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Disneyland's Rise of the Resistance ride opens, new theme park era begins

This Star Wars ride is unlike any Disney attraction, and it's now open on both coasts.

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During Rise of the Resistance, you'll meet Lt. Bek.

Bridget Carey/CNET

Disney's newest attraction is more an experience than it is a typical theme park ride. Guests are dropped into the action of a Star Wars movie with a 20-minute adventure that blends high-tech tricks, immersive theater storytelling and full-on movie sets to create a new class of theme park entertainment.

The ride is called Rise of the Resistance, and it's the key spectacle of Disney's Star Wars-themed land, Galaxy's Edge. It's now open at California's Disneyland after debuting last month at Disney's Hollywood Studios park in Florida.

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Disney has long talked about this as its most ambitious, technically advanced attraction. The story takes guests through several ride systems in a multipart narrative with all the stars of the new trilogy. A hologram of Rey gives you your mission briefing. A transport ship takes you off planet, piloted by life-size animatronic aliens. But something goes wrong. The First Order captures you aboard a star destroyer, escorting you past rows of Stormtroopers into a holding cell. Your escape is on a trackless droid-driven transport shuttle that whips you around movie-scale sets in an unpredictable way as you dodge blaster fire -- all while Kylo Ren personally hunts you down. 

But good luck being among the first to ride it. For now there's no standby line option at either Disney World or Disneyland. To get a spot on the ride, guests have to use an app to request a "boarding group." That means you have to be inside the park, open the My Disney Experience app, request to join a boarding group, and hope you get called back to ride before the park closes. Since this virtual queue system debuted, all boarding groups have typically been distributed 30 minutes after park opening, and guests have no guarantee on what time they'll ride or even if they'll get the chance to ride. 

Is it worth the hassle? The answer is an easy yes for any fan. I rode it during a media preview before the Florida opening. There have been Star Wars rides made before, but Rise is the most unique Disney attraction I've ever seen. It plays with your mind -- changing the typical narrative of a ride by moving you between different areas, mixing people and animatronics and screens as you're shuffled between environments, at a scale you don't typically see in a ride.

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Rise of the Resistance shuffles guests between different cinematic scenes, getting the guests up close with the First Order.

Bridget Carey/CNET

From start to finish I was in awe of how fast it all was happening, trying to figure out how Disney was pulling off all these effects. This is the first time I've felt so close to the action with the main stars of the saga. And I found myself so moved by it all -- screaming "WHAT!?" over and over again as we zipped around in our escape transport.

You're not on some side mission in the Star Wars universe, passively watching. You're part of the story. And that's what makes this Galaxy's Edge land different from the other classic Disney-themed areas of Tomorrowland or Adventureland.

We've seen this immersive shift slowly emerge. Disney's Avatar-themed Pandora in Animal Kingdom is a place to role-play as a eco-tourist on an alien planet, discovering small details of storytelling tucked in among all the scenery and food. Toy Story Land at Hollywood Studios puts you with Woody's crew inside Andy's backyard, with toy soldiers marching in the crowds. And there's the gem that kickstarted the trend, at Disney's rival Universal Studio's Wizarding World of Harry Potter, where guests can design their own wand that interacts with the elements in the magical Hogsmeade village.

We're seeing this trend level-up with the newly announced Super Nintendo World at Universal Studios Japan, still under construction. When it opens later this year, guests will be transported into a colorful world pulled from a classic Mario game. A wristband called the Power Up Band will activate different elements in the world, like, say, a giant floating question-mark block, with activity logged in a smartphone app.

Immersing guests in a universe now means blending theatrics with technology to make us believe we're in an experience -- instead of just a ride.

Originally published Dec. 4.
Update, Jan. 17: Adds details about the ride opening in Disneyland, boarding group reservations and Universal's upcoming Super Nintendo World.