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The ‘Star Wars Galactic Starcruiser’ Makes Its Final Jump to Hyperspace

Guest post by Brodie H. Brockie

There is a special toast they make on The Halcyon (a luxury cruise spaceship that is one of the fleet of the Chandrila Starline) as they raise their glasses of Hoth Icebreakers or Fiery Mustafarians. That phrase is “Ta Bu E Tay,” which translates into English as “savor the moment.”

Good advice at the best of times, but words that fans of the The Halcyon are struggling to take to heart as the ship will be making its final voyage this weekend.

In the shuttle (elevator) on the way up to The Halcyon.

To be clear, The Halcyon is not really a spaceship. It doesn’t really cruise anywhere.

What it is in reality is the Star Wars Galactic Starcruiser – an immersive theatrical experience where guests get to take part in a two-day Star Wars adventure in Walt Disney World, in a building adjacent to Disney’s Hollywood Studio’s theme park. Because this is a multi-day experience, there are rooms (cabins) inside that building where guests stay while part of the experience.  Technically, that also makes the building a hotel, but calling the “Star Wars Hotel” is not something the creators or fans of the experience like to hear… and it’s a term those who relish the Starcruiser’s demise love to repeat.

Brodie H. Brockie and Andrea Kaplan, waiting to enter the Star Wars Galactic Starcruiser.

Yes, the Starcruiser has its enemies – both from without and within.

In the experience itself, The Halcyon is boarded by a lieutenant and Stormtroopers from The First Order. They suspect that ship is secretly supporting and recruiting members of The Resistance.

In real life, the Starcruiser has been under a constant siege of negativity from internet trolls: some angry over the price of experience (prices vary, but are typically around $5,000 for a cabin for two for  two nights, roughly two days), some old school Star Wars fans committed to bashing anything that isn’t set in the same period as whichever trilogy they grew up with, or with women in prominent roles, or that was made by Disney at all.

Then there are the YouTube gremlins who have figured out that the algorithm feeds negativity and are making a career of steady uploads bashing everything the Disney Parks and/or Star Wars is making. Nothing makes them happier than uploading videos titled “STAR WARS HOTEL IS A DISASTER” months before it even opened.

If the YouTube naysayers were to be believed, Starcruiser would be a terrible experience, hated by all who dared to attend it, and it would close in no time.

They were half right.

Starcruiser will be closing for good at the end of this weekend. Disney is opting for a tax break over trying to better promote, modify, or in some other way save the experience. Bookings must’ve been low, as a few discounts were offered earlier this year before the sudden announcement came.

But a terrible experience for those who attended?

They were very wrong about that. Disney reports that Starcruiser has some of the highest guest-satisfaction surveys they’ve ever received. In short, they failed miserably at getting people to go on the voyage, but the few who did absolutely loved it.

But maybe you don’t believe it when a corporation says positive things about itself. I get it. So believe me instead. I’m one of those happy few who took a trip on the Star Wars Galactic Starcruiser.  My girlfriend, Andrea, and I went on a voyage in July of 2023. Me, a huge fan of both Star Wars and immersive theater. Her, a huge fan of making me happy.

Star Wars Galactic Starcruiser is an absolute triumph of creativity, theatrics, organization, and attention to detail. It is for me, after 50 years of consuming movies, television, theater, theme parks, and more experimental forms of creativity, my favorite piece of entertainment.

I place Starcruiser just above life-altering experience like seeing Hamilton for the first time, a wildly inventive production of Frankenstein by Chicago’s Manual Cinema, Canada’s great Shakespearean actor William Hutt in his farewell production of The Tempest, Disney’s also prematurely shuttered The Adventurers Club, and seeing the original Star Wars on the big screen at four years old.

All moments I savored. All memories I treasure.

Ta Bu E Tay.

Like The Adventurers Club before it, the audience didn’t simply sit back and watch performers from a distance, they bantered with them – the set was on all sides around them. Like Manual Cinema’s Frankenstein, there were moments of both classic stagework and remarkably imaginative new techniques. Like Hamilton, there were deeply moving stories that had greater relevance in the real-world of today than you might’ve expected. And like Star Wars, well… it was Star Wars!

Everyone we encountered gave their all to the experience, from the starring roles to the bartenders in the Sublight Lounge, to the attendees at check-in. Even the security guards at the gate got into the act.

SECURITY
Ok, just need to make sure you don’t have any blasters – real or artificial with you.

ME
We don’t.

SECURITY
But you do have a lightsaber, right?

ME
We don’t.

SECURITY
How are you going to defend yourself up there?

ME
With our wits!

SECURITY
…. You better get a lightsaber.

On our first trip, we joined the Resistance, helped hide Chewbacca from Stormtroopers, wrote lyrics for lovelorn traveling minstrel Sandro to win back the affection of his Rodian lover, and gave as much grief as we could to the fussy First Order representative, Lt. Harmon Croy.

Helping Chewbacca hide from the Stromtroopers.

Andrea was especially fond of getting in verbal jousting matches with Croy. At one point, furious that the ship’s R2-D2-esque droid, SK-620, had escaped from him, Croy started rounding up all the remote-control mini-droids that the kids on board were racing in the ship’s atrium.

“You can’t put those children’s droids in a pen!,” Andrea objected.

Croy turned on her with fire in his eyes. “The children are next!”

By the time the First Order had been routed off the trip and Star Wars hero Rey was leaving with a “May The Force Be With You,” we were both in tears and knew we’d have to go again… someday.

Someday came sooner than expected when Disney announced this May that Starcruiser would be closing forever at the end of September. We knew we had to go back, one last time. We were far from alone. Demand for remaining voyages was suddenly stratosphere-high.

We eventually managed to secure someone else’s canceled cabin and took our second voyage with our friends, Patrick and Jessica.

This time, we opted to be more on the scoundrel side of Star Wars and helped part-time talent manager, part-time card shark, and part-time space pirate Raithe Kole smuggle a valuable power supply and steal a sacred stone from The Halcyon itself.

We did wind up helping The Resistance again too, because when Chewbacca needs my help, who am I to say no?

I fully expected Starcruiser to be an awesome technical achievement. I fully expected the actors to be top-notch. It was no surprise to me that the alien food would be exotic and delicious. Where Starcruiser really surprised me and vastly exceeded my expectations, was the depth and relevance of the stories.

First, there is the story of Harmon Croy, a low-level First Order officer sent to investigate The Halcyon to see if the ship’s crew is harboring or supporting The Resistance.

Andrea trades verbal barbs with the First Order’s Lt. Harmon Croy.

The ship’s captain, Riyola Keevan, is a blue-skinned Pantoran woman, who treats Croy with more respect and kindness than we see he receives from his superiors. During dinner on the second night, Croy and Keevan get into a debate about the merits of their organizations.

Keevan pointed out Croy’s better qualities: intelligence, tenacity, loyalty. Why was he stuck at such a lowly rank?

She explained to him that those above him feared him and were determined to bring him down while those below him were clawing to climb over him. “In our organization,” she said, (perhaps meaning the Chandrila Starline, perhaps really meaning The Resistance) “you would thrive.”

“But were I to join your organization…,” she paused, gesturing  to her blue skin, “well, they wouldn’t have me.”

Croy couldn’t deny the truth of her words and instead chose to defend himself.  “I’d have you,” he said sheepishly.

This was just one of many moments where Croy seemed to have doubts about his chosen side.  When the sequel trilogy’s seething villain, Kylo Ren showed up, he decided there was no time for nuance.

Leaving The Halcyon to pursue Rey, he ordered Croy to have his Stormtroopers kill everyone on board. Croy objected, there were good people on board, even some loyal to the first order. Kylo had no interest in such distinctions, and repeated his demand.

On our first trip, I was sure Croy was going to redeem himself in the end, but he was just about to give the order when the good guys saved the day.

Indoctrination. Racsim. Facism. These have always been elements of Star Wars stories, but I’ve never seen them addressed as directly or as fully as they were on The Halcyon.

Then there was the story of Raithe Kole, Gaya, and the Hayananeya Stone.

Raithe Kole proudly displays the stolen Hayananeya Stone to the crew that helped him swipe it in the cargo hold.

When you first arrive on The Starcruiser, the crew is abuzz that Gaya will be performing during the voyage.

Who is Gaya? A galactic superstar singer. Everyone is so excited that no one really stops to question why she would be doing this.

Andrea and Brodie meet galactic superstar, Gaya!

It’s like the Earth equivalent of Beyonce dropping in to do a surprise free show on a Carnival Cruise line.

Once we’d helped her manager, Raithe Kole, with some menial tasks in the engineering room, we were in his good graces enough to be let in on the big secret: after years of searching the galaxy, Raithe and Gaya had determined that that the Halcyon was the home of the Hayananeya Stone – a sacred artifact stolen from the Twi-lek people from the planet Ryloth, the place where Gaya was born and where Raithe had found a new home after the Empire had conquered his.

The compass holding the Hayananeya Stone.

The stone was set in The Halcyon’s ornamental star compass, an antique that had belonged to ship’s original architect hundreds of years ago. The compass was on display right in the atrium, the busiest room on the ship.

We were brought into a plot to steal the stone and give it to Gaya who would, in turn, return it to its home planet and hopefully usher in a new era of prosperity (we’d also help smuggle them some coaxium, a powerful element, in case sacred stones weren’t enough. Later, the captain would express some concern over coaxium’s intense volitility. “Captain, I just carried a suitcase full of coaxium across the atrium right against my body… am I sterile now?” She looked at me, costumed with ram’s horns on my head, “I don’t know enough about your species’ biology to be sure. Better to consult a physician.”)

After being told about the stone and the upcoming heist, the same Gaya songs we’d heard on our first voyage took on greater significance. In one, Gaya sang about how the stone had been lost and imprisoned and would soon be emancipated. In another, Gaya sang of her own struggle to find love and acceptance as a Twi’lek. One haunting line often comes to my mind, “they cheer my name in the stadium, see me up close I’m an alien.” A sentiment similar to those I’ve heard expressed by black artists adored by white audiences who still express racism privately.

The heist itself was a blast. Patrick and I lured crewmembers away from the compass to take our picture (or holoscans) over by the elevator while Raithe switched out a fake stone for the real one. There were other distractions too – two guests staged a phony engagement. Other characters talked the Stormtroopers into joining them in a little space yoga.

The best part, though, was meeting up with Gaya again afterward in the cargo hold to present her the stone. She made a moving speech about how the people of Ryloth had long been oppressed, exploited, and persecuted by the larger powers of the galaxy. She was both elated and in tears to have the Hayananeya stone in her hands, and eager to return it to her fellow Twi’leks. To my right, one of the most notoriously unsentimental creatures in the galaxy, a teenage boy, was moved to tears. Most everyone in the small cargo hold was.

Having just been in the British Museum earlier this year, I couldn’t help but think about how many of the artifacts there would elicit similar responses if they were returned to the people they’d been taken from. No Star Wars story had ever really made me feel anything like that before.

Those are just two of the many storylines taking place aboard each voyage of The Halcyon. There are the Saja, the not-quite-Jedi students of The Force who are on board and conduct everyone’s lightsaber training, among other things. Our paths didn’t intersect much with the Saja, but I’ve heard other guests recount stories of their conversations about The Force leading them to more effective emotional breakthroughs than a year of therapy session. The power of the Force or the magic of The Halcyon?

Ta Bu E Tay.

The Starcruiser must be a mind-blowing experience for children. What we know is just an elevator must truly seem like a shuttle that takes them aboard a starship. So convincing are the Chewbacca and Ouanni (Gaya’s Rodian backup musician) costumes that they must genuinely believe that they met aliens. Some will surely take years to realize that the experience was a show.

It’s a different kind of feeling for an adult. We know we’re not really in space. We know that Gaya’s head-tails are made of latex and the stars that appear light years distant out the window are really just inches away on a tv screen, but for those who retain just enough childlike wonder to let go and pretend, there is no playground in the galaxy quite so enticing as The Halcyon.

On board we deflected laser blasts with a lightsaber, rescued our favorite Wookiee, returned hope to an alien race, and got in touch with that spirit of make-believe that resides within us all. At least, I choose to believe it resides within us all – even those who take delight in the quick shuttering of this amazing experiment in entertainment. I pity them that they’ve buried that spirit so deeply under a shell of cynicism so thick that they weren’t willing to see it for themselves.

For me, I have not had so much fun playing Star Wars since I was in elementary school walking around during recess like C-3P0. Maybe not even then.

Here’s the most amazing illusion that Starcruiser pulled off: the broad strokes of the story were set in stone.

Croy always commandeered the vessel, the crew and the passengers always reset the controls of the ship to win it back. Sandro and Ouanni always met, spat, and fell in love.

Celebrating a successful reconciliation between traveling musician Sandro and his Rodian lover, Ouanni.

Raithe always swiped the Hayananeya Stone. The good guys always won and the bad guys always slunk off with their tails beneath their legs. But every guest who chose to fully engage with the experience left feeling like they were a vital part of the story – that events would never have happened the way they did without their input.

How could Sandro have won Ouanni’s heart without Andrea’s romantic advice? How could Raithe have pulled off the heist without my help?

Soon that place will close its sliding space doors for the last time. That remarkable playground will welcome no more passengers. Not for now, maybe not ever. When asked what will become of the building that plays the role of The Halcyon, Disney Parks Chairman Josh D’Amaro has only said, “something will happen.” Comfort as cold as Han Solo frozen in carbonite to the experience’s passionate fans. “Something,” after all, may well mean demolition.

On the Bridge of The Halcyon.

I’m left hoping Disney doesn’t learn the wrong lessons from the Starcruiser’s artistic achievement and financial disaster.

Will they be reluctant to try something so wildly creative again?

Or will they simply realize that if they do, they’d better promote it properly and not assume guests will just show up no matter what?

Will interactive stories find their way into the theme parks instead?

Or will Disney pretend Starcruiser never happened and stick to proven, if less inventive, proven products?

For now, I’m trying to just focus on how grateful I am that I was able to experience Star Wars Galactic Starcruiser.

For now, I raise a glass to the writers, directors, designers, programmers, actors, and crew who brought the stories to life.

For now, I’m still trying to just savor the moment.

Saying goodbye to charming scoundrel, Raithe Kole.

Ta Bu E Tay.

 

 

About Brodie H. Brockie
Brodie H. Brockie is a theatre director and office manager in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Brockie directs both traditional musicals and plays as well as interactive, immersive productions. He has previously written for Dark Horse Comics, McSweeney’s, The Inscrutable Brimblebanks Brothers’ Electronic Storytime, and Cap’n Wacky’s Boatload of Fun.

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