A Journey to Galaxys Edge, the Nerdiest Place on Earth
It’s also true that narratives—books, movies, whatever—have spatial elements. Action takes place. In 1938 the literary critic Mikhail Bakhtin called the way people and things move through narrative a chronotope, a Russian translation of the Greek for “space-time.” Bakhtin set out to map the ratios of time and space in stories, and other critics have extended the idea to a chronotopic network, all the movements in space and time a story covers.
I think Pirates of the Caribbean or the Wizarding World of Harry Potter are immersive without being narrative, necessarily. Ditto the new heavy-immersion theme parks spreading across the Middle East and China. But Galaxy’s Edge is a full-fledged chronotopia. It exists in the sanctioned Star Wars paracosm; it’s a door between our universe and theirs.
Two doors, actually. Your character in the phone-based games in California persists if you go to Florida, and vice versa. The lands are identical in architecture (albeit inverted on the north-south axis). Canonically, in the Star Wars universe, they’re the same place, on the same day, over and over; several imagineers mentioned Groundhog Day to me as a touch point. Galaxy’s Edge is a Möbius story: one place in the Star Wars universe trapped in a time bubble that’s also two places in ours, where we all move through time normally. I’d like to see Bakhtin unravel that chronotopic fuckmuddle.
Actually, I bet a gamer could speed-run that four-dimensional topology. In games, “you’re designing a space that people are going to use and be in and traverse,” says Frank Lantz, director of the NYU Game Center. “You want to use it like an artist, to convey ideas.” Games (like architecture, cinematography, and omnimovers) direct people’s gaze, put resistance and friction into people’s movements to guide them in certain directions.
The common element that science fiction and games—and even cities—share is world-building. “This part of storytelling was always one of the nerd ingredients in literature,” Lantz says. World-building rules are especially overt at theme parks like Disneyland, if you look for them. “Everything there is mechanical and designed, and that’s chilling and weird and creepy and beautiful,” Lantz says.
In other words, Disney has literalized world-building and made a space for people to live out fan fiction—a massively multiplayer online role-playing game with a chewy live-action role-playing center. Pearce again: “You have emergent fan behavior converging with a spatial experience.”
The only thing that doesn’t work in an immersive environment of such refinement is—with apologies—you. It’s your baseball cap, your shorts, your churro. Or my notepad and backpack. “That takes away from the immersion, doesn’t it?” Pearce says. Disney parks have a longtime rule against adults wearing elaborate costumes, which militates against that instantiated fanfic; Galaxy’s Edge is no Comic-Con in terms of Han Solos and Boba Fetts. (Though it is a place for Leias, Reys, and Holdos. I saw more than a few women cosplaying on the down low, hair done weird, rocking galactically appropriate boots.)
Perhaps Disney will relax these rules. Eventually, Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser will open. That’s a two-day stay adjacent to the Orlando park in a hotel designed to look like a Star Wars spaceship, a luxury liner called the Halcyon. The windows will somehow look out onto space, families will get tours of the bridge, and “port day” will connect to Galaxy’s Edge. Apparently even the hotel building will be bermed off from arriving guests—all they’ll see is the “terminal” where they board a shuttle to the Halcyon in orbit above.
It’s murky to me whether that’s an experience people want—two days of immersion tips away from a vacation and toward reenactment. In fact, it isn’t clear that people even want Galaxy’s Edge. Disney anticipated a huge bolus of visitors for the new lands’ openings, and, hey, I get it—my family went to opening week of Star Tours in 1987, and the line ran all the way down Main Street. For Galaxy’s Edge? Not so much. The company cracked down on annual passholders and asked for reservations for entry to try to avoid a flood, and instead ended up with a trickle. Disney spokespeople denied they’d had an attendance problem, and further denied that the September departure from the company of Catherine Powell, president of Disney Parks West, had anything to do with the performance of Galaxy’s Edge.