Opinion: What Is the “Climate Simulator” Aboard Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser and Will It Break the Illusion?

Two nights ago I participated in a virtual event put on by the American Institute of Architects Los Angeles (AIALA) about the Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser immersive resort experience coming next spring to Walt Disney World. And during the Q&A session after the presentation, one of the Walt Disney Imagineers on hand mentioned something they referred to as a “climate simulator” aboard the Halcyon, the fictional space-faring cruise ship on which the experience takes place.

My immediate thought was that it sounded familiar– an open-air space on the ship that functions as a way for guests to step outside for some fresh air if they start to get claustrophobic during this multi-day journey to A Galaxy Far, Far Away… or simply want to see sunlight for a few minutes instead of looking out the Halcyon’s portholes into the blackness of space. But after asking around, I realized that if it even had been referenced before by WDI, nobody was really talking about it yet. So I included it in my breakdown of the AIALA event, but (probably against my better journalistic judgment) put it way down at the bottom of the recap piece, almost as a footnote.

Naturally my old boss Ricky Brigante (one of the people I had reached out to ask whether we’d heard about the climate simulator previously) picked up on the fact that I had kind of buried the lede, and took to Twitter with his far better-honed skills at highlighting the key tidbits of information to come out of a presentation like that. And in retrospect I probably should have made it a headline from the beginning, as I bet people are interested in the ways in which WDI is planning for that type of thing, but at the time I felt like I didn’t quite have enough information for a full article on the topic. I wasn’t allowed to record the proceedings, and outside of what I scrawled in my notes, the only other thing I remember Imagineer Ann Morrow Johnson saying about the climate simulator was that (in-story) it would literally be simulating the climate of the planet the Halcyon was visiting. Basically if it’s raining on Batuu, it’s raining in the simulator (because if it’s raining in Galaxy’s Edge at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, it’s raining in the Star Wars hotel next door as well, of course).

But Ricky’s eye-catching and thought-provoking Twitter thread got me ruminating about this a bit more: does the idea of the climate simulator break the reality of what the Galactic Starcruiser is going for? And moreover, does it make sense in the world of Star Wars? To me, it depends on how it’s presented. In one of the texts we exchanged, Ricky likened the concept to a “Holodeck”– much more of a Star Trek thing than Star Wars, as holograms in the George Lucas-created universe are much less convincing things, a sputtering and static-y technology used mostly as a medium for communication. But, giving the Imagineers the benefit of the doubt, I think it’s much more likely that the climate simulator will be explained away in-story as a sort of arboretum on the Halcyon– a greenhouse where they have figured out a way to make the ceiling above look like Batuu’s sky (I guess that’s the part that’s going to require some suspension of disbelief).

Ricky says that for an admission price of $5,000 or more, he wants a “SEAMLESS immersive experience. One that enables me to totally lose myself inside it, never reminded of the outside world,” but I don’t know that the idea of this climate simulator necessarily breaks that illusion. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that when Morrow Johnson first mentioned it, my initial reaction was that it sounded like a space I would look forward to checking out and could potentially become one of my favorite areas on the ship, depending on how it was designed. The more troubling part to me– as far as immersion goes– is the excursion to Batuu itself (as Ricky noted in his Twitter thread), where not only will theme-park guests be wearing Donald Duck t-shirts, but also right outside the boundaries of Black Spire Outpost lie bizarre attractions from other unknown galaxies like Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway and The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. During the presentation, the Imagineers referred to both park guests and DHS Cast Members as “citizens of Batuu,” which is mind-bending enough to absolutely justify The Matrix memes Ricky uses on Twitter.

Galactic Starcruiser is such a crazy experiment that even the person I trust most about the subject of immersive entertainment, Pseudonym Productions co-founder Ricky Brigante, isn’t sure whether it will succeed on the terms the project is setting out for itself. And for me, as an immersive acolyte and Star Wars superfan, to still be relatively on the fence about whether or not this experience would be worth my time and money (if I wasn’t almost certainly going to be writing about it for work) seems like a pretty big deal. Like many fans, I’ve always dreamed about living in the Star Wars universe– if only for a couple days– but will this premium-priced adventure really be the ideal way to do it? I suppose we’ll find out in a little over five months.

Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser is set to open on March 1, 2021 at Walt Disney World. For more information, be sure to visit the resort’s official website.

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