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Is Pandora: The World of Avatar Too Perfect?

The Star Wars Problem

Image: DisneyPandora – The World of Avatar is an unqualified success. It runs smoothly and drives park traffic. Disney officials have studied this situation carefully for multiple reasons. One of them is the impending arrival of Star Wars Land, the themed land that's expected to become more popular than Pandora and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter combined.

Here’s what has Disney scared. Pandora went so smoothly that it set a new standard for new themed lands. Anything that comes next is likely to pale by comparison. How do you beat perfect, after all? The World of Avatar had a secondary, almost hidden explanation for its success.

Since everyone expected the themed land to struggle due to its (alleged) lack of widespread appeal, any success would have qualified as a pleasant surprise. When anything faces lowered expectations, it has a better chance of succeeding. Star Wars Land is precisely the opposite. Its expectations are so absurd that nothing could possibly be good enough for some diehard fans.

Image: DisneyIn a way, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge faces the same issue as Star Wars: The Last Jedi. That film came after Star Wars: The Force Awakens, an unqualified blockbuster for the ages. Movie-goers expected the same level of quality and (perhaps unfairly) judged the eighth Star Wars title harshly as a result. It has a worse Rotten Tomatoes score, a worse IMDB rating, and dramatically less box office revenue.

Fairly or not, Star Wars Land will be judged against Pandora in several ways. The technologies and theming are obvious ways. The quality of the attractions is another. Perhaps the most critical facet, however, is overall customer satisfaction, and this area is where Disney faces an almost impossible problem.

The demand for Galaxy’s Edge will be unprecedented. I’ve talked to many Disney influencers on this subject, and the prevailing belief is that it will increase traffic at Hollywood Studios by 50 percent at a minimum. Disney executives must believe this, too. They’ve built an entire themed land, Grand Avenue, as a holding area for Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge.

Image: DisneyLet’s think about that for just a moment. Grand Avenue doesn’t have a single original attraction. When you’re there, you have two choices. You can eat at BaseLine Tap House, or you can not eat at BaseLine Tap House. There’s nothing else to do unless we count the pre-existing option, Muppet Vision 3-D. I say without a hint of irony that attendance for Muppet Vision 3-D is about to spike, presuming it remains in operation. That aspect has been in question for a while.

When you're in the holding area at Grand Avenue during those first few months of operation, all you can do is anticipate your Galaxy's Edge experience. What happens if the said experience doesn't live up to the hype? Or the aggravation?

Expectations for Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge were already unreasonably high. The immediate and total success of Pandora: The World of Avatar has raised the stakes even more. In a way, the situation encapsulates the entire existence of The Walt Disney Company. They’re only in competition with themselves, and their perpetual ability to re-raise the bar on their own triumphs has created the loftiest expectations imaginable.

My concern is that Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge might be a tipping point. A lot can go wrong. Then again, the same is true of Pandora: The World of Avatar, but nothing ever did. At this point, it’s the perfect themed land of the 21st century.

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