progress and your rank amongst those playing. You’ll get alerts when new missions arrive, keep track of your Sabacc and watch as your relationship with various characters unfolds (does the First Order general actually think you’re siding with him?)

In the simplest terms those three paths are the paths that you follow, but how those paths play out (and how your own sympathies lie) can change and mutate throughout your stay. There are certain events that everybody is a part of – the two dinners, the big finale (we’ll get to that in a minute) – but to get the full experience you’ll have to compare notes with other travelers or family members. Only through that shared communication will a fuller understanding of the narrative possibilities emerge. (Disney has promised that even if you are someone who isn’t crazy about “Star Wars” and just wants to hang back and watch things unfurl, everything will make sense and you’ll still have a good time. It’s unclear how true this actually is.)

Passengers defend the Halcyon starcruiser from the ship’s Bridge in Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser at Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Matt Stroshane, photographer)

The way that the narrative changes based on your own allegiances is simple and profound. We were a part of a Resistance-leaning group that was meant to help thwart the First Order’s attempted takeover of the ship (if you didn’t think there’d be sinister Stormtroopers onboard, think again). At one point, we’re in the engineering room, pulling levers. This is meant to disrupt the First Order’s activities. If you’re more of a First Order person, at some point during your saga you go to the same room, only this time you’re trying to shut down the entire ship. Hearing about these alternate timelines only makes the experience richer. Rarely do you feel like you’re being left out. Instead, you’re just hungry to hear more.

The Grand Finale

Just to circle back on the performers, they really are the heart and soul of Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser and a big part of what makes the overall experience so special. They are deeply committed to their roles and play them brilliantly. The young girl who served as our instructor for the lightsaber training was soulful and serious, like a Peloton instructor in a galaxy far, far away. (Full confession: the lightsaber training left me winded.) Gaya was playful and subversive (even the pop star has an agenda). And other characters keep you guessing. At one point I was convinced that a character presented as a potential Resistance hero was actually a spy for the First Order. When it turned out that, nope, he was just what he appeared to be, it wasn’t a moment of betrayal, it was one of satisfaction. The second-guessing enriched the performance.

And all of this – the worldbuilding, your own activity, your interaction with the host of characters – comes to a head at what is ostensibly the end of night two (you depart the next morning, back to humdrum Earth). The entire ship gathers in that main atrium. You’ve become deeply familiar with this area by now.  

There have been moments during the Starcruiser experience that left me quite moved. Yoda (once again voiced by Frank Oz) pipes into your lightsaber training, a disembodied voice projecting through the ether of the Force, that made me gasp. But nothing prepared can prepare you for this finale.

If you’re planning to visit the Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser, you’ll probably want to skip the next few paragraphs as they include spoilers about the finale.

One of the storylines throughout your voyage has involved Rey coming onboard your ship. Another storyline involves a First Order spaceship that was parked in Galaxy’s Edge that is now essential. During this finale, Rey and Kylo Ren collide, and what could have ostensibly been a well-choreographed stunt show is instead truly special. Rey ignites the “real” lightsaber that has been teased for so long and it looks amazing, the first of many impressive effects (including when Kylo Ren grabs and pulls her using the Force, probably achieved by a hidden treadmill) and gags (like when Ren unmoors a chandelier using the Force, the massive installation swaying above guests). When Stormtroopers fire their blasters, sparks fly where they hit.

But what makes this scene so special is it’s not just Kylo Ren and Rey, the characters that we have met on the ship and who have become so important to us also chime in and affect the story. They rally their fellow Resistance fighters. We all rise up. When Kylo Ren is defeated, it’s satisfying, but the fact that you feel like you were a part of that defeat makes it so oddly moving. By this point (even if you’ve only been on the ship for four hours), you’re deeply invested on an emotional level. When the Captain says that, to celebrate, she’s going to fire off fireworks in front of the ship, and invites you into the control room, you can’t wait to go. When the fireworks start to explode and the John Williams music swells (a key component missing from Galaxy’s Edge), it’s outrageously moving and so unexpected. You probably knew you’d be dazzled, but not like this.

Walt Disney World Resort

The question has popped up time and time again: is it worth the money? People have (and continue to) debate this point online. Friends who saw that I was there have texted me asking the same thing. And it’s something that is truly unquantifiable.

It is, unequivocally, a lot of money (around $2,500 a night). But if you have that money, if you love “Star Wars” or Disney parks (and especially both), then of course it’s worth it. Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser is a truly new themed entertainment experience, unlike anything that Disney (or anyone else for that matter) has attempted. (How many times can you say that?) And the experience itself brings you a sense of joy, community and wonder that is in short supply these days. This Starcruiser is spectacular.

Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser will be open to the public at Walt Disney World Resort starting March 1, 2022.

The media event attended by TheWrap was paid for by Disney.