Top 10 Special Effects from Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance

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Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance is the second ride for Galaxy’s Edge, and it opened in late 2019 in Walt Disney World and will be opening in early 2020 at Disneyland. The new experience combines multiple ride systems including trackless ride vehicles, a simulator, elevators and more along with one of the most elaborate set of preshow elements ever assembled for a theme park attraction. Let’s go over just some of the special effects and techniques used to pull off this impressive new ride.

1. Tricky Hologram

Rey briefs us by hologram (Photo: Disney)

Our adventure begins in a hidden Resistance base just outside of the Black Spire Outpost. After waiting in a queue that weaves through the Resistance barracks, we enter a ready room for our mission briefing from Rey through a hologram. To accomplish this effect, Disney is not using a Pepper’s Ghost or Musion effect, where a piece of angled transparent glass reflects an image that is hidden out of view, usually below or above the viewer. For something like that to work this part of the room would need to be darker, yet we can see the colorful lighting on the wall behind the hologram.

Rough estimate for location of mirror compared to angle of Rey projection behind it

Instead, it appears that the hologram table is actually only half a table, with a mirror placed directly through the middle of it. The wall we see behind Rey’s hologram is actually a reflection of the wall to the side of the device. You can see matching scuff marks and lights on the walls since one side is just a reflection. The hologram is played on a screen behind the mirror, which is a two-way mirror. Only when something is illuminated on the other side will it be able to be viewed through a semi-transparent mirror like this. To help sell the illusion, the Rey hologram is projected at an angle that is not lined up with the angle of the two-way mirror.

2. Shuttling Around

Intersystem Transport Ship facade (Photo: Disney)

After our briefing we exit the base and climb about an Intersystem Transport Ship, or ITS shuttle as they call it. This shuttle is taking us from the ground to space when it is intercepted by the First Order and brought into a Star Destroyer in the story. An impressive reveal once we arrive to the Star Destoyer involves us exiting the shuttle from the same door we entered.

Diagram of the shuttle turntable with the different stops and movements labeled

To accomplish this the shuttle craft itself rotates on a turntable throughout our journey inside. The exterior ship we enter is only a false facade, which remains in place, while the interior cabin moves around on the turntable. A second shuttle facade can be seen inside the Star Destoyer hangar when we disembark. During our voyage from the planet to space and then into the hangar the shuttle pod rotates in two bursts timed with the footage seen out the windows. You can feel the rotation of the pod as it moves along. During the middle of our journey, when we are under fire, a small bit of motion base movement can be felt below your feet as well, between the rotations. There are actually three shuttle pods rotating on the turntable: One at the load position, one at unload, and one in the middle of its journey. If you look closely as you enter and exit the shuttle, you can even see the rounded seam at the edge of the turntable.

3. Shadows of the Empire

Musion character in Interrogation Room (Photo: Disney)

Once aboard the Star Destroyer we are taken to interrogation rooms. Above the single door in the room we see a Stormtrooper, General Hux, and Kylo Ren. These characters are projected using what looks to be a musion effect, where characters are reflected onto an angled piece of glass from a projected image out of view. What makes this effect stand out a bit more than other musion effects, are the shadows. Shadows for all of the characters in the scene are being cast out on objects in the room, seeming from a light source directly behind them, as well as onto the wall behind them. Normally a 2-dimensional projection would not cast shadows. It appears that instead of lights, Disney is using projectors with animated shadows as the light sources. That way the lights themselves are also the source of the shadow silhouettes.

Shadows projected on ceiling in Interrogation Room (Photo: Disney)

This scene ends with us being rescued by the Resistance, who appear to laser cut through the wall to take us away from the First Order. A projection effect is cast onto the wall from above the low hanging ceiling above us, and a section of wall on a track is opened like a sliding door. Be sure to look behind you after boarding the ride vehicles to see the molten metal cutout from the laser on the other side.

4. The Disco Room

“Disco Room” (Photo: Disney)

The first scene on the actual ride portion of this attraction takes us into a round room, affectionately referred to as the Disco Room by Cast Members. Our two ride vehicles are usually met by two other ride vehicles circling the room. In the story our on-board droid lies to the droids in the other cars, telling them it is a prisoner transport. In reality, those two other cars are heading to load, on their way back from unload after dropping off guests. Now that we left that loading bay, these two cars are replacing us to pick up more riders. It’s a unique scene that has us “dancing” with empty ride vehicles, and is incorporated into the ride well.

5. So Many Pew Pews

First Order Stormtroopers open fire against riders (Photo: Disney)

It wouldn’t be a star war without plenty of lasers. From the start of this ride to the end, it seems like everyone is attempting to blast us with lasers. The first stormtroopers we encounter on the ride, (who are also accomplished with a musion type effect,) fire at us with several different special effects being utilized. Projection mapped laser blasts hit the walls and ceiling, while chunks of the scenery appear to vaporize before our eyes, but the most impressive laser effects are the ones that appear to somehow be floating in air.

Laser blast created by LED at end of rotating stick coming out from ceiling

Unlike real lasers, which are always complete, laser blasts in the Star Wars universe appear in short bursts. One of the ways Disney pulled this off is by using rapidly rotating fan blades with LED lights on the end. Like those hologram display signs or alarm clocks, the fan blade moves by so quickly that all you end up seeing is the red lights seemingly flying through the air.

Elsewhere on the ride other effects are used for the laser blasts including LED effects, projections, and more. False walls are illuminated from behind to create suddenly appearing battle damage, and projection effects and fiber optics help sell it further with sparks, smoke plumes, and more.

6. Smoke and (Gigantic) Mirrors

Giant multi-story mirror on back wall of AT-AT room to make it look larger

Many of the scenes throughout the halls of the Star Destroyer are made to look much larger using some well-placed mirrors. Like scenes on the Haunted Mansion, some mirrors can make a hallway seem to go on forever. In one scene however, a mirror can make it look as though you have more gigantic full-scale AT-ATs than you really do. There are only two massive AT-ATs in this room, but a huge mirror that is several stories tall on the back wall makes it look like there are doors to another room with even more AT-ATs in storage. It’s hardly noticable, as most people are paying attention to the two in front of you, but it’s a nice effect that helps to make the space feel even bigger than it actually is—and it’s already pretty big.

7. He’s Coming Right at Us

Kylo Ren projection with a physical lightsaber (Photo: Disney)

At onc point Kylo Ren jumps into a hallway directly in front of us, illuminates his lightsaber and starts walking towards us. While seemingly simple, there’s actually a lot going on here. First off, the hallway appears to be using a mirror gag to appear longer. And while Kylo Ren appears as a projection, the lightsaber he is holding is a physical object that is emitting real light. Kylo is being projected onto a flat shape on a sled, which is wheeled towards us slowly, timed with the walking motion in the projection. It all happens incredibly quickly, and you could miss it if you blink. To help trick your eyes into believing the illusion, bright white lights are shined directly at the car, making it harder to see the outline of the object Kylo is projected on.

8. Saber Attack

Lightsaber attack through the ceiling

Before Kylo can reach us some elevator doors close right in our face and we appear to be traveling down. Of course, this is a fake elevator with flashing lights, and we are remaining on the same level. To distract us from that fact, Kylo Ren’s lightsaber is pushed through the ceiling right in front of us. Since Kylo’s saber has a wild, unruly look to it, the plastic prop used here is rough and is spinning quickly to give the effect of a rough appearance. As the prop saber blade spins, a precut section is rotated out from behind a panel, making it appear as if it is cutting through the ceiling. Some small projection effects are added on top for good measure, coming from the floor out of sight.

9. Imagination is a BLAST

Final showdown with Kylo Ren

The final showdown with Kylo Ren has us in a position with seemingly no escape. An impressive Kylo Ren animatronic appears to use the Force to move our trackless vehicles, when an explosion seen outside the window tears a section of the wall away. Immediately the room is filled with wind and we are able to make our escape. The exploding wall effect is similar to a breakaway wall used in Mystic Manor at Hong Kong Disneyland, and uses hinged pieces that move back quickly to reveal a screen behind. Fans placed behind us and at Kylo Ren’s feet add drama to the scene, and it feels like we all could be sucked out into space.

In the event of the Kylo Ren animatronic being down for technical difficulties, there is a backup version, known as B-mode, where all of the action takes place outside of the windows. For this to work, the ride control system has to know to use a different ride path for the vehicles, and project the backup show scene outside. It’s not as impressive, but it’s interesting to see that Disney thought of a backup plan in case of issues.

10. Going Down?

The ride’s finale has us riding an escape pod back down to the planet’s surface (Photo: Disney)

We finally make it to the escape pods, no thanks to some wrong turns and a lot of bad luck. We park into the escape pod and the doors close behind us. There are actually four possible pods, two on each side. A large shared screen is used for two pods at once. At the start of the scene, after our ride vehicle is locked into the platform, it completely drops, launcing us into space. We freefall several stories like a mini Tower of Terror. Before you can catch your breath, we immediately go into a short simulator sequence featuring our crash landing back to the planet.

Behind the scenes for the escape pod ride system (Image: The Imagineering Story/Disney)

When we park into the pod at the start of the scene, real structures and blinking lights can be seen outside of the windshield. These physical props merge with the screen world to help create a more believable experience. And there are four escape pod chambers, even though there are only two ride vehicles so that the next set of cars can go to the other drop chamber after us, giving ours time to rise back up and reset.

Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance uses nearly every trick in the book to create an entirely new kind of theme park experience. From the intimate preshow elements to the exciting conclusion, this attraction is the total package. Have you had a chance to ride Rise of the Resistance yet? What did you think of it? And are there any more effects or techniques I missed? Leave a comment below, and be sure to check out our previous theme park facts articles for more fun trivia. And be sure to check out the video version of this article for additional visuals!

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  • Sebastian


    Great Article Alicia, thanks for all of the info! Had a few questions after watching some of the various POV videos:
    1) How many interrogation rooms / load rooms are there? 4 (two per hallway) or 2 (one per hallway). It looks like there may be 4 doors entering in to the Disco room but it is hard to tell what is real and are just set pieces.
    2) Do the load rooms dispatch in any particular sequence or is the ride smart enough to just take dispatched vehicles when they are ready?
    3) How many vehicles are actually experiencing the ride at any one time. It looks like you don’t encounter any other ride vehicles (except your dispatch partner) during the ride and surely those scenes need time to re-set (especially the lifts in the AT-AT room. So what is the spacing or timing between dispatched?

    • Alicia Stella

      Thanks, glad you liked it!
      Not entirely sure on all of the answers, but here’s my best guesses:
      1) There are 4 interrogation rooms/loading room sets. 2 in each hallway on the Star Destroyer. All 4 doors in the disco room are real (plus the open doorway coming back from unload and the open doorway we go to for the ride.
      2) This one I am not certain of, but a lot of the way the ride works is based on the computer making calculations on the fly, so I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s just a matter of a CM seeing a room is ready, (flashing light in hallway or something,) and letting guests in and the computer dispatches accordingly. Trackless ride vehicles are good at figuring out the best ways to send cars when everything is ready.
      3) I believe I once read that there can be up to 56 cars on the ride path at any given time. And you are correct, you only ever see the other car you are traveling with, (along with the two empty ones in the disco room) and no others. Every scene allows enough time so you never see another car, and the escape pod scene actually has two sets since it is longer than the other scenes, and they’re loading back/forth A/B style so one is always ready for the next set of cars while the other is in scene. Things like the lifts in AT-AT room can reset as the next set of cars are entering the scene, as they won’t need to lock into the elevators until halfway through that scene. No idea of timing between dispatches… only the computer control system may know for sure lol.

  • Leroy kelley


    Alicia you rock. I had wondered how some of this stuff works. Thanks for the info. Have a great new year.

  • Ron Baker


    Very interesting. Enjoying your site and articles, thanks!

  • Rami El-Bawwab


    Hi Alicia,
    very nice article!
    I visited Galaxy’s Edge in Orlando in January.
    I took a 4 day trip from Germany:
    Monday flight from Düsseldorf Germany to Miami, then by rental car up to Orlando (stayed at a hotel in Celebration), went to Galaxy’s Edge Tuesday and Wednesday and headed back home on Thursday. 🙂

    I was blown away by the attention to detail, although I’m well acquainted to Disney’s high standards in their parks this IMO is an all new level.

    I also managed to get on Rise of the Resistance (which operated in B-Mode at that time).
    I have one question about a thing that caught my eye:
    Right before entering the hangar with the AT-ATs there are troopers on a balcony above shooting at us while the car pulls back (with us facing the troopers in front of us). Their laser blasts hit parts of the edge of the lowered piece of the ceiling above us which look like melting away and leaving damage holes in the edge of the ceiling – ACTUAL holes, as you can see here ar 13:33:

    Do you have any idea how they did this?
    I strongly doubt the are replacing the damaged tiles in the ceiling after the passing of each car. 😉

    Tanke care and stay healthy!

    • Admin

      Projection mapped spark effects hide an effect where a piece of the wall slides away, like a drawer on a track, revealing the “hole”. You can see a slight overlap of the piece covering the hole while it is still “intact” before the effect is triggered.

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