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How Disney’s first-ever Marvel land is nothing like Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge (beyond the obvious)

By Carlye Wisel
Avengers Headquarters building

Within less than two years, Disney Parks will have unleashed two major lands based on what are arguably The Walt Disney Company’s largest franchises. Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, a 14-acre expansion to both Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Florida and Disneyland Park in California, opened in phases starting last year; while Avengers Campus, due to Disney California Adventure in July 2020, is just now revealing what it will contain.

The debut of these two expanses, both inextricably tied to their own worlds of films, television, and published media, and owned by the same organization and built at the same theme park resort, would leave some to expect a number of similarities. In actuality, Avengers Campus and Galaxy’s Edge are poised to be unbelievably different. (Ed. note: Disneyland’s theme parks are currently closed for COVID-19 prevention and currently slated to reopen in April.)

While so many Star Wars fans have dreamed of experiencing that galaxy far, far away for so long — drinking blue milk, sipping cocktails in the cantina, yielding a lightsaber — there’s none of that achievable in-world experience baked into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a world focused on superheroic deeds that leaves little room for us common folk. So Walt Disney Imagineers had to invent it. Framing Avengers Campus as a training facility solved one problem — namely, why all these folks are together in Anaheim, Hong Kong, and Paris (the three interconnected Disney theme park lands) in the first place. So did calling it a "multiverse" where anything can happen, providing a loophole for characters that perished in Avengers: Endgame. Filling it with experiences that feel authentic to the films but worthwhile for guests, though? That was entirely another.

For those who maybe don’t have a handle on one or both franchises, just know this: Everything in Star Wars’ nine-episode Skywalker Saga revolves around light versus dark and its need for balance, while Phase 3 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe focused on camaraderie and the importance of joining forces for a common goal. The physical embodiment of both spaces, then, naturally reflects those ideals.

The battle between factions is so paramount to the entirety of Star Wars’ stories that Batuu physically represents it. Galaxy's Edge is distinctly halved, with Black Spire Outpost serving as the city center upon which First Order troops (the bad guys) have recently arrived, while the remote Resistance Forest houses the Rebellion (the good guys) as they attempt to gather recruits. Those dark, detailed spaces in its center — a Marrakech souk-inspired marketplace where townspeople would hypothetically gather to discuss whose side they’ll end up on — are in stark (heh) juxtaposition to Disneyland’s latest project; Avengers Campus, an almost entirely outdoor land, leverages its modernity for a space that reflects a heightened, tech-aided version of life as we live it today.

Avengers Campus Overview 2

In Avengers Campus, we won’t be “participants in our own Star Wars story," choosing to join the resistance to fight the First Order like visitors do within Galaxy’s Edge’s new Rise of the Resistance attraction, but active and willing observers hoping to take part in the fun. From Doctor Strange’s interactive lessons within a Sanctum to Dora Milaje teaching the ways of Wakanda, instead of choosing a side at Avengers HQ, we’re all being recruited as aspirational heroes who, with some help, could become one of the gang.

Avenger Campus isn’t poised to be the same sort of groundbreaking, immersive expansion in the way Star Wars’ land was, but that’s not necessarily a negative. Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run and its unique pilot handling is almost too game-y for the casual guest (or young children who have been known to steer the Falcon straight down into the land’s jagged spires) in one position, and much too uninvolved in the Engineer and Gunner roles. Like the Goldilocks solution to all things Disneyland, the WEB SLINGERS: A Spider-Man Adventure interface at Avengers Campus appears to be just right. No buttons to aimlessly smash or levers to control; just fling your hands towards the screen and you’re off to the races.

In this Stark Automotive-factory-turned-co-working space, young engineers collaborate on products designed to help us feel what it’s like to have skills reserved for the mighty. This results in teamwork on-board the ride, with passengers working together slinging virtual webs from their wrists, boosting the group’s score. While the core ethos of Star Wars films are opposing forces, here in the physical embodiment of the MCU, it’s togetherness, viewable in everything from the land’s core ideals right down to how this new attraction functions.

Disneyland Avengers Campus Spider-Man

Where Disney's Star Wars land reached for the moon and landed in the atmosphere, Avengers Campus knows what it is. We’re here to work alongside Spider-Man, witness Black Widow’s skills, and eat some shawarma. As Galaxy’s Edge pushes the limits of what a ride can be — both in inventiveness and crowd-balancing — there’s so much to navigate in needing to arrive at the parks early for a Rise of the Resistance “boarding pass.”

Here, at Avengers Campus, it’s set up to be easy-breezy. Show up, hop in line (or grab a Fastpass) for the ride, and sip a chocolate stout while a stunt show happens overhead throughout the day.

Whereas the meticulous planning required of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is more Floridian in execution, this is precisely what locals want from California Adventure: an attraction that unveils itself more and more over time, a land that leaves itself open to fold in any and all new films and shows that debut, and a place to hang out with family and friends. It’s an environment that welcomes you and heralds your visit in a different way than Batuu does. It’s almost like this land was bound to be part of a bigger universe — it just didn’t know it yet.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's, and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBC Universal.