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Disney's Piece de Resistance

This is a piece that was published in the Irish Daily Mail on Sunday, March 1, 2020

It was still pitch black at 5.45am, but already thousands of us were queueing to get into Disney’s Hollywood Studios. The last time I’d been up this early with so many other people - all with the same purpose in mind – was to get to the Phoenix Park for the Pope’s Mass in 1979.

Queuing up pre-dawn to get into the park

Today’s goal might be a little less spiritual, but to fans at least no less important: the chance to ride Rise of the Resistance, the newest, most high-tech ride in Disney’s Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge land. To have any chance of getting on I needed to be at the park well before the three suns of Batuu had risen over the Black Spire Outpost.

Rise of the Resistance opened in December 2019, and for the foreseeable future Disney will operate a virtual queue rather than the traditional in-person line, which means using the Disney app to get a boarding group – but you have to first be scanned into the park. All pretty straightforward, but this was why roughly 30,000 of us were shuffling into the park before dawn and then waiting around until 7am for the app to open the booking system. “All the slots are usually gone in 90 seconds,” the guy next to me said he’d heard from someone else.

The adventure begins beyond these doors!

Not that I knew any of this the day before. I’d shown up at the park at 3pm and asked if there any time slots left. Disney employees – sorry, cast members – aren’t allowed to openly mock guests, but it took every bit of self-control for one lad to explain to me without laughing that the ride was very popular and that the only chance I had was to show up early. Like really early.

The hype – for once – is justified. Rise of the Resistance isn’t so much a ride as it is a multi-part piece of high-tech theatre, a seamless blend of four ride systems and a stunning walkthrough experience that delivered me back to my childhood and the excitement of the first Star Wars film (a couple of years before the Pope’s Mass). Just shy of 20 minutes long, the experience is the new standard by which all other simulator rides will now be judged.

Galaxy's Edge

My pre-dawn efforts were rewarded and I was one of the first to walk through the tunnel and into the adventure. I was now a raw recruit, and a hologram of Jedi ass-kicker Rey laid out the plan: board the transport and get to the Resistance’s secret base on Batuu. Simple as.

Rey lays out the plan...

Once on board, our pilot Lieutentant Bek – rendered in such perfect audio-animatronic form that he looked to be made of (alien) flesh and blood – wasn’t so hopeful of a smooth journey, and he was soon proven right: our transport was intercepted by the First Order and before we knew it a tractor beam delivered us into the belly of an Imperial Star Destroyer.

The doors opened and a (live actor) member of the First Order barked at us to get off, where a legion of stormtroopers was waiting for us on the docking bay. The sight of them lined up in perfect rows was a moment of pure fan wish fulfilment.

There was more angry orders, and it dawned on me that playing a rude and curt member of the First Order must be a kind of wish fulfilment for many a cast member sapped by all the smiling they have to do everywhere else in the park. Here, their best efforts to frighten transformed the experience into something wonderfully tense – and we all scuttled sheepishly into interrogation cells as ordered. I’m completely immersed in this adventure, and I haven’t even yet gotten on the ride.

The autonomous trackless vehicle is the hot new thing in theme park tech, and in Rise of the Resistance it’s used to unprecedented effect. Unlike tracked vehicles that follow the same path every time, the autonomous pod can move pretty much anyway it wants and – crucially - interact more convincingly with its environment. The trackless tech here isn’t just good – it’s a critical part of the story, which isn’t always the case with some newer rides.

We’re sprung from the cells and quickly board our escape pods, and then it’s a hell-raising ride through the destroyer’s vast spaces – we nearly crashed into two huge AT-ATs, found ourselves in a full-on laser fight and, most exciting of all, crashed the command bridge, where through the huge ‘windows’ we see a full-scale galactic battle, as epic and as perfectly animated as in any of the films. And just when I think nothing can top that then Kylo Ren appears, his emo rage and fiery lightsabre in full flow.

It took Disney five years to design and build the ride, and it has clearly been worth the effort, if 30,000 people queuing up excitedly in the dark is any measure. I was one of the lucky ones: at 7am on the dot I pressed the ‘boarding group’ button on my Disney app, and was allotted group 5. A text followed a couple of minutes later telling me I was to present myself at the ride entrance. The guy next to me – he of the 90-second warning – mustn’t have been as quick because he drew boarding group 82.

I checked the app later that day and saw that they were boarding his group. It was 5pm. Standing in the dark that morning, I’d have despaired at the thought of having to wait that long for a theme park ride. After I’d finished, I’d have happily hung around all day for another go.

Nuts & Bolts

7 Nights at Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort including direct return flights with Aer Lingus and 7-day ultimate ticket – with unlimited access to all 4 theme parks, 2 water parks and FastPass+ - from €1829. Price based on 2 adults and 2 children (aged 3-9) sharing a Water View Room. Visit disneyholidays.ie.

Flight only with Aer Lingus (aerlingus.com) costs from €229 each way including taxes and charges.

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