Predictions for Star Wars in Disney Parks, Part 1

by 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.

Star Tours, the beginning of Star Wars in Disney Parks, will eventually be joined by more themed attractions. Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.

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."

Main Street U.S.A from the Main Street Station. Photo by Chris Barry.

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).

Stormtroopers could add more to the theme of a Star Wars land. Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.

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?



  1. By jms1969

    Very interesting article, and I understand the thought process being used. I fully agree that a "Land", rather than a full park is the most likely scope of the Star Wars tie-in. However, my concern about this land is reflected by the discussion in the article - for Harry Potter, there was no doubt that the iconic location used as theming would either be Hogwarts/Hogsmeade, or Diagon Alley. Anyone who read the books or saw the movies would know this, as so much of the wonder and action in the story takes place in these locations. In Star Wars, there are so many different possible settings, none of which is really iconic for the series. While I agree with the author's pick of Tatooine/Mos Eisley if a choice has to be made, this just doesn't have nearly the resonance of the Harry Potter theming, even to those who love Star Wars, and would be more than a bit limiting. For that reason, I actually think it would be better to use the AdventureLand model mentioned and have each ride be it's own setting within a them based on the overall Star Wars universe.

    Doing so would allow each attraction to feature a different portion of the Star Wars universe, and the cohesive theme tying it all together could be the revolution against the Imperials. Stormtroopers could wander the land, as suggested. The real strength of a Star Wars land would be the amount of different possible attractions that could be derived from parts of the movies and different locations. To limit the Land to only one location would have the effect of really limiting options for attractions (for example, if you pick Tatooine as the setting for everything, everything that occurs elsewhere in the series would be off limits).

    Actually, as I think about it some more, I'm thinking that Star Wars "Land" could serve as an excellent base for a new park, based exclusively on iconic Science Fiction/Fantasy worlds. Imagine a park with Lands based on iconic stories...stories such as Avatar, Lord of the Rings, and others (Arendelle?) could be the basis for Lands in this type of park. Obviously, these are just examples as there would be rights issues for LOTR or any other non-Disney work, and Avatar is already being built elsewhere, but I think this type of park could be exactly the type of park that would be successful as a 5th gate in Florida.

  2. By MyTwoCents

    An excellent article! Nice to read a meaty, thoughtful piece by someone who understands Disney's Lands. You've obviously read Karal Ann Marling's book. We can only hope both the Imagineers and the bean counters are reading your column. I have my fears they put all their eggs into the Avatar basket... No doubt it will be wonderful, but they're counting on a lot to fall into place to make it a mainstay in people's cultural matrix.

  3. By foxtwin

    jms1969, I see your point about taking a less-central theme for the area of the Star Wars "land." Yes, I think if they *had* to choose one it would most likely be Tatooine, but at the same time, they could very well choose to go the other route and each attraction can represent a different part of the Star Wars universe. That could open up more possibilities if the central theme actually limits them--and you don't want to limit the imaginations of imagineers!

    I think there is an interesting difference in the stories where Harry Potter's atmosphere has a much stronger "sense of place" than does Star Wars. Star Wars is all over the galaxy and on different planets each time around, but that's the nature of its story. I think Coruscant represents an attempt at making a central place in Star Wars since it had the Jedi Temple, the Senate, had the big space battle above it ... but I don't believe it is as 'alien' (and therefore 'exotic') as other locations. It's a super city, and we've seen cities (though not of that scale). Perhaps the Jedi Temple would still appear in the park, especially if it shows up in the new movies.

    I think the imagineers must be thinking of guests and considering their reactions, like "If they see this, will they think *Star Wars*?"

  4. By foxtwin

    MyTwoCents, thank you for your comments. I understand your fear about a lot of focus going to Avatar, but my hope is that that is already underway and perhaps nearer to a completed phase and focus can go to Star Wars. The Avatar sequels just got pushed back to 2017 (was going to be 2016) so that may give them a little breathing space and time to crossover the talents working on it.

    With Avatar going to Animal Kingdom, I think Star Wars will have its own basket and eggs in another park--most likely Hollywood Studios ... but I'll pick up on that in the next (or next next) article.

    Which Karal Ann Marling book are you speaking about? As Seen on TV? (the 50s visual book?)

  5. By MyTwoCents

    Designing Disney's Theme Parks: The Architecture of Reassurance. I meant it as a compliment; your piece reads as one who understands the big and little picture and how it all works seamlessly. Reading your piece was like listening to John Hench talk about theming.
    I hope Avatarland rocks and lasts. And I hope they don't sit on their hands to wait and see before starting down the Star Wars path. Likewise, the Pixar universes remain undertapped at WDW... But there's a column for another day.

  6. By foxtwin

    Thank you for the compliment. And now I *must* have that book by Marling. It seems to be out of print but available (for a price). I am trying to understand the big and little stuff, now if only they'd put me on the planning board ...

  7. By Dave1313

    Very nice and thought provoking article.

    I think everyone suspects the DHS scenario, especially with recent (and rumored future - LMA) closures. Unfortunately there are still attractions in between there and Star Tours that are (in my mind) still worth keeping (but then again, I liked Backlot, probably just because I am a relative WDW noob). As much as it's original intention is no longer valid, the Streets of America has a certain charm to it, and there could be no better place for the annual Osborne Lights. I would also hate to see Muppets and that area be removed to make room for SW expansion into the Backlot/LMA area.

    Being a SW nut myself, I'd love to see a whole park, but can see the rationale for why it's too risky. (though in the large scheme of WDW development, we seem due if you look at the number of years between openings of the 4 existing parks.)

    Your references to the HP theming made me consider this: I wonder if DHS may be a candidate for some "outside the perimeter" thought.

    Seeing what Universal did to link their parks with the 2 HP lands, I wonder if a short monorail type ride might be a good link to a larger contiguous area that would better serve SW related expansion. (sort of how in DAK, the only way to Rafikki's Planet Watch is via the train).

    That would seem to be a good compromise between full park and shoe-horning in a few decent rides in the corner of the existing DHS.

  8. By Jimbo996

    Tatooine should be the central theme that unifies the land with a space port with a full sized Millennium Falcon, but there should be opportunities to visit the Death Star, the Jedi Council, and Coruscant. The Star Wars Land cannot be a half-sized version that we are so used to seeing at Disney theme parks. It must be grand and large.

    The rides should reflect the thrills in the movie, but should also be some slow rides that allow the visitor to consider the life of a Jedi. The Empire has lots of dark alleys where people do their dealings. The dark side of the Force should be explored. It is a dimension that I expect Disney to debate and probably consider not to have, but that will be a mistake.

  9. By Captain Slinky

    PESSIMISTIC: More budget cuts at Disneyland so they can fund some new microchipped Food Packaging at Disney World, "Star Wars Land" becomes a new Star Wars Themed paint job for the Astro Orbiter and retheming for Star Traders, plus Tomorrowland Terrace is converted into "The Cantina" with a bunch of vinyl stickers and decals.

    OPTIMISTIC: They turn Tomorrowland in to the Disneyland Star Tours Space Port (as they used to bill it back in the day), making each ride a "pavilion" of sorts for each major planet of the franchise... kind of like a small-scale, intergalactic Epcot World Showcase. Autopia is replaced with the fabled "Speeder Bike Race On The Moon Of Endor". The Submarine Ride becomes the Jar Jar Binks Welcome To Naboo ride (aka "Jar Jar's Watery Grave"). Captain EO replaced with extended trailers for the new movies, interspersed with tourism films for other planets. Tomorrowland Terrace and Stage get a transformation in to The Cantina at Mos Eisley. New Star Tours films and an overhaul of the pods so that each one has a different captain (BRING BACK CAPTAIN REX!). Space mountain stays classy, no need to fix what ain't broke Pizza Port, re-themed to The Cloud City Cafeteria. Buzz Lightyear moves over to DCA, replaced with "Jabba's Palace" - kind of like Pirates of The Caribbean, only with Boba Fett instead of Johnny Depp. Astro Orbiter, I can't touch - it's my daughter's favorite. And last but not least, The Carousel of "Progress", will be handed over to Stark Enterprises and a subdivision of S.H.I.E.L.D. for all our Marvel needs.

  10. By towels

    I think a more recent example of the immersive theming in a "land" would be some of the work done in California Adventure. Both the Bugs life playland and more recently Carsland linked together several rides in a well created setting that really felt like it came from the source movies.
    That being said, it still doesn't help with the fact that Star Wars is truly set in space and multiple locations.
    As I got into your article I also was struck with the thought of a mini-monorail connecting two or more areas with a different planetary theme, with the cars painted to look like a version of the Star Tours ships.

  11. By LtPowers

    Unfortunately, the Tatooine illusion would be broken as soon as it rained. And the inability to display both suns in an outdoor setting is a deal-breaker, IMHO.

    Powers &8^]

  12. By Ohthatjeff

    I predict that Star Wars will expand into the area now housing Indiana Jones and the LMA stunt show will make room for a new stage/amphitheater and will also be the new location for the hat. Unless they get out from under the Universal deal. Then that area becomes Marvel (which flows nicely from the city backdrop).

  13. By foxtwin

    Dave1313: I think your "outside the perimeter" thought is really on to something. Taking a transport to get to the SW "land" might be the best of both--not to build an entire new park, but also find room for a larger-themed area. That could work quite well indeed. I wonder how imagineers consider *all* the parks? There's a bit more room to grow at Disney World, not as much in the others, but they could find a way I think.

    Captain Slinky: I agree that Tomorrowland could use more futuristic love, but convert it to Star Wars? I don't think they would do it simply because you gain more park experiences with a new area and not a converted one. More rides, more people, more $.

    Ohthatjeff: I do hope nothing in Disney Hollywood Studios gets gutted. I hope the mission is to "add to" and not "detract from" the parks.

  14. By Ohthatjeff

    Quote Originally Posted by foxtwin View Post
    Ohthatjeff: I do hope nothing in Disney Hollywood Studios gets gutted. I hope the mission is to "add to" and not "detract from" the parks.

    It's been heavily rumored for several months now that both shows were closing and that the hat was at least moving from its current location. It seems logical that if Indiana Jones were being replaced that the Star Wars section would expand in that direction rather than towards Pizza Planet.

  15. By Dave1313

    Quote Originally Posted by foxtwin View Post
    Dave1313: I think your "outside the perimeter" thought is really on to something. Taking a transport to get to the SW "land" might be the best of both--not to build an entire new park, but also find room for a larger-themed area. That could work quite well indeed. I wonder how imagineers consider *all* the parks? There's a bit more room to grow at Disney World, not as much in the others, but they could find a way I think.

    Quote Originally Posted by Ohthatjeff View Post
    It's been heavily rumored for several months now that both shows were closing and that the hat was at least moving from its current location. It seems logical that if Indiana Jones were being replaced that the Star Wars section would expand in that direction rather than towards Pizza Planet.

    Thanks for the reply to my reply . Fun topic!

    Just looking at the google earth image for the area around DHS, it would seem logical (if it's usable land, I have no idea if any of it is) that there could be such an expansion in the area I roughed out in red.

    I'm not proposing all of it obviously, and I understand Disney would want to keep some open space to isolate the park elements slightly form the existing nearby resorts.

    (and if any potential Star Wars additions increase the popularity of the park, some of the area may be needed to expand parking)

    If Ohthatfeff is right about Indy, the Indy and existing Backlot Express area would seem ripe for some sort of conversion which could include such a monorail (crude blue line in my sketch).

    Of course, Backlot Express is probably a big deal in terms of the number of people it can serve, so I don't think it can just go away. Any modification of that area would probably have to include some sort of food offering.

    Attachment 8405

  16. By foxtwin

    Dave1313: To me, that area you outline in the attached photo would be ideal for the Star Wars land. And that blue line, I think, is coming from Star Tours and that would be a nice entryway. I doubt Disney would use the entire area along the back of the parking lot, but if someday a Marvel land is in the works, that could be a usable space as well (provided enough parking remains!).

    Is the land usable? Well, the whole resort stands on what used to be thought of as unusable/not-valuable land. So, it would seem to me, the land could be made usable.

    One feature of this land that could be a ride that goes through a forest ... wait, I'm getting ahead of myself for my next article.

  17. By steelmuse

    @Captain Slinky I LOVE the idea of retheming the Carousel of Progress to Marvel/Iron Man, but I think you're missing the most obvious theme: the Stark Expo! Considering the design for that was modeled off of EPCOT/tomorrowland/Disney futurism and that "Make Way For Tomorrow Today" is a conscious lampooning of "There's a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow". The symmetry would make me so happy. That and the Carousel of Progress is showing its age in a MAJOR way, even given the update.

  18. By DisDreams

    Of course, the easiest, less expensive SW attraction is to construct a small, slightly elevated pathway into the forest/brush just outside the perimeter of the Studios and call it the swamplands in which Yoda met and trained Luke. It would be especially effective at night when guests are given a small flashlight to negotiate the narrow pathway that is partially obscured by the haze/fog pumped into the area. Unseen (or seen) "native-to-the-planet" creatures could be heard in the nearby darkness. (This attraction would be very low $ overhead except for the rescue crews needed to fetch the overzealous SW fans who would climb over the protective railings to actually walk into the swamplands).

  19. By indyjones

    At Disneyland I doubt they would use a desert based theme like Tatooine as Carsland is exactly that(a grand, desert based land) just next door. More likely they would use something equally as recognizable but very different from the desert (like Hoth or Endor). At WDW you've got the coming Avatar to be the lush, tropical land so out there a more desert theme would be appropriate.

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