Home » 3 Reasons Why Disney’s Star Wars Land Could Fail to Live up to the Hype

3 Reasons Why Disney’s Star Wars Land Could Fail to Live up to the Hype

Ever since its October 30, 2012 purchase of Lucasfilm, Disney has been busy developing a Star Wars Land for both its Disneyland and Hollywood Studios parks.  And even though the projects have long since been trapped in development hell, there are still many reasons to get excited over their eventual debut, as we have already detailed in great length.

There is also, however, more than ample cause to exchange that exuberant optimism for downplayed expectations, as Star Wars Land may very well not end up meeting everyone’s high hopes.  Even more troubling, the reasons behind such concerns run far more deeply than just the sheer amount of time that Disney is taking on deploying the lands (which, of course, directly inflates the level of hype that invariably and inexorably builds around them).

In fact, after considering the following points, it just may be time to cancel that opening day ticket and take a more wait-and-see approach to what was initially believed to be an easy slam-dunk for the company.

3. Too much new, too little old

When Disney CEO Bob Iger recently admitted to scraping the original designs for Star Wars Land, he simultaneously made months’ worth of rumors official and inadvertently opened a can of Jabba-the-Hutt-sized worms.

The story goes a little something like this:  after Walt Disney Imagineering had used the first six movies (which came out over the ridiculously long time span of 1977 to 2005) as the basis for the new land’s array of attractions, restaurants, and other related experiences, Iger had them start over from scratch, placing a huge emphasis on the upcoming slate of new films, starting with this December’s Episode VII: The Force Awakens and continuing each and every year for the next four or five years (six[!] new installments have been announced, though not their exact release dates).

In this way, guests might be able to directly experience the new stories’ contents, as the chief executive gave as the official reason, but it also enables the corporate behemoth to capitalize on an all-out multimedia cross-marketing blitzkrieg, which, it just so happens, managed to work wonders for the recent likes of Big Hero 6 and that little property known as Frozen.

The risks of such a strategy are manifold.  Older generations of guests may feel alienated at the lack of, say, Obi-Wan Kenobi or Anakin Skywalker and the over-abundance of Poe Dameron or Kylo Ren.

Ride concepts inherent in the older material that may have been all sorts of immersive and breath-taking – any number of Clone Wars or Death Star battle scenarios instantly come to mind – may now forever be shuttered.  And, of course, if the new installments of the venerable franchise fail to live up to critical or, more importantly for a company like Disney, commercial expectations, the fallout will be tremendous and potentially irreparable (which just may be what Disney is actually waiting for – see what the box office response is to The Force Awakens this holiday season, then proceed with the planning).

And then there is a little matter that doesn’t originate with the theme parks but which nonetheless could have catastrophic effects upon them:  the new swath of films is the first to be created without the supervision of writer/director George Lucas, which means just how well they’ll be able to mesh with the pre-existent material is questionable.

If new director J.J. Abrams and his crew aren’t able to nail the series’s tone or thematic underpinnings, a dissonant experience – fully realized in all three dimensions – will be awaiting all at both the Walt Disney World and Disneyland Resorts.

2. The wrong focus

Disney’s emphasis within themed entertainment has, naturally, changed over the course of its six decades as a theme park operator, and nowhere is this clearer than at Disney World:  over the past several years, the flagship experiences at the resort have unquestionably become character meet-‘n-greets and the opportunity to dress guests’ little ones up as a Disney Princess (or Prince, depending upon the circumstances).

A quick look at Magic Kingdom’s recently completed New Fantasyland expansion more than bears witness to this evolutionary phenomenon.  Of the new area’s 10 attractions, only four of them are actual rides – and one of them, the venerable Dumbo, was simply transplanted from its previous location in the park.

It’s hard not to think of this, the first major expansion to an existing park conducted at Walt Disney World in some 20 years (since Hollywood Studios got Sunset Boulevard added on), as something of a template for all similar projects moving forward.  And if this, indeed, is the case, then Star Wars Land might be in dangerous territory; new rides based on speeder bike chases or space dogfights may very well take the backseat to the likes of a Mos Eisley Cantina or an elaborate meet-‘n-greet location devoted to Princess Leia Organa and Queen Padme Amidala.

(In this scenario, the rumored tweaking to Star Tours: The Adventures Continue or an expanded, in-door Jedi Academy might be the best that anyone could hope for.)

Such experiences, of course, aren’t to be entirely dismissed – particularly for the segment of the population that they’re clearly designed for – and they can still add up to a wonderfully detailed theme park land, as New Fantasyland (largely) is.  But it would nonetheless be a terrible waste of Star Wars’s immense potentiality, particularly given the series’s penchant for epic action set-pieces.

Not being allowed to tap into that particular aspect of the mythology would be akin to Universal not allowing visitors to its Wizarding Worlds of Harry Potter to wave a wand madly around or, even, to step foot inside of Hogwarts Castle.

1. A watered-down experience

There are many secrets to Universal’s success with its twin Wizarding Worlds, Hogsmeade (at Islands of Adventure) and Diagon Alley (Universal Studios Florida), ranging from the quality of its attractions – Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey is still widely considered to be the best theme park ride ever built, even among many Imagineers – to the breadth and depth of its exclusive culinary offerings to the sheer amount of details and level of immersiveness packed into every corner of the lands.

Perhaps the single biggest secret, however, is a small but revolutionary design decision forced upon the company by Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling herself:  the Wizarding Worlds, at all costs, have to be isolated from all the rest of Universal Orlando Resort.

There’s actually a number of ways in which this airtight iron curtain is instituted.  None of the other Universal denizens – such as, say, SpongeBob SquarePants or the Minions – are allowed inside Hogsmeade Village or Diagon Alley; conversely, none of the Harry Potter folk can drift outside the Wizarding World, not even for character meals.  And no actor can be hired to portray those parts from the novels that have already been filled by the movies, which means that, say, only Daniel Radcliffe can be Harry.

There is a certain level of extremism present in these demands that borders on the insane – no holiday decorations inside the Wizarding Worlds is breathtakingly ludicrous, although, thankfully, it seems that Rowling may be slowly budging on this particular accord – but their general thrust has guaranteed much of the immersion that has made the two lands the crown jewels of the theme park industry.  Once a guest crosses that threshold, she’s in Harry’s wondrous world in a way that has yet to be as fully realized anywhere else.

Given Disney’s track record of blending its various intellectual properties together – Muppet versions of the Star Wars characters, anyone? – it’s not only difficult seeing Disney take a similar, walled-off approach, it’s outright impossible.  If Epcot’s ban on in-park character appearances could only last a handful of years, after all, there’s no possible way that the company could pass up what it sees as a veritable gold mine in cross-marketing.

And Disney’s not very likely to stop with just merchandise – fireworks shows, dance parties, Mickey Mouse-shaped exclusive Star Wars cupcake offerings, and more are sure to make their presence felt at Star Wars Land year in and year out.

It’s hard to see an easier – or more problematic – trap for Disney to fall into with what could easily be its biggest theme park development since the opening of Disneyland in 1955.