LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Have you ever wanted to join the Resistance and fight alongside Poe and Finn to free the galaxy from the tyrannical rule of the First Order? If so, you're in luck, as Disney has created an immersive experience that puts you right in the middle of an epic space battle between the two factions.
The ride, Rise of the Resistance, billed as one of the most immersive, complex and technologically advanced attractions that Disney has ever created, is the pièce-de-résistance of the new 14-acre land — dubbed "Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge" — which is at both Disney World in Florida and Disneyland in California. For die-hard fans, this 20-minute experience is pure bliss — the ultimate in "Star Wars" experiences. That is, at least until the planned Star Wars hotel opens sometime next year.
Rise of the Resistance
Your adventure begins in Galaxy's Edge in the Resistance Forest, a region on the fictional planet Batuu. It's here where supporters of the Resistance gather while trying to avoid being spotted by First Order troops that roam the rest of the planet. While Batuu is not a planet we've seen in any show or movie as part of the "Star Wars" saga, it still feels incredibly familiar and really makes you feel as though you're in the fictional universe.
This quaint, cosmic region is nestled on the galaxy's outer rim, featuring rustic architecture that makes you feel like you've truly traveled to a galaxy far, far, away. The sights and sounds of a bustling spaceport fill your senses as you make your way to the Resistance outpost.
The entrance to "Rise of the Resistance" is somewhat hidden, so, in order to find this attraction (if the bustling, eager people waiting in line don't give it away), you will have to look for an old gun turret. From here, you will wind through an outside queue adorned with rocks and trees and make your way inside the base. Finally, you've made it and the immersion can begin!
The narrow corridor leading to the heart of the base appears to have been carved out of Batuu stone, and Resistance gear acts as barriers throughout the queue, giving those waiting in line a lot to look at. Finally, the queue opens up into a cave. It's here that guests arrive at the first real scene of the immersive experience: an animatronic BB-8 droid and a hologram of Rey detailing the mission you're about to embark on.
It's hard to distinguish between what is pre-show entertainment and what is part of the actual ride experience. Disney has been using pre-show content and engaging queues as a means of feeding guests important safety information while also entertaining them as they wait for the main attraction.
In "Rise of the Resistance," the pre-shows don't feel like shows at all but rather essential parts of the experience. After receiving instructions from Rey's hologram, guests are led to a transport ship to take part in a secret mission at the Resistance base on a planet called Picara.
The Resistance ship you find yourself on is piloted by Nien Nunb, a classic "Star Wars" character and former arms dealer who joined the Rebel Alliance in the original trilogy. Three decades after Nien Nunb made their on-screen debut, Disney tracked down the original actor to reprise his role in the new trilogy, as well as give voice to the animatronic pilot featured in "Rise of the Resistance."
Nien Nunb is joined by Capt. Beck, a Mon Calamari officer like Adm. Ackbar. The transport ship also has the best pilot in the Resistance, Poe Dameron and two other X-wing pilots who attempt to escort it to Picara; however, things go awry pretty quickly.
First Order ambush
After departing for Picara, a First Order ship intercepts your transport ship before it can make the jump to hyperspace, and a brief battle breaks out — you can see it unfold on the multiple video screens around the ship. Your ship has now been captured and the same door you entered through earlier now opens up to reveal a Star Destroyer hangar.
Standing before you are dozens of Stormtroopers (some of which actually move, making you believe they ALL might be able to do so) in front of a giant screen peering out into space; a TIE fighter is stationed nearby.
When you step out onto the deck of the Star Destroyer, it feels like you've just set foot into a movie screen. In fact, after riding I went back and rewatched "The Force Awakens," which immediately made my experience on the ride that much more amazing.
There's a scene in the movie where Poe and Finn are trying to escape and jump in a Tie Fighter — a type of ship that resembles a bow tie and is typically piloted by Imperial forces. The deck of the Star Destroyer feels like the same set Poe and Finn were on in "The Force Awakens."
The First Order officers are going to try to move you along to the interrogation area, but be sure to stop and snap as many photos as you'd like before moving on. After all, it's not every day you get to board a Star Destroyer.
Now that you've been captured, you'll walk down a small corridor, forming an orderly queue before being separated into smaller groups and "interrogated." The cast members here were uniformly excellent in acting just rude enough to maintain their status as evil First Order officers while still serving their operational role.
Once you've been sorted into small groups of 16 people and assigned a color to stand on, the officers then escort the groups to an interrogation cell. Here you will be questioned by holograms of Gen. Hux and Kylo Ren as they attempt to extract the location of the secret rebel base from you.
Luckily, Ren and Hux are both needed on the bridge and step away. Here's where the excitement begins! A glowing outline appears on one of the cell walls — the Resistance has arrived to help you escape! This is where the actual "ride" portion of the experience begins.
Guests are loaded into transport vehicles disguised as a prisoner transport and driven by an R5 droid, who has a detailed plan to help you escape. The trick will be to get past other droids and Stormtroopers that are spread out throughout the ship.
The ride vehicle for Rise of the Resistance runs on a trackless system that, up until now, has been used only in Disney's overseas parks (which are in Paris, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Tokyo). The vehicle will crisscross paths with other vehicles, turn and spin along seemingly random paths in magnificent sets that are more incredibly detailed and enormous than anything seen before in the Disney parks.
There is so much action going on in "Rise of the Resistance" that it's hard to see it all in one go. Two ride vehicles run at a time, or at least that's what it seems like because after you leave the holding cell the only people you encounter are the 16 that you've been with since the interrogation cell.
I don't want to spoil all of the surprises along the way, but I can confirm that Disney did deliver on its promise to build two full-scale AT-AT (all terrain armored transport) vehicles that appear as part of the experience. In the films, First Order ground forces use the giant, four-legged combat vehicles to mount attacks against the Resistance.
The experience ends with your vehicle locking into an escape pod before "dropping" back down to Baatu. Members of the Resistance are there at the end to congratulate you on your mission and welcome you to the cause.
The whole attraction is an incredible journey that seamlessly blends four different ride systems with jaw-dropping walk-through experiences while also adding elements of live theater. And for me, the cast members (aka actors) really make the experience that much more immersive.
If there was any drawback to "Rise of the Resistance," it's that you must get to the park before it opens in order to have a shot at experiencing the ride. That's because, for now, Disney is assigning boarding groups via a virtual queue, and if you want any shot at making it onto a boarding group, you've got to arrive really early.
It's a mild inconvenience to get to the park so early, but you also have the freedom of going about your day until your group is called instead of waiting in line all day. It's a small sacrifice to pay for such an incredible, unique experience, especially if you're a "Star Wars" fan.
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