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Southern California & A Galaxy Far, Far Away

My brother has lived in California now for nearly fifteen years, and so I’ve been traveling to the west coast to visit a couple times a year pretty regularly. In those fifteen years, he’s gotten married and had two kids, so the trips have changed slightly in their focus, from sightseeing and exploration to, more recently, simpler family visits. That said, we’ve seen and done quite a bit in this last decade and a half, everything from visiting a model train museum in San Diego’s Balboa Park, to Padres games, to paragliding off the dramatic cliffs of Torrey Pines. One year, my wife and I even spent a couple adventurous weeks driving from San Diego to San Francisco via the iconic Pacific Coast Highway through Big Sur.

On this, our most recent visit, we all took a day trip north to Disneyland, something we’ve done every few years since he’s been out there. This time, though, the kids were a little bit older—Anna is five and Reef is three—and also, this time, I brought my wife, Christine, so she could experience Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge for the first time.

Like many, we love all things Star Wars. We’ve seen the films over and over again and are loyal viewers of all the TV shows on Disney+. Jeff, though, is on another level. His home is chock full of memorabilia, from light sabers to X-wing helmets to battery-operated Baby Yodas. The walls of his house are decorated with Star Wars artwork, and he plays a complex Star Wars board game that uses small metal miniature figurines, which he intricately hand-paints in his workshop. He and his gaming partner, Josh, even film and post their gameplay on Jeff’s YouTube channel, Surfside Hobbies.

So he was pretty excited to go back to Galaxy’s Edge.

I was, too, of course. I wanted to show it to Christine and wanted to experience it through my niece’s and nephew’s eyes. And, just as important, I wanted to go on Rise of the Resistance, the park’s signature ride, and one that I had been shut out of on my previous visit three years earlier.

Galaxy’s Edge is a fully immersive experience. I remember telling Christine that, if it weren’t for all the tourists meandering about, the place could be used as a set for TV show or movie. It is, as they say in the business, camera ready.

A big part of that verisimilitude is in the details, both big picture and discreet: the jagged, mountainous skyline that cuts Galaxy’s Edge off from the rest of the park, making it feel immersive; the water bubbler with two dirty tanks of swampy-looking water and a one-eyed creature living inside, looking out at you through the glass as though annoyed you are taking its water; in the food court, a droid turns a roasting alien on a spit, and the sandwich wraps are just original enough that you almost believe you are eating something that came off that turning spit—no turkey clubs or burgers available here.

There is a bar called Ogas’s Cantina, and it looks similar to the bars you see in the films. Sitting in one of built-in booth cubbies, you can imagine Han Solo blasting Greedo (and, of course, shooting first).

Out on the streets, merchants sell their wares and Stormtroopers accost you and every turn, checking your credentials and generally giving you a hard time (in good fun). On the day we were there we ran into Boba Fett, the Mandalorian with Grogu in tow, Kylo Ren, and even R2-D2.

Jeff considered buying an X-wing helmet. He put it on Anna’s head to see how it fit her. He took it off and looked at the price tag. “Eighty-five bucks,” he said. “That isn’t bad.” When you’re an avid collector like he is, and you find yourself at Galaxy’s Edge, if you gotta have it, you gotta have it.

Later, we ventured into the rest of the park, walking along iconic Main Street, through Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, and around Tomorrowland. I first visited Disneyland in 1978, exactly 45 years ago, when my family lived in Santee, California for a bit. On Main Street, looking around while waiting for Christine to come back with our iced coffees, I thought of that first visit all those years ago. I was nine, with 1970s bangs and plaid pants, my parents wearing bell-bottoms and ridiculously large sunglasses, my little sister being mistaken for a boy (probably). I remember browsing one of the stores on Main Street and picking up a Chip stuffed animal (one half of the Chip and Dale duo). It wasn’t a small stuffed animal, and so I’m sure it wasn’t cheap. I found my father and asked him if I could get it, and—surprisingly—he said I could. When we were finished looking around, he finally said, “Come on,” and then I proceeded to follow him right out onto Main Street and toward the castle. He was well ahead of me and I hustled to keep up, looking back over my shoulder a few times to see if anyone

was after me. To this day, I’m not sure if I stole it or he did.

Christine and I took the kids on a couple rides, both for some one-on-one time with them but also to let Jeff and Pauline take a much-needed break and to get themselves iced coffees. It seemed, somehow, important that I take them on the Pinocchio ride. Reef heavy in my arms and Anna swinging from Christine’s hands. It’s one of the original rides, here from the very beginning, and one I remember fondly from that first visit all those decades ago. It’s a simple ride, of course, harkening back to a simpler time, operating very much as an emotional time machine.

As we neared the front of the line, close enough for Reef to be able to see the people ahead of us being loaded into carts, his—and my—anticipation grew. Then, out of the blue, he grabbed my cheeks in his sticky fingers and kissed me squarely on the lips, for no particular reason that I could tell. I smiled and looked back at Christine to see if she’d seen what had just happened.

She had.

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