Maybe you haven’t heard this: Disney is planning to build massive, 14-acre lands themed to Star Wars at two of their theme parks – Disneyland in California and Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Florida. But of course you’ve heard. The two lands – both called Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge – are the biggest news to hit Disney Parks fans since Cars Land, and everyone’s abuzz about what these new lands could contain when they open (Summer and Fall 2019 in California and Florida, respectively).
Likewise, we all expected that Star Wars: The Force Awakens – Disney’s first entry in the franchise after a $4 billion acquisition of Lucasfilm in 2012 – would be a runaway success, smashing box office records left and right. What far fewer expected was that it would be good. Really good. And it is. Now certain that Disney’s got Star Wars (back) on the right track, fans of both Disney Parks and Star Wars are eager to imagine the incredible lands Disney is designing for its theme parks, with construction due to start any day now.
Today, rather than forecasting what attractions Disney might build or how they might work, we want to take a step back and look at the larger picture as we saw it from the earliest days of this land's announcement, before the finer details were announced. This feature, then, it meant to act like a "time machine," capturing our thoughts as they were at the dawn of 2016.
We want to take a critical look at the pros and cons of this upcoming Star Wars land to critically discuss the the hopes (the Light Side) and the fears (the Dark Side) that this unprecedented and unique land inspired even before it opens. Read through our list of pros and cons and then share your own in the comments: are we too critical of this Star Wars land? Are we not critical enough? Check out our thoughts and be sure to tell us yours below.
LIGHT SIDE #1: Star Wars is getting its own, fully-realized themed land.
Easily the first thing Disney did really, really right with the upcoming Star Wars land was exactly that – creating a full, immerse themed land for the franchise. Let’s be clear: Star Wars is evergreen. It has weathered ups and downs and still draws massive, massive following. Disney purchased Lucasfilm outright (including Star Wars and Indiana Jones intellectual properties) for over $4 billion in 2012, and it was widely expected that their entry into the Star Wars universe would be big. And it sure has been.
It’s no surprise that Star Wars: The Force Awakens – the long awaited Episode VII and Disney’s first go at the franchise – has been critically acclaimed and shattered box office records, lining the franchise up for a triumphant return from the rough era of the prequels a decade ago. And ever since the acquisition, Disney has been searching for new ways to incorporate Star Wars into its theme parks.
Up until a year or so ago, the steady, persistent rumor was that Star Wars was on its way to Disney Parks, but in a very different format. Particularly in Disneyland, it was imagined that Star Wars would take over Tomorrowland. Of course, fans revolted at the idea that one of the park’s lands – and a Walt original at that – would be overtaken by a single intellectual property. And it was inescapable that Disney would’ve gotten flak for redressing Walt’s world of “new frontiers in science, adventure, and ideals” meant to embody “hope for a peaceful united world” into a land based on perpetual interstellar war that takes place “a long time ago.”
All that aside, Disney had a bigger fish to fry. It won’t surprise many that Disney fans call the upcoming Star Wars land a response to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. That fully immersive, self-contained world is a sight to behold. Universal’s Wizarding World – to the shock of Disney fans – has become the gold standard in themed entertainment design, with Disney unceremoniously playing catch-up and trying to design its own built-out, intellectual-property lands that can try to match Potter's appeal and merchandising (PANDORA – The World of Avatar and Cars Land).
Put simply – shoving Star Wars into an existing park land would not hold up to that new gold standard. Even a really good re-skin of Tomorrowland’s 1967 buildings wouldn’t create an immersive world on the scale of Cars Land or Diagon Alley. Disney needed to go big and original with this. It had to be a from-scratch land rivaling the Wizarding World for scale. And it will be.
For what it’s worth, Disneyland’s current seasonal promotion – Season of the Force – has predictably seen Star Wars temporarily taken over Tomorrowland in what may be a sneak peek of what could’ve been had a Star Wars land taken permanent hold there. The Hyperspace Mountain overlay to Space Mountain is earning rave reviews, a new scene on Star Tours is welcome, and the half-baked Launch Bay exhibit is an alright aside, but it's all evidence that Star Wars deserves more.
What’s coming at Hollywood Studios is also a step-up, where once it was thought that Star Wars would get only a few minor C-tickets to join Star Tours and they’d call it a day. Of course, that was never verified, but it sounds just about right for the dismissed and under-built park.
LIGHT SIDE #2: The Star Wars land will be set on a completely original planet.
The breadth of the Star Wars universe is staggering. Dozens of built-out planets have been seen on the big screen, and far more are depicted in the Star Wars Legends continuities. There are forest planets, urban planets, desert planets, oceanic planets, and more. Jakku, Coruscant, Kashyyyk, Endor, Tatooine, Naboo, Cloud City, and countless others are beloved locations from the films.
So perhaps it’s initially strange that Disney elected to forego them all and instead design a completely original “planet” for the Star Wars land to take place on. But really, it makes tremendously good sense.
A) SIZE AND SCALE: First, each of the planets we’ve seen in the films is just that – an entire planet. Huge, expansive vistas like Coruscant wouldn’t be recreatable because of their sheer scale and size. It’s one thing to recreate Radiator Springs. But all of Naboo? Not to mention, picking one specific planet is to the exclusion of all the rest. What if a fan felt that Star Wars land HAD to be Tatooine, but Endor was built instead?
B) TIMELINES: The Star Wars universe is constructed around a very rigid and specific timeline of events and locales. Unlike Harry Potter's decade-long setting or the few days spent in Radiator Springs or on Pandora, the Star Wars universe takes place over literal millennia. Planets shift powers and names and are even destroyed. Certain planets are only seen or dealt with during the prequels, original trilogy, or the newest episodes. To have Star Wars land take place on a planet we know and have seen would require a specific explanation of the timeframe, and Star Wars’ legion of fans would (rightly) demand that each detail accurately represents that time. Even now, Disney's confirmed that one of the land's rides will see guests plunge into a battle against the dreaded First Order - the villanous galactic power from Episode VII. That means any (inevitable) appearance by Darth Vader in the land will be scrutinized...
C) LOGISTICS: While they’re gorgeous to see on film, most of the planets in Star Wars aren’t the kinds of places you’d care to see recreated in a theme park… Tatooine wouldn’t translate well. What would there be to do in Kashyyyk? No. Logistically, a theme park land needs restaurants; restrooms; shops; conspicuous attraction entrances and queues. A wide Tatooine desert with an open air market isn’t theme park worthy.
So count us into the camp that thinks Disney has done precisely what it needs to do – it’s building a new planet. By their explanation, this yet-unnamed “gateway planet located on the outer rim, full of places and characters familiar and not so familiar” will be an engaging and detailed environment. From the looks of the artwork, you can catch glimpses of familiar architectural styles.
The best way to think about it may be like Universal’s Islands of Adventure’s Port of Entry land. There, it’s made to look as if all the cultures of the world have come together to build a single port, with buildings sharing dozens of architectural styles. The same might be true here, too, but with aliens, droids, and humans from around the galaxy building this interstellar port together. It looks beautiful and – just as important – like it can actually be done in a theme park.
By the way, that’s not to say there are no drawbacks to designing a completely original planet… and we’ll talk about that when we look at the Dark Side. Read on...