Reactions to Star Wars Celebration from Far, Far Awayby Todd King, contributing writer
An earlier version of this article mistakenly identified Imagineer Chris Runco as Tom Fitzgerald. We regret the error.
Star Wars Celebration took place this past weekend. And while I wish I could've been there in Orlando with all the fans, thanks to the magic of the web and the talents at Lucasfilm, I was able to watch much of the streaming content live as it happened at the convention while in the comfort of my own home. It is commendable that they streamed as much content as they did, showing events and holding interviews throughout most of the four-day extravaganza. It may not have felt just like "being there," it gave those of us who were in a place far, far away, a window into the festivities.
Seeing the videos was exciting, but I could not know the full experience of standing shoulder to shoulder with other fans in the expo area taking in the spectacle or sitting beside others and seeing the new trailer for the first time. I did envy those in attendance in Orlando, but it didn't diminish my own celebration… a celebration with a lower case "c."
How did I "celebrate" from home? As long as there's Wi-Fi, there' s a way. With the Internet connection running and the computer hooked up, I filled my Captain Phasma cup to prepare for the online festivities.
I took some photos of my TV screen while things were happening, and other times I got screencaps of cool stuff.
Before I get carried away with my adventures this side of the screen, let's just get to the Disney-Star Wars stuff.
History of Star Tours
As a lead-in to the Star Wars land update, host David Collins brought Anthony Daniels (C3PO) and Disney Imagineer Tom Fitzgerald on the stage to give a brief history of Star Tours. Fitzgerald was there in designing the first iteration of Star Tours, which opened in 1987, and worked again with Lucasfilm to update the ride to "Star Tours – The Adventures Continue" that began in 2011. They both looked back at the initial stages of production and shared some fun stories and photos.
Anthony Daniels shared the story how the Imagineers observed Daniels' movements as C3PO to create a realistic version of the character as an animatronic in the ride's queue. The actor was amazed at the final product, seeing it as an authentic representation of the famous droid. He even recalled a moment when 3PO glanced down at him in the queue for a moment, which made him recall performing the same movement for Imagineers at the design phase.
Fitzgerald ended this segment by revealing that a scene from Star Wars: The Last Jedi is already in the works to appear in Star Tours: The Adventures Continue. Like The Force Awakens before it, this new scene will be added to the rotation of the attraction, probably in mid-winter or early spring 2018. The scene takes place on a new planet from Episode VIII, which Fitzgerald revealed to be a mineral planet called Crait. A still image from the new trailer was used as reference.
Star Wars Land Update
We may not have seen much new at Celebration 2017 for Star Wars land, but the panelists at the convention—includng people from Walt Disney Imagineering—did give us hints of experiences in the upcoming park. You can find a great summary of the panel and its highlights in the most recent Walt Disney World Update here at MousePlanet. The panelists referred to it as, "The Star Wars Project," and they shared a video during the panel.
Disney Parks Imagineers and Lucasfilm collaborate on Star Wars-themed lands. Disney Parks YouTube channel.
Both Lucasfilm and Walt Disney Imagineering are pretty hard at work on the project, and it will be a slow build of information over the next year. What they revealed this past weekend did answer some lingering questions I had about Star Wars land since I began speculating on it a long time ago. Like panel host David Collins said, I, too, originally thought along the lines of, "I'll go over to Hoth and get n ice pop, then go over to Kashyyyk and get some Wookie Cookies, and I'm going to go over to Tatooine and maybe, there's going to be… it's going to be HOT! You know, like it is in Orlando and Anaheim. But that's not what it is AT ALL." The setting will indeed be an entirely new planet to the Star Wars canon. It is intended to be a more neutral area that doesn't have a story already attached to it from the movies.
Scott Trowbridge (Creative Lead for Star Wars at Disney Parks) explained the idea of a new planet for the park best by stating at the panel presentation:
"It would be easy to think, 'Let's revisit some of our favorite places,' but here's the thing: If we were to go to those places—Hoth, Tatooine, some of those places—we know the stories that happen there. We know whose stories they are. And we know that we're not in them. That's not what we wanted to do. We wanted to build new Star Wars stories, new Star Wars destinations, but this time you can be in that story. We want you to discovery your own Star Wars story not just remember somebody else's Star Wars story. That required us going to a new place, a place of lots of stories yet to discover—and new characters and new adventures and all kinds of new awesomeness."
I can certainly understand their reasoning for using a new planet that may not appear in future movies in the saga—it will give guests the chance to make themselves the main character in their own story. But at the same time, fans also have a desire to have the "walk where they walked, touch what they touched" kind of experience, too. We do want to live our own stories like the kinds we made up when playing action figures as kids but we also wanted to go where the heroes went. Those places that we saw in the movies where amazing things happened are like sacred ground to us and would be amazing to visit like Bespin or Mos Eisley and touch the walls of Jabba's Palace or step on the balconies of Ewok village. One could think that making versions of those settings for Star Wars land could be seen as cheap imitations or watered-down versions and could not match up to our imaginations, but there's something to be said about stepping into those places even if they are recreations. However, we are getting the new planet (which I still think has no name yet) and is all constructed to create immersion.
Some of my earlier thoughts on how they could capture that immersion were brought forth with some detail at the Celebration panel. By using a new planet, Disney is creating a staging ground for stories to grow organically for guests while still offering a familiar feel. Trowbridge said:
"It's a new planet, a new place, a remote frontier outpost, somewhere on the edge of wild space. It was a vibrant trading port back in the sub-lightspeed days and with the advent of hyperspace it's prominence has fallen and faded a little bit which has made it a great spot for those who didn't want to be on that mainstream path—the smugglers, the bounty hunters, the rogue adventurers looking to crew up, the people who don't want to be found, all the interesting people! That's where we're going to find an opportunity to engage with them and live our Star Wars story."
They do a good job of selling the new planet, and it's easy to get excited about the adventures that await us in 2019. Adding to the ideas of immersion are these character interactions we keep hearing about.
Wendy Anderson (Imagineer focusing on Live Performances) spoke about some live action sequences and that we won't be in a chair watching it—we will be next to it. This confirms an earlier thought I had that Disney Parks have a knack for those pop-up performances that you seem to encounter seredipitiously. They showed a video of what looked like a street fight between Stormtroopers and a Rey-like character fending them off with just fisticuffs. It has me pondering that such mini-shows could appear all over Star Wars land and could have connections to guest experiences in some way. Maybe you scuffed up the Millennium Falcon during the ride, and now ,some locals are upset about it—and someone you know is involved in the scuffle. Pablo Hidalgo (from Lucasfilm's Story Group) said, "You can essentially build a reputation in the Star Wars universe."
There are things you can do that might affect how the embedded characters interact with you. This is getting into some serious guest-tracking immersion that almost feels like you're in a open-world sandbox-type video game. Wendy Andersone even chimed in with this idea. "There could be someone looking for you eventually," she said. It sounds really cool, but it also sounds like some extra cost, bonus paid-content. If so, it will give guests the opportunity to dive deeper into the experience where there will be opportunities to help the Resistance, speak with smugglers offering side jobs, and even help the First Order. We're definitely going to need more details on this.
Finally, the panelists hinted at something to do with lightsabers. The host, David, said that they now exist thanks to Disney Imagineers, which could be rehearsed hyperbole. but from online rumors, there could be some live shows with some really cool special effects to make lightsabers come to life. In the end, they said to check the Disney Parks Blog for future updates. Attaching homing beacon now.
What a celebration it was. There is much more I'd love to discuss here but I will save those for now and maybe touch on those next time. I really think with all the sessions and panels and guests they truly covered everything to do with Star Wars at this time. All this overload of celebration will certainly tide us fans over for a while, at least until the next trailer drops and we get "right back into the mess" (as Maz put it) of speculation.