ORLANDO, Fla. -- Eric Henderson was standing inside the theme park Disney's Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World, near the exit of the new ride Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, when the 38-year-old Atlanta native spotted someone he thought looked familiar.
"Are you an Imagineer?" Henderson asked John Larena, nodding to his official-looking Disney name tag and business-casual attire.
Larena is indeed an Imagineer, one who just happens to be a principal architect of Rise of the Resistance, which opened here Thursday at Disney's Hollywood Studios and comes to Disneyland on Jan. 17. It's a crucial new attraction for Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge, the land that opened to much hoopla here in August and in May at Disneyland in Anaheim, but offered just one ride.
Before Larena could finish answering the guest's question, Henderson stopped him. He wanted a photo and to offer an impromptu hug. In Orlando on business, Henderson arrived at the park at 3:30 a.m. to see if he could get on the ride. And though it was more than four hours before he was able to get into Rise of the Resistance, the wait, he said, was more than worth it.
Henderson then started gushing about one of the ride's early tricks. Guests board a transport ship that places them on on a giant starship belonging to the evil First Order. The slow-moving flight simulator -- the first of two ride vehicles on Rise of the Resistance -- gradually rocks and rotates on what is essentially a giant turntable. This allows guests to exit the same door in which they entered. It offers the illusion of walking off the planet and entering Outer Space.
"The magic of that is unbeatable," Henderson said. "That's amazing. Amazing."
Henderson's reaction added a smile to Larena's already watery eyes. If guests can match even half of Henderson's enthusiasm Disney will not just have a hit on its hands but an attraction that should quiet, at least for a while, any discussion that Galaxy's Edge is not meeting expectations. In August, Disney reported a 3% dip in attendance for its domestic theme parks, despite Disneyland opening its most buzzed-about resort addition since the launch of Cars Land in 2012. Soon, the company shuffled a number of key executives.
It was safe to wonder if Galaxy's Edge over-promised and under-delivered.
But Disney clearly has a very good feeling about Rise of the Resistance. This is evident from walking along the ride's line. On opening day the company employed a reservation system -- through an app, you found out if your ride time would be in the morning or evening -- keeping queue times under an hour for those who were lucky enough to be at the park before the ride was booked for the day at 8:30 a.m. Normally, however, when a proper standby line eventually is utilized, guests will know when they reach what is approximately the halfway point of the line by the presence of benches, carved to appear as a natural formation of an imagined cave that houses the base for the rebellious heroes of the resistance.
The benches not only show that Disney understands how to provide guest comfort -- people are generally pro-rest amid long days standing in theme parks -- it is also an indication of optimism, a belief that Rise of the Resistance will bring the throngs of people that the company has publicly speculated stayed away from Galaxy's Edge at Disneyland due to either a fear of overcrowding or the desire to wait until the land was more complete.