LIGHT SIDE #3: Star Wars land plays a unique role in both parks.
While both Disneyland Park and Disney’s Hollywood Studios are getting identical (as far as we know) Star Wars lands, they each play a very different role. Sure, both lands will represent a never-before-seen planet in the Star Wars universe, but they’re both able to fit into their respective parks in very unique ways.
At Disneyland, the Star Wars land will be anchored along the northern shore of the Rivers of America in a never-before-used space (which, originally, had been set aside in the 1970s for a magnificent lost land called Discovery Bay). The plot is expected to allow Star Wars land to connect to Frontierland and Critter Country, creating a pathway around the northern edge of the river (and finally ridding Critter Country of its dreaded dead-end status). Look carefully, though, and you’ll see just how well the Star Wars land that Disney has designed melds with both Frontierland and Critter Country. It’s smart. After all, fans’ knees buckled at the thought that a towering, futuristic Coruscant-style city would rise above Critter Country. But it won’t. Star Wars land (which will be mostly-concealed behind a new rock face anyway) fits with the more natural lands (Adventure, Frontier, Critter Country) on the park’s western side - it transitions well from, to, and between from the redwoods of Critter Country to the Utah forests of Frontierland!
At Hollywood Studios, it’ll stand out. But that’s a good thing. Since its opening, the park has languished under its tired “studio” theme. Midway through the ‘90s, the advent of the DVD and its backstage features took the sizzle out of studio-style parks, and most have felt the heat ever since. Fans have been begging for Hollywood Studios to lose its tired, cheap “studio” theme (and name) and get rid of boxy tan showbuildings, mismatched neighbor attractions, and eye-roll-inducing “movie magic” elements for some time. Star Wars land is a step in the right direction. Pair it with the announced Toy Story Land and the days of the Studios appear to be numbered.
LIGHT SIDE #4: Star Wars land treats the franchise with a reverence that’s been missing for a long time.
Disney’s partnership with Lucasfilm started long ago. Even in the mid-1980s, they were working together to develop their original version of the interstellar simulator (as chronicled in our in-depth feature, Lost Legends: Star Tours), and their relationship has been fairly consistent ever since. Fans know that Disney leveraged that partnership long before they ever acquired Star Wars outright. From attractions and shows to Star Wars Weekends and merchandise. One mistake they made: an irreverent attitude.
We’ve all seen the videos of Boba Fett dancing to Lady Gaga at Star Wars Weekends. We’ve seen Disney Parks commercials with Darth Vader riding Dumbo. We’ve seen action figures of the Muppets dressed as Star Wars characters and Minnie Mouse with Leia’s signature hairstyles… Ultimately, these displays of hilarity might’ve earned cheers from hardcore fans, but the truth is that they cheapen the brand. Videos of Darth Vader and Stormtroopers dancing to Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” at Hollywood Studios are what Steve Jobs would call a “brand withdrawal,” pulling credence and respect from the characters. The truth is, the Star Wars brand is worth more than that.
(By the way, many fans imagine that Disney’s treatment of their Star Wars license is one element that weighed heavily against them when J.K. Rowling first entered talks to bring Harry Potter to Disney Parks. And think about it: Rowling probably expected (rightly) that if Disney got the rights, they’d have Muppets dressed up as Hogwarts students; have Voldemort dancing to Tina Turner at “Harry Potter Weekends,” and put a Harry Potter ride in a big tan showbuilding at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.)
To Disney’s credit (and perhaps as an example of their savvy), the minute they acquired Star Wars and Lucasfilm, much of that nonsense stopped. They made a conscious effort to undo the cheapening they themselves had brought. You won’t find Darth Vader dancing anymore; you won’t find too many instances of crossover merchandise; Disney is now dedicated to depositing into the Star Wars brand, not withdrawing. A meet-and-greet with Darth Vader is dramatic and intense, not a joke. Stormtroopers are imposing and dramatic atmosphere, not backup dancers. A fully realized Star Wars land is evidence of that newfound respect and reverence. It's a good thing.