A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…
In October of 2012, Star Wars fans felt a disturbance in the force—in an unprecedented move, Lucasfilm had sold the rights for the entirety of the Star Wars universe to the Walt Disney Company. It was a risky move for both parties, but one that has paid off with untold dividends for Disney. While the success of films like The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi, and Rogue One have proved undeniable (despite a sometimes very-vocal fanbase), fans were quick to guess that Disney had other plans in mind for Star Wars besides film trilogies and TV shows.
Buzz began immediately that Star Wars Land was on the way.
At the 2015 D23 Expo, the excitement was confirmed with the announcement that this new land would be something unlike theme park guests had ever seen before. Further details emerged in 2017 as the new expansion was christened Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, estimated to open in late fall 2019 at Disney’s Hollywood Studios with a summer opening for its Disneyland counterpart.
Unlike park expansions of the past—even those as recent as Toy Story Land—Galaxy’s Edge would cross a new frontier for Disney Imagineering, a theme park experience larger and more immersive than any predecessor, with cutting edge attractions, new concepts for merchandise and dining, and even its own fully-inclusive resort.
For Disney fans who aren’t really into Star Wars, there’s been a temptation to brush off Galaxy’s Edge as just another park expansion—an over-zealous fandom that will fizzle out. The truth is the effects of this new land are going to be unignorable throughout The Most Magical Place on Earth. Almost certainly, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is going to change the face of Walt Disney World forever. Here are 10 reasons why…
1. Fresh life for Disney’s Hollywood Studios
Disney’s Hollywood Studios has been a park with a fascinating but complicated past. Originally founded as both a cinema-themed escape and working movie/animation studio (Disney-MGM Studios), the park has transformed dramatically over the years. After losing its initial ties to MGM studios, Disney’s Hollywood Studios experienced a short golden age as a must-visit park with exciting new attractions like The Hollywood Tower of Terror and The AeroSmith Rockin’ Roller Coaster.
While it still maintains some of the finest attractions Disney had ever constructed (including Star Tours), its popularity dwindled as its backlot vision muddied. Disney shut down their satellite animation studio, and the park shifted from the exploration of movie-making to promoting in-house intellectual properties. By 2015, it had become Disney World’s least popular destination, easily written off as a half-day experience. Rumors even abounded that the name might change, though these have since been disproven.
Enter Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.
The opening of Disney’s Animal Kingdom’s World of Pandora proved that when Disney sets their mind to new innovation, fans will come out in droves. Even a year after opening day, lines for Pandora’s Avatar: Flight of Passage regularly linger in the multi-hour range. If fans arrived with such force to experience the world of James Cameron’s Avatar—a film with seriously mixed reception—there’s no doubt crowds are going to be intense for Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. Just as Disney’s Animal Kingdom surged in attendance its opening year, Disney’s Hollywood Studios could likely receive the same shocking boost.
While huge crowds are a daunting thing to consider, there is a positive to it—fresh life for Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Disney will need other places for visitors to spread throughout the park, a possibility they already prepared for with the arrival of Toy Story Land. Success for Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge will likely mean a fresh inbreathing of development for the rest of Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
2. A very different type of park expansion
There’s no doubt that the development of both The World of Pandora and Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge came about partially as a response to Disney’s primary competitor, Universal Studios Orlando. Universal’s acquiring of the theme park rights to Harry Potter is a fascinating story and of itself, but what it did with those rights played a huge part in shifts at Disney.
Universal’s The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is undoubtedly one of the most richly detailed, immersive theme park lands ever built, and Universal managed to pull this off not just at Islands of Adventure but then doubled their success with the Diagon Alley expansion at Universal Studios Orlando—connecting both parks with an in-world Hogwart’s Express. Making sure they didn’t lose another major film franchise to Universal was one of Disney’s prime motivators for acquiring the rights to James Cameron’s Avatar. More importantly, however, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter set the bar spectacularly high for Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.
Disney could easily have added a simple Star Wars themed expansion to Hollywood Studios. Instead, they are going for gold. Guests responded en force to the immersive nature of Pandora. Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge will be the largest theme park expansion ever brought to Walt Disney World, and it won’t be built to surround movie-merchandise shops, fandom photo ops, and warehouses hiding simulators. Guests arriving at Galaxy’s Edge’s planet Batuu won’t just be spectators of Star Wars fandom—they will become part of the very fabric of that story.