“He literally had a tear in his eye when he saw the…” Barbara Hernandez pauses and turns for help to her boyfriend, who’s seated next to her inside Oga’s Cantina, the premiere attraction at Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge in Disney’s California theme park. “What do you call it?” she asks.
“Millennium Falcon,” replies her boyfriend, 45-year-old Indiana native Alex Yanez.
It’s hard to identify the most iconic scene in the nearly half-century history of the Star Wars franchise. The Millennium Falcon swooping in to help destroy the Death Star. Princess Leia’s metal bikini. Luke Skywalker discovering Darth Vader is his father. Han Solo saying, “I know,” and becoming a hero to generations of angry virgins. But any such discussion is sure to have the cantina scene near the top of the list.
“I’m full on geeking out,” Yanez says between sips of his Carbon Freeze, a non-alcoholic drink made from lemon-lime Powerade and fruit flavors. “You never thought you would be able to see the actual cantina from the movie.”
Forty-four minutes into Episode IV: A New Hope, we entered a rowdy, interstellar dive bar populated by miscreant aliens with demon horns, wolf eyes, and walrus tusks, and all other dregs of the universe. A jazz quintet played an original composition by John Williams. Obi-Wan Kenobi literally disarmed a pig-faced tough guy for getting in Luke’s face, thus displaying the true power of the Jedi. Solo settled a debt by shooting the bastard dead, and no one batted an eyelash.
Contained in those six-and-a-half minutes of film was the entirety of the Star Wars universe. The cantina showed viewers, for the first time, just how sprawling and vibrant this galaxy far, far away truly was.
Everyone who’s ever seen A New Hope has fantasized about getting intergalactically wasted on blue space drink and blasting some snout-nosed cretin straight to hell, and has lived with the depressing knowledge they’ll never realize that dream. Until now, that is. In 2012, Star Wars was subsumed by Disney’s gaping maw to the tune of $4.05 billion. The acquisition meant the resurrection of the dormant franchise (and the first good Star Wars films in decades), and now, an immersive Star Wars theme park that opened in Disneyland in May, complete with Oga’s, its own functioning cantina.
Whether Oga’s succeeds in delivering on the dream depends on how cynical of a Star Wars fan you are.
Shortly after noon, the cantina is at capacity, with a line outside at least 30 people deep. Most of them won’t be allowed in; a Disneyland employee, dressed like a low-level Resistance bureaucrat, informs them reservations are booked for the entire day and have been since 7:30 a.m. this morning.
Yanez is one of the industrious Star Wars fans who woke up before 7 a.m. to secure a reservation. He’s also one of the few Star Wars fans who saw the original films in theaters, during their original box office run in the ’70s and ’80s, making him something of a geek culture elder statesman. Drinking in the cantina is the fulfillment of many boyhood fantasies like his.
“It feels like the cantina, even though it’s not the cantina,” says Rusty Lock, a 38-year-old actor visiting from Los Angeles. (He swears that’s his real name.)
One of the disappointing aspects of Galaxy’s Edge, at least for some of us OG Star Wars fans, is that the park caters to the current trilogy, Episodes VII-IX, and not the movies of our youth. But Lock is unfazed. “If they had tried to replicate the original cantina, they would have inevitably fallen short,” he says. “And because this one is generic, you’re not busy comparing it to IV, V, and VI, and you’re able to enjoy it.”
The original cantina’s signature jazz band is conspicuously absent, as are all the cantina creatures. Instead, there’s an animatronic droid DJ spinning nondescript electro-pop beats (which is not as horrendous as you would think).
Like any self-respecting actor, Lock is committed to the bit. He’s dressed as a Rebel ship engineer—brown pants, green shirt, and black leather vest—and says he grew up sleeping in a Sandspeeder bed (his mom, an artist, converted it from a classic racer bed). I ask if he feels silly pushing 40 years old and cosplaying as a Star Wars extra. The answer is a resounding no. “I don’t feel like any part of me is an adult today,” he says.
Because of its popularity, bar patrons are allowed only 45 minutes in the cantina with a two-drink limit, rendering it impossible to get sufficiently loaded. Even if you could surpass the limit, the drinks, essentially Tiki cocktails, are about 90-percent sugar, so you’d be risking diabetic shock.
“It’s kind of funny, coming in here, you almost forget you’re in Disneyland,” says Samantha Colon, a 28-year-old Disneyland fanatic. “When you go back into the park, it literally feels like going back to earth.”
Disneyland has instituted a temporary blackout on annual passholders like Colon from the entire park, presumably to keep the Galaxy’s Edge crowds manageable. Colon would not be denied, though—she found a loophole and bought a single-day ticket instead, just to see the Star Wars attraction. “Disney never ceases to find ways to make me throw money at them,” she says.
In addition to being the largest addition in park history, Galaxy’s Edge is also the first venue at Disneyland to publicly serve alcohol. The only other place where a Disneyland attendee can get sauced up is Club 33, a private area with a five-star restaurant and a reported $30,000 annual membership fee.
As I sit at the bar, a cantina waiter talks me into ordering a Fuzzy Tauntaun, and mocks me as the foam numbs my tongue and lips, mimicking the effect of Sichuan peppercorns in Chinese cuisine. That’s about as risky as it gets here. The original cantina promised a certain level of danger—a watering hole filled with career criminals wanted on 12 different systems—so it’s also disorienting to see entire families in the bar, the younger members sipping neon-colored mocktails.
The Randolphs are a family visiting from Denver, and all four of them identify as Star Wars fans. Ben, the father, saw Return of the Jedi in theaters in 1983, and his love of the franchise was reignited when his kids saw The Force Awakens four years ago. “This is the only thing I wanted to come to in the park,” he tells me, while his youngest enjoys cookies and blue milk.
Part of Star Wars’ unmatched legacy is how it fundamentally changed filmmaking, from both a business and technical perspective. Star Wars set the mold for the tentpole franchise model that dominates the box office every summer now, and the techniques used to create the “original” Star Wars films (Episodes IV–VI) became the basis for Industrial Light & Magic, the special effects shop responsible for some of the greatest visual achievements in cinematic history, including Jurassic Park, Terminator 2, and the genesis of Pixar studios.
You’d think Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge would be similarly groundbreaking, but the attractions are rather low-tech and lame. There’s only one ride, a Millennium Falcon simulator that is about as impressive as your average video game these days. (Another attraction, Rise of the Resistance, is supposed to open at an undisclosed date this summer, and is expected to be the good shit.) The park primarily exists to sell merchandise. There are workshops for making custom droids and lightsabers, which cost $100 and $250, respectively. At its open-air market, I witnessed a mommy blogger spend more than $200 on assorted plush Star Wars animals. And so Oga’s is the main attraction at Galaxy’s Edge, if only by default. (A virtually identical version of Galaxy’s Edge is slated to open at Disney World in Florida this August.)
“As someone who has been going to Disney parks for a while now, I’m used to seeing them take a property, build a land or ride around it, and overdo it on the merch,” Colon tells me one day after her visit. “[But] I was impressed, because it was the realization of a dream I’ve had since I was 10. Nostalgia helps.”
But even the Galaxy’s Edge cantina left me wanting—in particular, for the sense of enormity and adventure contained in the original cantina scene.
Such is life as a Star Wars fan; we’re a perpetually dissatisfied lot, always finding issue with the film franchise we supposedly adore. You’ll probably remember how upset some Star Wars fans were that The Force Awakens was an uninspired retread of the original trilogy, only to have fans similarly upset that its sequel, The Last Jedi, strayed too far from the franchise’s mythos. You can’t win with us. Star Wars as a consumable product can never live up to the Star Wars universe that lives in our heads.
Oga’s Cantina underwhelmed me, but that’s not necessarily its fault; my expectations were impossibly high to begin with.