Batuu, a remote trading outpost that will include a full-size Millennium Falcon, is the setting for Disney theme park attraction Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, a 14-acre world that opens on May 31 in Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif., and on Aug. 29 in Disney World’s Hollywood Studios in Bay Lake, Fla.
Disney’s Imagineers used elements from past “Star Wars” films and collaborated with writing teams from upcoming movies, Disney Plus streaming series “The Mandalorian” and the dozens of “Star Wars” books to create an elaborately interwoven world that can evolve with the franchise.
“The beauty of this place is you’re
not here in a specific moment or time frame,” says Chris Beatty, executive creative director of Walt Disney Imagineering, who points out that Batuu has never been seen on-screen. “It has the ability to flex and look into the [franchise’s] past but is forward-leaning, so that as our filmmakers and storytellers come up with new characters [and scenarios], we can bring them into this world and they’ll feel perfectly at home.”
Leading the Lucasfilm team is visual effects Oscar winner Doug Chiang, the company’s VP/executive creative director, who started collaborating on the “Star Wars” franchise with George Lucas in the mid-’90s, doing concept design and visual effects work. On Galaxy’s Edge, he says, “our goal was to create something that was iconic, timeless and would fit seamlessly into the ‘Star Wars’ universe.”
Chiang was a production designer on “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” as well. While it’s not typical for a film’s designer to work on corresponding themed-entertainment properties, the benefits to the project are significant. Batuu is based on a massive petrified forest, Chiang says. “That created the very distinct look of a planet made of spires, and gave it a really strong visual identity. That’s classic ‘Star Wars’ design language.”
Unlike a feature film, in which audiences see only what the director wants to reveal, guests on Batuu will be fully immersed in the environment itself. The full-size 111-foot Millennium Falcon involved meticulous attention to detail. The team had to analyze the subtle differences over the years among various Falcons, which have included a number of both real and digital models.
“There were a whole bunch of slightly different versions, because of specific needs,” says Chiang, noting that sometimes particulars on the ships didn’t quite sync up. The model on Batuu is considered to be the most accurate; its design is the one viewers will see on-screen in future installments.
The planet is meant to look like it has existed for thousands of years. Even the trees must support the concept, just as they would on a film set. Designers chose the tall cork oak near where the Millennium Falcon is docked because it appears weather-beaten and battered, enhancing the idea that the Falcon’s thrusters have damaged it.
Oga’s Cantina sits near the Falcon and comes with a unique history. Beatty says the inside of the cantina is based on a sketch designers found of Jabba the Hutt’s palace by Ralph McQuarrie, a concept artist on the original trilogy. “Ralph did the interior design on this 40 years ago,” Beatty says. “We got to pay tribute to a ‘Star Wars’ legend and bring a space to life that no one would have ever seen if we hadn’t built it.”
Fans who have read the books based on the movies will have additional insight into the cantina. Blaster marks pepper the walls in specific places based on shootouts from various stories. For example, interior damage matches up with scenes from last year’s “Thrawn: Alliances,” by Timothy Zahn. The story behind exterior blaster marks will be revealed in “Black Spire, ” a novel by Delilah S. Dawson that’s coming in September.
Transforming the “Star Wars” universe into reality included some real-life challenges as well. For instance, there aren’t any swinging doors in the films, so guests won’t come across any in Galaxy’s Edge either.
Fine details can make or break a project, whether it’s a fully realized feature film or a new theme-park experience. Every element must relate to the story and enhance its world.
“We had to make sure the execution lived up to the spirit of what the design should be,” Chiang says.“There’s no cheating.”