Rise of the Resistance, which opened in December, is touted as the most technologically advanced ride Disney has ever designed. It’s the main attraction of the company’s $1 billion Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge expansion, and so far, according to reviews online, the ride sounds pretty thrilling. It features a trackless vehicle that moves both laterally and vertically and, also, the coup de grace, live Star Wars actors. For a Star Wars devotee like my son, this is as close to nirvana, or rather the galaxy, as he’s going to get, and so we have come to Orlando for a long escape-from-winter weekend, saving this — what we hope will be the best — for last. Given that we have a 6:15 p.m. flight back to New York, we’ll need to leave Hollywood Studios by 3:30 p.m. That will give us more than eight hours in the park, surely more than enough time to ride even this super-popular attraction, I think. I’ll soon be disabused of this notion. Here’s how the day played out, and what we learned along the way.
Get there early
Before our trip, a patient Disney phone rep had talked me through the procedure for getting on the ride. Each morning, before Hollywood Studios officially opens (opening times vary; the day we went it was 7 a.m. but the gates opened earlier, about 6:40 a.m.), hundreds of would-be Rise riders amass outside. Although the ride itself is free, you must pay to enter the park (a one-day pass starts at $109), where you can gain access to the ride through the My Disney Experience app. The moment the park officially opens, the words “Join Boarding Group” light up on the Rise of the Resistance page. You then tap that link, add the members of your party, and your group will automatically be assigned a boarding group number. When your boarding group is called, you get a push notification on your phone and typically have about one to two hours to make your way to the ride.
It all sounds very orderly, and yet, when we arrive at the park entrance at what we think is a worm-catching 6:09 a.m., we discover that we are already late to the Rise of the Resistance party. Not only are hundreds of people mobbing the gate, they are trading countless stories of failed attempts to get on the ride. Apparently, Rise of the Resistance has had not infrequent breakdowns and sometimes runs only a handful of hours a day. That means being assigned a low boarding group number can be key to success. How low? Disney will not say, and the number varies from day-to-day, though the consensus, at least among parkgoers I talk to, seems to be south of 100. How exactly the boarding group algorithm works, how many boarding groups are doled out per day, and how many people are assigned to a given boarding group, are all shrouded in mystery.
Bring blankets and food
Orlando at 6 a.m. can be cold, dark and windy, so check the weather and if appropriate, make like the locals and bring along blankets, coffee and breakfast. But don’t go too crazy; when the park opens, you’ll need to stuff everything into your backpack. If you decide to skip food, there are a few early breakfast spots inside the park. When we visited, we made a beeline for the hot chocolate and churros cart.
Have the app ready to go, and refresh often
At 6:59 a.m., we, along with nearly everyone inside the park, are standing hunched over our phone waiting for the words “Join Boarding Group” to light up so that we can confirm who is in our party and get our number. Only, for some reason, the words do not light up. Meanwhile, people all around us are calling out their boarding group numbers with all the unmitigated joy and amazement of those just accepted to their first-choice college. “I got 12!” someone shouts. “We got 32!” High fives all around! I stand frozen, muttering my despair, but then a millennial takes pity, tells me to refresh my app, and voilà: We, too, join the anointed. Or sort of. We get boarding group 109.
Have a plan for what to do at the rest of the park
My son and I spend the rest of morning in a delirious haze, caught between anticipation of achieving our dream (or at least my son’s) and fear of not pulling it off. We amuse ourselves by signing up my son for Jedi training, which is adorable, going to the Indiana Jones show and riding the two other Star Wars rides, both of which are fun — Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run in particular — all while relentlessly checking the Disney app to see what boarding group is up. At lunch, over bad pizza, my son overhears an adult give his friends a blow-by-blow account of Rise of the Resistance, which he finds both titillating and depressing. Maybe the ride won’t be so cool, after all, he tells me. Maybe the ride has been ruined.
But about 90 minutes before it’s time to leave the park to head to the airport, the app starts calling boarding groups in the low 100s. Having been told by our Orlando buddies to head over to the ride a few boarding groups early, we do, and find no line at all. The silence that greets us as we head toward the “Resistance base” seems either eerie or sacred — we’re not sure which.
Be ready to play along
“Ride” isn’t even really the right word to describe Rise of the Resistance. It’s more like an interactive story with several chapters, nearly all of which use a different vehicle and location. As recruits to the Resistance, we are hijacked by the First Order while en route to a secret base. Intergalactic chaos ensues, but eventually, thanks to the interventions of Poe Dameron, we are rescued by fellow Resistance members, who put us in an escape pod that takes us back to the base. The ride element is neither a roller coaster nor a traditional motion-simulator. And though there are a few stomach-dropping moments, none of them make me nauseated.
But it’s quite the experience. At one point, while moving through a cavernous hall, we pass dozens of life-size stormtroopers all lined up in a formation that reminds me of the Chinese terra cotta warriors. Live actors, who appear in another segment wearing First Order militaristic uniforms, are not there to amuse, but rather to intimidate. “Stand on the white line,” one of them barks, and when my son hesitates, pointing out that the line is merely just “kind of white,” the actor yells “ ‘Kind of’?! What’s ‘kind of’? When I say ‘It’s white,’ it’s white!” I’m a bit scared, but my 9-year-old is euphoric. “Mommy,” he tells me, “we’re the Resistance.”
About a half-hour after we’ve started, we emerge outside in a different part of Galaxy’s Edge, which seems fitting, because we both feel as if we’ve traveled. And maybe we have. Even the Star Wars gift shops we inevitably come across don’t look like gift shops but open-air refueling stations where the items sitting sparsely on the shelves might just be ours for the taking (cash registers are all but hidden). While I browse possible gifts for his siblings, my youngest wanders away. For a moment I have no idea where he is — Galaxy’s Edge, indeed! — but then I find him on the other side of the low barrier that separates us from Rise of the Resistance. “What are you doing?” I say. “I wanted to see how the ride works,” he tells me.
Suddenly, it occurs to me that those 30 minutes I spent blissfully immersed as a bit player in the Star Wars saga was the only stress-free time of my day. But even so, it was worth it.
“I wish I could see how it works too,” I tell my son. And then it’s time to head home.