Legends of an Abandoned Explorer Shop

Readers of The Art of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge will find production art depicting many familiar sights from Disney’s themed land, along with a few unrealized flights of fancy from the blue-sky phase of early development. But one corner of Black Spire Outpost featured in the book lies somewhere between. A façade that lives on the path between Oga’s Cantina and Bubo Wamba Family Farms’ Milk Stand, living now in physical reality just as it appears in this newly revealed concept art.

But this tantalizingly locked doorway, with uncharacteristically specific signage, was not just another piece of placemaking in service of the series’ signature “lived-in” aesthetic. The space that was intended to live beyond that door went by many names over the course of the land’s multi-year development, as evidenced by attributions in the book:

Explorer Shop. Arms Dealer Shop. Smuggler Shop. Black Market Shop. Makeover Room. Create-A-Hybrid Shop. And finally, as we see emblazoned in Aurebesh on the sign in the land: Outer Rim Expedition and Supply.

Like every merchandisable corner of the park, this space would undoubtedly have carried some of the more adventurous products that were eventually absorbed by Dok-Ondar’s Den of Antiquities, but its central purpose was far more ambitious.

The explorer’s shop was to be the heart of Black Spire Outpost’s role-playing and interactive elements. A hub for those engaged with what would become the Datapad experience, which originally extended into all corners of the land, including its live entertainment and character encounters.

While the art book is understandably more willing to expound on designs they chose not to pursue rather than those they were forced not to, due to budget cuts, a remnant of this intended design lives in the limited captions offered for these pieces:

“The whole idea about the explorer shop — because this is a remote outpost at the edge of the galaxy, you would think that people who are traveling here are looking to resupply and to find goods and gear, and equipment, and blasters, and helmets to restock, basically. This is really the REI of our outpost.”

“With smugglers, bounty hunters, and shady characters coming in, this isn’t going to be a nice, feel-good type of place. This is the place where you’re going to get weapons. The proprietor runs Outer Rim Expeditions. The sign is in front of the location in the land today. Anyway, this Trandoshan, who is a former bounty hunter, will help people get to the most impossible places in the galaxy.”

— Margaret Kerrison, Managing Story Editor, Walt Disney Imagineering.

Those captions describe the narrative context for the existence of the shop in-universe, but anyone familiar with Disney Parks’ toy weapon ban knows that the odds of a shop selling guns in Galaxy’s Edge wouldn’t have been something explored even in the earliest phases. The fictional wrapper for this shop and its proprietor (Kasif, the Trandoshan) do not literally indicate what, if any, products would be sold there, and any speculation in that regard misses the real ambition of this space.

In terms of the experience actually being offered to guests, there’s one caption from Kerrison that hints to its intended function:

“If you look up, there’s a kind of map. There are stats on the planet, the temperature, and everything you need to know.”

This space’s experiential design roots stretch back to a largely forgotten experiment the company ran in the summer of 2014. Legends of Frontierland was an in-park experimental roleplaying game that took place on the main stretch of the eponymous land. It enabled guests to engage with a full cast of flesh-and-blood characters roaming the streets, earn some fictional currency by completing the quests they assigned, and using those “bits” to “buy property” in a territorial land acquisition game.

The hub for this central interactive component took the form of a map. Players chose a side and attempted to acquire more “deeds” for land to fill up the map with their territory’s color. (Orange for Frontierland or yellow for Rainbow Ridge.) Additionally, status updates would be received via “telegram” and announced by characters or players in their charge. That door swung both ways, allowing player queries about the nuances of gameplay to be sent back to “Chicago”, the in-fiction pseudonym for the live game master.

Replace “bits” with “galactic credits” and “deeds” with “hacked terminals”, and you’ll have the ongoing territory acquisition game that runs daily in Galaxy’s Edge through the Datapad in the Play Disney Parks app. Guests can “slice” various access points throughout the land, claiming it for either the First Order or the Resistance. (Red versus blue, in this case.) Stats for the land game can be checked in the app, and originally had wider consequences than an isolated achievement badge.

The Datapad’s “Outpost Control” was designed to have consequences that affected the story of the live entertainment throughout the land. As it stands, the last-minute cancellation of those stunt shows and character vignettes (that would have carried the story throughout the operating day) left the Datapad an island of its own limited interactive opportunities.

It is worth remembering that the infrastructure required to enable even this compromised experience is still completely unprecedented. Efforts made all the more bittersweet by their suffocation outside the context in which they were intended to live. Even now, hundreds of bluetooth beacons enable the communication of player state to cast members at point-of-sale terminals, activation of physical installations such as droids and creatures, and one of the signature attractions remembering your performance from your last flight. These moments, however rare, represent a totally unique magic rivaled only by the promised game elements installed throughout Universal’s Super Nintendo World.

The unrealized explorer’s shop in Galaxy’s Edge would have functioned as Legend’s “Chicago’’ did for the Datapad’s Outpost Control. The map Kerrison described would have displayed the stats of the ongoing game, a rabbithole for pay-to-play “Premium Missions”, the digital store for which still lies dormant in the app’s code to this day.

A close cousin to those unreleased premium missions lives on in the unlikeliest of places: a Sims 4 expansion pack called Journey to Batuu, which builds out the experience of Black Spire Outpost in its first video game appearance. (A Batuu map for Battlefront II originally touted by Imagineers at industry conferences as part of the multi-media storyscape for Galaxy’s Edge, alongside books and comics, was abandoned in early development.)

Running more complex, multi-stage missions for characters who appear both in the game and in the land offers the closest glimpse we’re likely to get of the original interactive intentions of the in-park experience. It’s an unexpected virtual jewelbox containing a snapshot of the Galaxy’s Edge that never was, and one that enthusiasts are fortunate to have as part of the history of this nascent space.

Amid repeated calls to reimagine either the narrative timeframe or physical expression of the world’s first Star Wars themed land — WDI’s Managing Story Editor recently commented that they are willing to separately frame Rise of the Resistance behind its own narrative berm — it would be a shame to see such a drastic pivot away from something that was never allowed to fully exist in the first place.

Galaxy’s Edge, like all theme park spaces, must grow and evolve. Hopefully this inevitable growth can express itself as an ever-deeper exploration of its existing narrative, rather than an about-face that abandons it entirely.

With any luck, the branching interactivity offered by the Galactic Starcruiser multi-day immersive adventure will spill back into the persistent experience of its “planet excursion” port, for all guests. Black Spire Outpost is an adaptable platform capable of enabling multiple forms of interconnected storytelling. It’s a stage waiting for its performance.

And who knows? Maybe that empty explorers shop, currently relegated to storage use, could one day find its doors unlocked. Welcoming visitors who still long to play, and who continue to light the spark of the ambitious, unrealized dream that quite literally shaped Galaxy’s Edge.

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