Predictions for Star Wars in Disney Parks, Part 1by Todd King, contributing writer
It’s been established that Star Wars will have a greater presence in Disney theme parks in the near future, to include attractions inspired by the new movies as well as a blend of things inspired by the existing ones.
And that, my friends, is about all we know.
The rest of the story is a heaping spoonful of speculation. But what fun it is to speculate, even with little information to go on. So let's speculate—let's brainstorm Star Wars Land! Quite possibly, this brainstorming may be exactly what Imagineers are doing right now.
Let the speculation begin.
How much Star Wars?
My first question about this whole project is, how much? How much Star Wars stuff are we talking here? How much will be put in the parks? Will there just be one new ride—one added next to Star Tours, and then call it a day? Or on the other extreme, will we have an entire Star Wars theme park? I mean, why not? A whole separate park devoted entirely to the Star Wars franchise? In the words of Mr. Potato Head from Toy Story, "Hey I can dream, can't I?" Unfortunately, I don’t think either of these two extremes will happen. I don't think it will be one added ride, and I don’t think Disney is considering an entire park based on the one franchise.
As sad as that seems that it won't happen, I believe a complete theme park of nothing but Star Wars stuff would be completely amazing. Disney could totally do it. But would it work? Would it work financially? Could such a park sustain visitors in the same way that Epcot or Magic Kingdom do? That’s a big question mark, an untested idea, and a big risk. Probably too big a risk, for Disney or for anyone at this point.
The actual finished product will be somewhere in between those two extremes. I think Disney will create a Star Wars “land” that will include several attractions. That's not an exact number but we're wandering in the dark. So, how much Star Wars? Not a little, not a lot, but in the middle.
The Size of the Theme
I think there are two main ideas regarding such a new "land":
- Disney now owns Star Wars and it has a very large built-in fanbase. So just based on the fact that they have Star Wars in their possession, they’re going to use it and make a place people want to visit.
- The Wizarding World of Harry Potter over in Universal Studios/Islands of Adventure in Florida is pretty popular and, quite importantly, it’s a singular-themed land created from a single, large franchise.
Disney, most assuredly aware of the Harry Potter "land" and its success, might consider a similar approach to the Star Wars "land." If we have such an area for Star Wars that will have several attractions, then my next question is, how do you approach the overall theme? How far do you go with the theme?
Should Disney take the same approach as Universal? What was Universal's approach? They didn’t just put a bunch of rides, each with accompanying gift shops, over in some corner of its park. What Universal made is a place where the guests feel like they’re right where the wizards and witches have walked. Guests get to go to Diagon Alley and feel as if they entered the secret realm themselves. The theme of Harry Potter's world is all around the guests because the size of the theme is big.
Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom are all about this idea of big themes. When you cross under the Walt Disney Railroad tracks and into Main Street USA, you are transported, physically and mentally, to another place and to another time. Crossing the threshold from Main Street into Adventureland, Fantasyland, and the others, you are taken further to different worlds, each with their own sounds, smells, and sights. Disney mastered these concepts of theming decades ago.
However, there is something different about the connection visitors feel in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. The theme takes its guests to places they’ve seen before, places they saw in the movies—complete walkways and re-created buildings all resembling the actual set pieces from the films (which, in turn, are derived from the descriptions in the novels). Compare that with an attraction like Star Tours at Disney parks: the theming is excellent with a large spectacle of an entrance like the AT-AT walker at Walt Disney World and the X-Wing starfighter in Disneyland Paris. But Star Tours is a single ride and those impressive structures are but the facade at the attractions' entryway.
At Disney’s Hollywood Studios, you turn the corner, and there’s a different themed spot for Muppet*Vision 3D. Just turn your head, and there’s the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular. In the World of Harry Potter, turn the corner and there’s Gringott’s bank. Turn your head, and there’s Olivander’s Wand shop. All around you, as far as your eyes can see, are the many facets in this one world.
Disney should make the Star Wars theme a big theme, but have they done anything like this before?
The Main Street Connection
The idea of a big theme is not just about the single attraction and its facade. A big theme will add to that the many ways and paths that lead to the attractions and keep them based on the one main theme. Disney theme parks have done this before, and the best example of what I’m talking about is Main Street USA. The entire street is one big theme. Here is a description, in Walt Disney's own words (from the audio of the album, Walt Disney Takes you to Disneyland: A Musical Tour of the Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney Records, 1956, 2003):
"Suddenly as we come into this square, the cares and worries of today are left behind and we find ourselves in a little town in the year 1900. On one hand is a city hall and on the other is a fire station. Down Main Street we see the Emporium and all the many shops. There is the old music store, the penny arcade with its blaring orchestrium, the popcorn man, and the old calliope. At the end of the street, the marching band appears in full regalia. But let's take the horse-drawn street car and ride down Main Street."
At every point on this street, from every inch of the curb to every pane of the upstairs windows, Main Street sets the mood for your park experience. Here, you walk leisurely past colorful shops, hop on a horse-drawn buggy, meet a character or two, catch a parade, hear a piano player or barbershop quartet, and admire buildings to the left and right with old and yet familiar architecture. There isn’t a single “ride” or major attraction, but the whole area is about mood, about the feelings it evokes. You enter here, and the first thing the Disney park wants you to do is to take it easy, take your time, look around, see what’s in the next door, peek in the shops, discover what’s around the corner. The theme is all Main Street up and down, left and right.
Compare this experience to when you enter one of the other lands such as Adventureland. There are large trees and vegetation and statues. You hear tribal drums and smell pineapple. The theme of jungles and faraway places abounds at every turn. However, at one point there is Alladin's Magic Carpet ride next to the tropical thatched temple of the Enchanted Tiki Room. A look across the way and there is the Spanish citadel of Pirates of the Caribbean. Adventureland's exotic theme is fairly consistent in its surroundings in the area but with each attraction along the way, there is just a slight shift of mood.
To address this shift of mood, almost all of the attractions feature an approach to the ride to change the mood. For instance, enter the Spanish citadel and there is a large open plaza that shuts out the noise of Adventureland. As you walk in further, more details unfold, like a crate here, a rope there, a cannonball pile. Finally, you pass into a hall that separates you from the last audible bustle of Adventureland’s area, and you are pulled into the world of the Pirates of the Caribbean.
Likewise, if you go in the covered queue of that tropical temple, you are greeted with a beautiful waterfall over a colorful garden. This waterfall eventually splits open to reveal two talking birds taht welcome you to the Enchanted Tiki Room’s preshow. This leads you to a change of mood and prepares you for the delights ahead.
Each of these approaches, with Pirates, the Tiki Room, as well as others, pulls you into its individual theme. But for each individual theme, the attraction includes that approach to take you away from the main open plaza of the land and prepare your senses for the experience ahead.
This is how the theme of a place like Adventureland differs from that of Main Street USA. Main Street’s theme runs through every building and every corner. Adventureland isn’t necessarily a disjointed set of attractions, but each attraction leads you to a different realm of experience. It’s not a singular idea at play in its theme, but a loose theme that unifies various rides. The difference between the themes is all in presentation. Both Main Street USA, and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter have truly unifying themes that bring attractions together. This is what the Star Wars land ought to be.
The Primary Setting
If the Star Wars land is to have a central unifying theme in the same vein as Harry Potter, what ought the primary setting be? Harry Potter takes the setting of Hogsmeade and most recently added a second area, Diagon Alley. These are actual locations from the books to the movies, each with their own set of shops and sights right from their film counterparts. Star Wars is a much more expansive universe with many locales each with their own visual identity. There is Tatooine the desert planet, Hoth the ice planet, Bespin with Cloud City, Endor the forest moon, Naboo the exotic, romantic paradise, Kamino the rain planet, and Mustafar the volcanic planet, among others. Some of these are outdoor settings from the movies. There are several iconic interior settings, too, but for the main plaza in the theme park, it ought to be an outdoor set (you can't replicate the interior of the Death Star in an outdoor spot).
Should one of these locations be set as the place you see when you walk in to a Star Wars land? Volcanos of Mustafar aren’t a place you want to be near, even though July in Orlando can be pretty hot. Even though it rains in Orlando a little bit each day (sometimes more), not everyone will enjoy a constant downpour like on Kamino from Attack of the Clones. Naboo, from The Phantom Menace, seems like a pretty place that could probably work. However, the outdoor setting that is probably most associated with Star Wars, and appears in five out of the six movies, is Tatooine.
There are so many iconic images in that setting. It is where we spend nearly half of the very first movie, Episode IV A New Hope:
- We are introduced to Luke Skywalker at the moisture farm on Tatooine.
- We find the Jawas meeting up with the droids R2-D2 and C3PO there.
- We meet Obi-Wan Kenobi; his home is there. Han Solo and Chewbacca join the story and the battle there.
- Anakin Skywalker was born there and left enslavement to pursue his destiny.
- Luke contemplates his destiny looking out to the dual suns in probably the most iconic image in the film's history.
- It's where we join the story of Jabba the Hutt in his palace, and his failed attempt at killing our main characters out in the Dune Sea.
- There are pod racing tracks in neighboring settlements hosting thousands of spectators.
- Finally, there is the space port of Mos Eisley, a bustling city with travelers coming and going, Stormtroopers keeping the Empire's presence, all manner of transports and beasts of burden moving about, and freighter pilots taking a break at the local Cantina with the best local drinks and alien bands playing the galaxy's latest hits. The setting of Mos Eisley might be the perfect choice for the primary theme of the land. It has all the makings of Main Street USA, but in space.
You can see some of this design at work already on the outside of Star Tours' gift shop, Tatooine Traders. This design could be extended for this new themed land. Imagine walking the streets of Mos Eisley where a few jawas walk by, Stormtroopers ask for your identification, a dewback grunts at you, a droid gets back to its work, and a floating speeder zips past. Up in the air, a ship takes off while another lands (perhaps done with advanced drone technology).
Turn to one side and there are a line of places to enter, not unlike Main Street, which may have a TatooineTraders shop or Watto's junk shop, a Tashi Station well-stocked with power converters (a gadget shop, perhaps), a gate leading to the stadium to catch today's pod race (think Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show, but crazier), an overlook to the Pit of Carcoon, the resting place of the all-powerful Sarlaac, docking bay 94 where rests a replica of the Millennium Falcon for your touring pleasure (or perhaps a ride with Han and Chewie), a spot for the best refreshing drinks at the Moisture Farm of Luke's homestead, or a character dining experience in the famous Tatooine Cantina. From there, the little paths and alleys could lead to further attractions. I think it could work this way.
In a land such as this, what possible rides and experiences and other attractions could bring out the best of Disney and show off the most fun aspects of this beloved franchise? Do you have any ideas?