By now, you know the story. Throughout 2010, James Cameron's Avatar became the highest-grossing film of all time. The very next year – faced with the undeniable success of Universal's Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Disney optioned the 20th Century Fox film for its theme parks in a global, exclusive deal. 

A half-decade of fan revolts followed, plus plenty of op-eds about how little people seemed to care about Avatar; how it had left no memorable moments, iconic quotes, beloved characters, or devoted fan base in pop culture. Then, 2017's Pandora: The World of Avatar opened at Disney's Animal Kingdom, suggesting that maybe none of that mattered – that Walt Disney Imagineering could create an entirely new corner of the Avatar world, sync it to the rhythms and themes of Animal Kingdom, and sever The World of Avatar from the movies altogether to create a place that could resonate with guests who loved the film... and just as importantly, the seeming majority who'd seen it, but couldn't name a single character. 

Image: Disney / Lightstorm

Unlike Hogsmeade or Diagon Alley, Pandora's "Valley of Mo'ara" wasn't "plucked from the screen at all." Instead, it offered guests a chance to visit a previously-unseen "corner" of Pandora; one where they wouldn't be beholden to already-told stories and could instead create their own. Pretty inarguably, it works, positioning Animal Kingdom's land as a place where visitors encounter the flaura and fauna of Pandora as eco-tourists, comfortably separated from the characters, plot, and even setting of the films. It worked... And there's no question that Disney took some of ingredients of Pandora and applied it to their next major project... 

Timeline Tethering

In 2012 (after Disney had already announced their licensing of Avatar, by the way), Disney purchased Lucasfilm. And before the decade's end, their would-be magnum opus of the Wizarding World-style "Living Land" had arrived: Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge. Like Pandora, it doesn't bring to life a specific place seen in the films, but a new planet where guests can "Live Your Own Star Wars Adventure." In that way, it's clear that Imagineers had learned a lot from Pandora!

Image: Disney / Lucasfilm

But Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge made some decidedly different decisions. For example, it's not an open-ended adventure. Quite the contrary, the land is set on a single, recurring day that maps onto the highly academic and studied timeline of Star Wars. It's also incredibly self-serious and highly inflexible, deeply tethered to Star Wars canon (meaning Disney's allowance of timeline-breaking characters is an exception, not a rule). 

Worse, the moment it's anchored to happens to fall in the Disney-produced sequel trilogy. Sure, it turns out that J. J. Abrams-helmed sequel trilogy was wildly uneven, with declining critical and commercial success in each entry and a final entry that left a bad taste in fans' mouths... but worse, the trilogy is (gulp) over. It must've sounded good back when the land was in development alongside the films, but now, Disney has a permanent land themed to a completed film franchise that certainly doesn't have the staying power of the original trilogy from the '70s and '80s. Oops. 

Image: Disney / Lucasfilm

Star Wars is broad, informal, and fun. So it might've been smart to make a broader, less formal, and more fun land to celebrate it. Instead, Disney locked its land onto what was timely instead of what was timeless, inseparably attaching its permanent land to a sequel and requiring knowledge of a now-finished franchise to understand. Meaning maybe they'd misunderstood the lessons that Pandora or Cars Land or Avengers Campus taught... 

And that brings us to Disney's apparent next Avatar attraction and a tricky choice around its potential direction... Read on... 


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