If you visit any Disney theme park, you’ll have the opportunity to ride seven decades of world-famous attractions: Disneyland’s opening in 1955 gave us the ground-breaking Jungle Cruise, a fully immersive boat ride down Earth’s major rivers, inhabited by realistic (for the time) animals and people. The 1960s brought Pirates of the Caribbean and Haunted Mansion, which set the industry standard for large-scale, movie-like rides. From the 1970s which included Space Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain in Walt Disney World, to the 1990s with Tower of Terror and the Indiana Jones Adventure, to Soarin’ Over California in 2001, Disney Imagineers invented new ride systems to tell new stories to new audiences.
Almost every great theme park attraction has to excel in five areas. First, it has to be big in scale and scope – there’s a reason why many of our favorite rides end in “mountain”. Second, the ride has to have incredible detail – you have to believe you’re actually in the story. The Haunted Mansion, for example, is not only a full-size manor home, its line extends outside into the garden and grounds of the estate, populated with lifelike reminders of your own mortality.
Third, most great rides are long – Splash Mountain is around 12 minutes start to finish, and Pirates of the Caribbean clocks in at over 15. That length allows Disney’s Imagineers to tell a complete story, and it’s also a reward for waiting a long time to ride.
All great attractions are repeatable – you can ride them day after day, year after year, without being bored. Some rides, such as Indiana Jones Adventure, achieve this repeatability through incredible detail, while others, like Tower of Terror, do it with thrills. Either way, great attractions offer something new with each ride.
Finally, all classic theme park rides have memorable music to accompany its visual elements. Disney occasionally releases the best of these in albums dedicated to theme park audio, and there’s a thriving community of ride soundtrack collectors online.
Disney’s new ride, Rise of the Resistance, at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, meets all of those criteria. The last attraction Disney built before starting its eighth decade in theme parks is one of its best, pitting you in the middle of a classic battle between good and evil as shown in the Star Wars films.
The ride’s premise has you sent by the members of the Resistance to deliver plans to rebels on another planet, as part of their fight against the First Order. To do this, you pass through four separate pre-show scenes – cleverly disguised waiting areas – before boarding an actual ride vehicle.
Each pre-show scene has at least one “Wow!” moment. The first comes as you’re briefed on your mission by the adorable orange BB-8 droid. Those mission details come from a marvelous hologram of Rey (Daisy Ridley), which manages to be both authentic to the original trilogy and incredibly lifelike.
From there you head outside (yes, out of the building) to board transport ship. Once aboard, an animatronic pilot fills in more story details. You’re standing up while experiencing this part of the ride, and you’ll feel the ship moving. As the ship flies through space, crystal-clear, high-definition screens show stars floating past, and camera video of the Resistance fighter pilots you’ve got as fighter escorts.
Your transport ship is captured by the First Order just as the Millennium Falcon is captured in the first Star Wars film. Disney’s created a second surprise moment here – the same outside door through which you entered the transport ship, opens to reveal you’re inside the hangar of a First Order star destroyer.
The hangar is huge – one of the largest sets that Disney has ever built. Dozens of stormtroopers are standing at attention, and some shift around waiting for orders. We’re reasonably sure this room exists for you to take selfies as much as it exists to advance the story.
From there, First Order officers (real Disney employees) take groups of 16 into interrogation cells. Every aspect of this segment looks exactly as it does in the movies, from the wall-mounted computers, to the floors and ceilings, to the First Order uniforms and the officers’ script. (Try touching one of the computers as you wait for your cell.) If Disney over-promised a realistic experience with Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run, it over-delivered with Rise of the Resistance.
The interrogation cell contains yet another new special effect: members of the Resistance cut through the wall to begin an escape attempt. Even if you know the effect is coming, it’s impossible to find ahead of time the place in the cell walls that will be cut. You’re spirited into ride vehicles (eight people each, in two rows of four), and told to make your way to an escape pod for the trip back to Batuu.
It’s at this point that the actual ride begins. Without giving away the entire story, you’re driven through the ship, passing from one show scene to another in a fast, fluid, chase led by Kylo Ren. Each scene is packed with astonishing special effects inside massive show sets, the likes of which we’ve never seen in a theme park. These effects are so novel that Disney’s been submitting patent applications for many of them. And even though those patent applications told us what to expect on the ride, seeing them work, and work better than we imagined, were moments of pure joy.
The ride’s climax begins with a face-to-face confrontation with Kylo Ren. Luckly, you find the escape pod. You blast off from the star destroyer, and land outside (as in “under the sky and clouds” – the real outside) back in the forest of Batuu.
The entire experience takes around 18 minutes, assuming all of the complicated ride systems are working properly. That’s an important point, because the ride breaks down. A lot.
If there was a church for theme park designers, Disney Imagineers would probably confess that Rise of the Resistance wasn’t ready to open when its December 5, 2019 opening date rolled around. However, since that date was announced publicly by Disney CEO Bob Iger months in advance, and thousands of theme park fans had booked trips around it. Rise was going to open to the public in whatever state it was in.
How to Ride Rise of the Resistance without Long Lines
Disney is using a virtual queuing process it calls “boarding groups”, to manage access to Rise of the Resistance. See Touring Tips (below) for how it works.
As of now, Rise of the Resistance stops working several times each day. Some of these are minor, and result in delays of anywhere from a few minutes to half an hour. Other problems are substantial enough for Disney to evacuate all guests from each part of the ride so they can reset things – a process that can take hours. When this happens, everyone evaluated gets a paper FastPass, which provides immediate access to the ride’s line once the ride starts running. We’re told those FastPasses are good for up to a week.
Those FastPasses are a reasonable way to compensate guests who’ve already made the effort to ride. The problem, of course, is that a substantial part of each day’s already-limited ride capacity is already taken by people who were affected by breakdowns over the past week. For now, this substantially limits the number of new people who can experience Rise of the Resistance. As we write this, all available spots to ride Rise of the Resistance have been allocated before 9:00 a.m.
Your best bet to experience Rise of the Resistance is to check the park’s opening time the night before your visit. Plan to arrive at the park a full two hours before that, with your park admission already purchased. Disney’s been changing the park’s opening to as early as 6 a.m., so that means you’ll need to be at the park by 4 a.m. Dress appropriately. (If it’s any consolation, you most certainly will not be alone.)
You’ll know that the operational issues with Rise of the Resistance are solved when it is included in Disney’s Extra Magic Hours lineup. We wouldn’t be surprised for that to take several months, given the size and scope of the ride systems.
Even with spotty reliability, it’s hard to think of any theme park ride from the last thirty years that’s better than Rise of the Resistance. (Univeral’s Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey is the only thing that comes close.) Star Wars fans will weep with joy at the story and detail, and everyone else will be amazed by the experience.
It’s worth a special trip to Disney’s Hollywood Studios just to see it. Five stars out of five.
Rise of the Resistance should be the most popular ride in the park, and its early operational issues aren’t going to make lines to ride shorter. If it’s working and has a standby line, make it either your first destination of the day or your very last. The drop at the end isn’t quite as intense as the one on the Tower of Terror— but don’t underestimate its ability to loosen your lunch.
Although this may change, Disney has not yet operated a standby line at Rise of the Resistance; instead, you must join a “Boarding Group” immediately once you’re in the park, either by using Disney’s My Disney Experience app on your phone, or finding a Disney employee to do it for you. Also take a photo of your boarding group notification – it may come in handy later.
Each boarding group is assigned a number, typically between 10 and 200. As space on the ride becomes available, Disney assigns that space to the next boarding group number. The My Disney Experience app will display the current set of boarding numbers being accepted, and notify you when yours is available. If your boarding group is farther down the list, the app (and in-park display screens) will provide an estimated time of day, such as “afternoon”, that your boarding group will be called.
In our experience, you’ve got one or two hours to return to the attraction and ride once your boarding group is called. Also, return windows can change based on how well the ride is operating: one of ours went from “morning” to “afternoon” and back to “morning” in the span of about two hours. If you miss your boarding window for any reason, simply explain the situation to a cast member at the ride, and show them the photo of your boarding group.
When your group is called to board, head to the attraction, scan your ticket, and you will be granted access to the queue. We’re told waits can be up to an hour once you enter the queue. Also note that being in a Boarding Group doesn’t guarantee access to the attraction: operational issues or other factors may prevent Disney from granting access to all Boarding Groups each day.
Looking for more review and a ride-through? Check out our YouTube video.
Is Rise of the Resistance going to be a must-do for you on an upcoming trip, or are you likely to wait until the ride is more stable before taking your first ride? Let us know what you think in the comments.