Of all the cancelled concepts designed for the two Star Wars lands, there’s probably none quite as legendary as “the Bantha ride.” Early concept art of the land showed a humongous, hairy creature lumbering through the marketplace of Batuu (bottom left in the image above). Believe it or not, this beast was not just a little artistic embellishment. It was meant to be real.
In fact, at the land’s official announcement, then-Parks-Chairman Bob Chapek stood before an artist’s concept of the creature, complete with rider-ready passenger howdahs on its back. Like the elephants of a maharajah, it seemed that these mammoth-like creatures would be carrying actual people. What was not clear is if they’d be large puppets merely serving as props for characters in a show… or if somehow, they’d actually move and carry guests.
According to a 2016 MiceChat Rumor Update, Imagineers had initially planned to build a sort of elevated “highway” following the berm that separates Disneyland’s Galaxy’s Edge from the Rivers of America. Fans’ interpretation at the time was that multiple massive wooly Banthas would be slowly lumbering along these dusty raised trails with guests seated on their backs!
Obviously, this would’ve been a hugely fun addition to the land for a few reasons. For one, it would’ve built out the “mythology” and “world” of Batuu, establishing it as a “real” place with actual aliens and creatures. Second, it would’ve added kinetic energy and motion to the otherwise quite-static land, solving one of fans’ most frequent complaints. Third, this “Bantha” ride concept would’ve added much-needed family capacity to the land – ideally, a height-restriction-free, cost-free thing to do, of which the land has very few. A mix of the Lost Legend: The PeopleMover and riding an elephant, this weirdo ride would’ve definitely been a fan-favorite.
Confirmation of the ride’s development and technology came from an unlikely place: Disney’s official “Imagineering in a Box” free online course offered by Khan Academy. In the course’s video lesson on Ride Systems, you’ll spot a prototype of the walking creature’s Animatronic skeleton and ride platform at about 1:23. What’s more, footage of an Imagineer testing the creature’s motion (embedded below) makes it clear that this attraction was still on the table quite a ways into the land’s development – at least until August 2015.
Look at that beautiful beastie crawl.— Nick Tierce (@nickytea) August 2, 2019
Can you imagine riding on the back of a Bantha through #GalaxysEdge? The cancelled third ride had echoes of the People Mover and Mine Train Through Nature's Wonderland. pic.twitter.com/ZV3h2X6Qx3
According to MiceChat, the plan was axed by Team Disney Orlando executives, who objected to its high development cost and its relatively low capacity. Then, without the research and development cost being split between the resorts, the ride fell out of California’s plans, too.
While we probably won’t ever learn the official reason for the ride’s cancellation, The Art of Galaxy’s Edge at last added new context to its scale. According to the book, the planned creature was not a Bantha after all, but a new Batuuan animal designed just for the land called a therii. At least in the iteration described and shown in the book, this big ole beast was named Elee (pronounced “Ellie”) and would’ve been a single autonomous Audio Animatronic that made a circuitous route around the marketplace of Batuu with guests on board.
Likely carrying eight guests at a time, Elee would probably have essentially been one “trackless” ride vehicle guided by wires embedded in the paths of the land or navigated by another local positioning system. Like the Buena Vista Street’s Red Car Trolley or the Horse-Drawn Carriages on Main Street, Elee would’ve been an “attraction” even for onlookers, with guests having to step out of the way of a massive, living creature with guests on its back. Of course it would've cool...
Admittedly, though, that differs a lot from images fans had of an elevated, PeopleMover-like track and a few dozen animatronic creatures on the path at once. If the “Bantha ride” was really just a single “Elee” all along, it’s a little easier to side with those who opted against the ride. Eight guests at a time and a single ride vehicle marching slowly through the land? We're talking about a few dozen riders per hour – maybe a few hundred a day – in park's that frequently see 50,000 daily. Yeah, that might not have matched the operational standard needed for the highly-sought-after Star Wars expansion at the number one and number three most-visited theme parks on Earth…
4. Kalikori Club
Another of the projects officially shared at the announcement of Galaxy’s Edge – but conspicuously missing from its launch – was a full-service restaurant. Indeed, the space for such a restaurant is physically set aside in the land just behind Oga’s Cantina. Disney’s own much-shared concept art revealed that this sit-down restaurant would feature alien lounge singers and musical acts fit for the rim of the galaxy.
The Art of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge offers dozens of detailed pieces of concept art for the “Kalikori Club,” revealing more than we ever knew about the most-known unbuilt aspect of the land. At least as far as we can tell, the restaurant would’ve been two levels, with two different experiences – a kind of cool new twist on the “multi-room” experience of Be Our Guest Restaurant. The top floor would be a traditional table service restaurant built in a reclaimed Black Spire bathhouse. In the lobby, guests would even see a beautiful tank of crystal clear Batuuan water with a bit of plant-like kelp that once filtered the mineral baths.
Downstairs, however, would the Spice Den – a sort of underworld speakeasy. Descending down the steps and around the cylindrical water tank, guests would discover that that wasn’t kelp at all, but a single tentacle of a squid-like alien creature stirring the waters of the restaurant. The darker Spice Den was indeed a sort of high-roller's nightclub where guests could watch lounge singers and alien acts in an otherworldly dinner show. Some concepts featured a club madame named Twi’lek, while later developments made Oga herself the club’s proprietor.
Ultimately, Galaxy’s Edge has a single quick-service restaurant – Docking Bay 7, with its quasi-alien offerings of Earth family favorites – and lots of opportunities to snack – like Kat Saka’s popcorn, Oga’s Cantina drinks, and of course, Blue Milk.
Since neither of the Wizarding Worlds, Cars Land, Pandora, nor Avengers Campus has a full-service restaurant, it might not even seem that odd that Galaxy’s Edge doesn’t, either… except that Disney itself released concept art of the Kalikori Club! (It's not the first nor the last time that Disney's hasty release of concept art early in a project's development comes under scrutiny when half the stuff in it ends up missing from the final product.) It seems likely that this aspect of the land will come online some day, even under a different name or concept. The space is set aside, and it’s easy to imagine big-spenders on the Galactic Starcruiser experience wanting a table-service meal on their “excursion” to Batuu.
What Could Be…
Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge may be among the most immersive and compellingly cinematic theme park lands ever built. But that doesn’t mean it’s complete. These four attractions are just a sampling of the concepts Disney designed on the road to the Galaxy’s Edge we know. From Audio-Animatronic bartenders to floating Milk Stands; cut characters to layers of mythology and history... incredible ideas went into the making of Galaxy's Edge... and The Art of Galaxy's Edge reveals a lot of it, including things that didn't make it into the land's final execution.
If you're looking for juicy tidbits on rumors of sliced budgets, eliminated entertainment, and rejected rides, obviously an official Disney publication isn't the place to find it. Sure, there are "almost-real" concepts and plenty of Blue Sky pieces of artwork. But The Art of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is a whole lot more than that. It’s a peek into the journey Imagineers take when they tackle projects of this scale – one where a whole lot of good ideas (and hopefully, way more bad ones) simply hit the editing room floor.