ANAHEIM, Calif. — There are easier ways to get to Disneyland — one-way airfare from Sea-Tac to LAX was as low as $87 when we began planning in mid-April — but the opening of the new franchise-focused theme park Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge presented the opportunity for a one-way 1,273-mile “Star Wars”-themed road trip. From an impressive collection of memorabilia in Oregon to the redwoods that stood in for the Ewok planet Endor, there are plenty of stops between Seattle and SoCal to make a compelling journey — for Star Wars fans and less-enthused companions alike. Here they are.
And may the Force be with you.
Plenty of shops in the Seattle area sell vintage “Star Wars” toys, from BobaKhan Toys in Everett to Golden Age Collectables in Pike Place Market, but a stop along our route gives a pop culture two-fer.
Springfield, Oregon, is home to a 2014 official mural of “The Simpsons” (“Simpsons” creator Matt Groening grew up in Oregon and named the town in the show after this particular Springfield). Less than a block away you’ll find vintage “Star Wars” toys at Trash-n-Treasures Antiques & Collectables.
Glenn Myers, purveyor of pop culture “mantiques,” got into the “Star Wars” selling game about five years ago when a friend sold him his collection of “Star Wars” merchandise. The haul included British vinyl pencil bags from 1977, the year the first “Star Wars” movie was released, which he sold on eBay for more than $100 each.
In the footsteps of Ewoks
Mood music on the car stereo: Composer John Williams’ “Ewok Celebration” (aka “Yub Nub”) from a pre-special-edition soundtrack of “Return of the Jedi.”
On our 22-hour drive, broken up over four days, there was one spot I’d wanted to visit since watching “Return of the Jedi” during its opening weekend in 1983: the forest moon of Endor. Or, rather, the California redwood forests that played home to the teddy bear-like creatures called Ewoks.
Most of the filming was done on what would be now-unrecognizable private land. Just north of Crescent City, California, it’s since been logged. So it’s necessary to replicate an Endorian experience nearby.
A visit to Jedediah Smith Redwood State Park fit the bill, with paths that wind through a grove of 300-foot-tall redwood trees reminiscent of the Endor forest.
Another option for those who appreciate roadside kitsch — and there’s a lot of that as you head south on Highway 101 — is a hike through Trees of Mystery, a redwood forest with a gondola tramway that whisks visitors to the top of a coastal range peak for a glimpse at the Pacific Ocean.
Visiting Rancho Obi-Wan
Over the years, plenty of museums have hosted exhibits devoted to “Star Wars,” including Seattle’s Museum of Pop Culture. But none are as impressive as Steve Sansweet’s nonprofit museum Rancho Obi-Wan, home to more than 300,000 “Star Wars” objects (the largest collection in the world according to Guinness World Records).
Sansweet, a former Los Angeles bureau chief for the Wall Street Journal who later was head of Lucasfilm fan relations, began his enthusiasm for “Star Wars” before the first film premiered in 1977, when he plucked a preview booklet for the first movie out of a fellow reporter’s garbage can. It was the beginning of a collection that now fills 10,000 square feet of buildings on a former Petaluma, California, chicken farm.
Sansweet’s trained docents give two- to four-hour tours ($85 per person) of his well-organized, immaculately maintained collection. The tour begins with the “Star Wars” theme piped through speakers before the door opens to the first room of the museum, which is reminiscent of the warehouse at the end of “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”
A tower of action figures, released between 1978 and 1986, greets visitors, along with life-sized Cantina Band animatronic figures that Sansweet picked up in an FAO Schwarz bankruptcy auction.
Toys from abroad, foreign products (including pencil cases identical to the ones Myers sold out of his shop in Springfield), pieces of the original Death Star model and a collection of “Star Wars” pinball machines and video games fill Sansweet’s museum alongside odd ephemera, including the cast of a stuntman who broke his leg while filming the Sarlaac pit scene in “Return of the Jedi.”
Droids and Yoda and Wookiees, oh my!
California provided a wealth of other opportunities to encounter the Force on our way to Disneyland.
At Lucasfilm headquarters in San Francisco’s Presidio, I snapped a picture of a Yoda statue as we fantasized about what producers were dreaming up in the adjoining office buildings.
At Hollywood’s TCL Chinese Theatre, we saw R2-D2’s tracks in the concrete and took a picture of a Hollywood huckster in an unauthorized Chewbacca suit.
Opportunities for side trips abound. If you have an extra day, venture east to Death Valley National Park to see locations that doubled for Tatooine. Or, if you’re traveling with younglings, head south, to Carlsbad, California, to see Legoland’s impressive collection of “Star Wars” Lego sculptures. We skipped these optional trips to speed our entry into Galaxy’s Edge.
Reaching Galaxy’s Edge
Finally we reach our destination: Disneyland.
Reservations to visit Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge are required through June 23. Beginning June 24, advance reservations are not necessary but the land could close to new guests if it fills to capacity. If that happens, park guests can “get in line” via a virtual queue on the Disneyland app.
“One of the things that we decided very early on is to build a new place, a place that was not a memory of somebody else’s ‘Star Wars’ story, not a place that we visited in one of the early films,” says Disney Imagineering portfolio creative executive Scott Trowbridge of Galaxy’s Edge, which is set at Black Spire Outpost on the new-to-“Star Wars” planet Batuu. “This is a place that is purpose-built so that you can live your own ‘Star Wars’ story and become an active participant in the world of ‘Star Wars.’”
Disney workers in Galaxy’s Edge are all supposed to play characters who will spout local greetings (“Bright suns!” for good day and “Rising moons!” for good night) and act as if they are in a “Star Wars” story, answering questions in character. Most I talked to said they came to Black Spire Outpost from a Batuu fishing village, except one cast member who said “Garden Grove,” a Southern California community near Anaheim. Whoops!
At this point only one of two planned rides is open, Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run. (Disney execs say a second ride, Rise of the Resistance, will open later this year.)
“This is Star Tours on steroids,” said “Star Wars” creator George Lucas at the new land’s dedication last month. Like Star Tours, which has been operating at Disneyland since 1987 (long before Disney purchased Lucasfilm in 2012), Smugglers Run is a motion simulator but instead of a craft carting 40 theme-park guests per ride, just six people slide into the Falcon’s cockpit, taking seats for two pilots, two gunners and two engineers.
Riding Smugglers Run resembles playing a giant, moving video game. Guests’ actions dictate how well they do in a race to obtain coaxium, an element necessary for light speed in the “Star Wars” universe. It’s technologically amazing but the participation requirements make the whole endeavor a little nerve-wracking, as a disembodied voice encourages guests to push buttons and pull levers at appropriate times in game play. After riding three times, it’s clear guests are unlikely to have an identical experience no matter how many times they fly the Falcon.
The theme is so comprehensively ingrained into the land that it borders on overwhelm. How much do Disneyland guests want to work during a visit putting together puzzles on the Play Disney Parks mobile app via smartphone? Use the app to search for signals? Hack into door panels? Translate words from Aurebesh, written language of the “Star Wars” galaxy, letter by letter?
In some respects, this new land updates existing experiences. You can put together a plastic light saber at Star Traders in Tomorrowland for $30-$46 or in Galaxy’s Edge build a weightier, $200 light saber during a 20-minute interactive experience in Savi’s Workshop — or build a remote control droid for $100. Both are premium products and more interesting experiences than what’s been available in the past — but what a price tag.
The food in Galaxy’s Edge elicits an alien appearance in keeping with the theme. Some is quite good – especially the sausage Ronto Wrap — but picky kid eaters may be dubious. Blue milk is tasty and refreshing (it’s a slushy drink) and the green milk is OK (it has a floral flavor).
The land’s merchandise is atypical for Disney. To enhance visitors’ illusion of actually being on Batuu, no merchandise is emblazoned with the “Star Wars” logo and there is very little that says “Black Spire Outpost” for sale in an open-air mall inspired by markets in Istanbul and Marrakesh. The market does have some cool “Star Wars” animal toys for sale in the Creature Stall “pet shop.” Another shop stocks high-end costume pieces, like an adult-sized Jedi tunic for $70, but you can’t wear it in the park because Disneyland rules prohibit adults from wearing costumes.
Short scenes that break out in the midst of Galaxy’s Edge offer one of the land’s most entertaining elements, whether it’s a troop of First Order Stormtroopers attempting to round up a resistance spy or Kylo Ren snooping around near Savi’s underground light-saber workshop.
The commitment to theme at Galaxy’s Edge impresses but there’s so much to do that even at five hours, our visit felt incomplete. Surely park executives want me to come back for another “Star Wars” sequel — this one set on Batuu, and starring me.
If you go
Trash-n-Treasures Antiques & Collectables: 440 Main St., Springfield, Oregon; open 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Saturday, closed Sunday
Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park: 1460 Highway 199, Crescent City, California; open sunrise to sunset; $8 day-use pass.
Trees of Mystery: 15500 Highway 101, Klamath, California; open 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.; $18 adults, $14 seniors, $9 ages 6-12
Rancho Obi-Wan: 659 Chapman Lane, Petaluma, California; $85 per person, $25 for ages 6-12. Tours booked online are given only on Saturdays (usually at 10 a.m.) and can fill up months in advance.
Yoda statues: It’s easier to get to the one in San Anselmo’s small Imagination Park, 541 San Anselmo Ave., San Anselmo, California, than the identical one at Lucasfilm, 1110 Gorgas Ave., San Francisco, although the Lucasfilm lobby, open weekdays, offers some fun “Star Wars” gewgaws to glimpse, including a life-sized R2-D2.
TCL Chinese Theatre: 6925 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, California
Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disneyland: The cost is included with Disneyland tickets, $98-$141 (ages 3-9) and $104-$149 (ages 10 and older) for one park, one day. Free reservations are required through June 23 — those are spoken for but reservations are still available for those who book lodging in a Disneyland hotel (expect to pay $500 a night or more). Beginning June 24, Galaxy’s Edge is open to all, though a virtual queue via the Disneyland app may be used in the event of overcrowding.
Death Valley National Park: Furnace Creek Visitor Center is open 8 a.m.- 5 p.m. Spots to see: Desolation Canyon (Bantha scene in “Star Wars: A New Hope” filmed here), Dante’s Inferno (Mos Eisley overlook in “A New Hope”).
Legoland California: 1 Legoland Dr., Carlsbad, California; tickets start at $89.99-$95.99