Star Wars Galaxy's Edge: Park Possibilities and Movie Shakeupsby Todd King, contributing writer
Any News on Star Wars Land?
Yes! This past weekend at the official D23 fan expo, Disney revealed a 50-foot model of the complete layout of the park, now officially named: Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge [get right to some official news on the first-look at the land here.]
Star Wars-Inspired Land Model. Disney Parks.
This model is amazing and I hope it can continue to be on display at Star Wars Launch Bay or within the new park itself in the future. It looks very similar to production paintings we've seen in the past but it's nice to see it in 3-D. With the scale of the people/figures in the model it appears larger than I had perceived. There will be lots of places to walk and discover.
As for the overall look, it's very rocky from an aerial view, but there is some vegetation down at walking level. The rocks look very high, and I imagine that's the architecture's intention to make you feel like you're far away from everything else. This will certainly be necessary in California, since it's right there in Disneyland park itself. In Florida, Disney's Hollywood Studios offers a "blessing of size"—the skyscraping rocks may not be necessary, but will offer that other-world feeling. In other words, it is exciting to see how the size and design of the park will add to the feeling of immersion.
For some more glimpses of the model, take a look at images posted by Star Wars on their official Twitter:
On the design side of things, besides the rocky look, I see a lot of rooftops that remind me of Naboo. You'll even see some Tatooine-inspired structures, too, which seem right out of Mos Eisley. Early in my predictions I was thinking and hoping that Naboo would play into the design because it's simply pleasing to look at, and Walt Disney always wanted the parks to look beautiful. For example, the Haunted Mansion's design was thought at one time to be a dilapidated old manse, but Walt Disney wanted everything to look nice—so we ended up with a beautiful plantation-like mansion that still had an element of foreboding with its tall and intimidating columns.
Here with Star Wars land, it does look beautiful. I'm happy to say that it also has that lived-in look that is an element of the Star Wars design from the beginning. It's a used galaxy, and this outpost looks like it fits right in with its dusty corners, cracked walls, and beat-up technology all around. There are also a plethora of ships (including the Millennium Falcon) on the ground and on landing pads, making it feel like a busy port. Everything Disney had been saying about this being in the realm of Star Wars as a pass-through site for the inhabitants of the galaxy is clear in this model.
As we see this model, it now makes me wonder even more about the activity that will happen on these streets. Construction continues in both Disneyland and in Disney's Hollywood Studios—and what one park gets, the other gets. We saw AT-AT shapes come to the Florida park just as they had in California. The show buildings are going up, the walkways are being formed, and the layout of the land is taking shape. But as all that happens on the ground, I can't help but wonder what is going on beyond these scaffolds and beams.
My wondering has turned to learning because of the very recent presentations at D23. In the following video from the Parks and Resorts panel at the Expo, Imagineers go into the most detail we've yet heard about the park, including its official name ("Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge"), a few more details about the two major rides (still unnamed), and a little bit about the interactivity with characters within the land itself.
2017 D23 Expo Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge presentation. MousePlanet video.
Somewhere there are meeting rooms of Imagineers who are done looking at construction plans, are now thinking about operations and about "the show." By "the show," I mean the characters that cast members will bring to life. There are plans for guests to interact with in-character people in the cantinas and on the street. What will they be doing, and how will these interactions go? As a guest, maybe you came off a successful run from the Millennium Falcon ride and a member of the Resistence congratulates you. Perhaps your flight didn't go so well and a sarcastic alien pilot teases you on your flying abilities. Will it go deeper than that? Will the Resistance entrust you with a secret and you have to deliver it safely to another point in the park? What if your secret is intercepted by a Stormtrooper? The possibilities are interesting and I'm fairly certain that the creators of Star Wars land are not limiting themselves to these ideas but those limitations may come into play as they move from brainstorms to practical applications.
Magic Bands seem to be part of the key for these interactions between guest and cast member. The bands we wear in the parks could be loaded with information about us, and the near-field communication technology in them could trigger events to happen and send notifcations to cast members.
Everything from our the gifts we buy, foods we purchase, attractions we visit, to our resort room numbers, our family members, our birthdays—while all that seems like Big Brother stuff, this would all be only for entertainment in Disney parks. Right? Would there be privacy issues? Well, that's a can of space worms I don't want to open, but if Disney does use this data, the issue will come up from somewhere. I imagine any fears related to the use of the information would be quelled by Disney when they display the experiences and fun for guests. I'm optimistic, as usual, but it is fascinating from many angles. The technology, the programming, the performing, and how it would all come together for a new kind of park experience (one that could change and be upgraded in many forms as months and years go by). If Magic Bands carry this potential, I wonder if more wearable technology is on the way from Disney. For example, would that Star Wars blaster you bought at the gift shop be somehow used in one of the stage shows?
If the new "Pandora: World of Avatar" land in Animal Kingdom is any indication, Disney is in now in a more serious business of immersion for its guests. At the presentation, Bob Chapek, chairman of Walt Disney Parks & Resorts, said:
It [Pandora: World of Avatar] created a whole new level of what's possible for a completely immersive environment. And our ambitious plans for these Star Wars-themed lands is going to raise that bar even higher.
The immersion for Star Wars land will not only be in the authentic astmosphere and the amazing rides, but in its interactivity both in architecture and with costumed characters that, for a brief moment or two, may make you forget about Earth for a while and feel like you're in another galaxy. Pandora is meant to capture a feeling like that; it is designed to make you believe, even if just for a bit, that you're in a new place that feels real, but isn't, but still does. Star Wars hopefully captures those same ideas, but takes it further where we can create our destinies. As summarized on an official Star Wars blog post, "Your performance in the adventure will have repercussions: do well and you’ll earn extra credits; dent the iconic ship, and you can end up on a bounty hunter’s list." How that all plays out is still yet to be fully revealed but the prospect is most intriguing. Finally, I wonder if this experience will feel more like being in a video game or being in a movie.
That Name has a lot of Meaning for Me
As for the name, "Galaxy's Edge"? My first thought was that when saying it out loud, it doesn't quite roll off the tongue. A lot of hard syllables packed close together. A name like "Magic Kingdom" and heck, even "Phantom Menace" just flow right out. So I was hoping for something a little different in terms of its sound. However, the title, I think, is good and also just okay. At first, it sounds generic, but at the same time, that's good. It's not too specific and doesn't immediately conjure up a specific Star Wars-related image that doesn't match it. Being a bit generic probably makes it easy to translate to other languages.
The title gives us a sense of geography that it is first a foremost, a place. It's not a new planet or city name which would make us feel that it's not part of the stories we know, but it a place in the galaxy that may be far away, but is also close enough to the activity of the Star Wars universe to make us feel part of it. Using the word "edge" may also spark in our minds that this place will be on the cutting edge of technology, and as explored above, immersion. I'm sure those board rooms and focus groups that might have worked hard to come up with that name thought of many possibilities that they left aside, but I'm pleased they kept a title that was simple. I'm sure they would have thrown out my idea of "Homeworld" because it did need the word "galaxy" in there. They also probably threw out "far, far away" so as not to dissuade vacation-planners. In its first few weeks of operation, perhaps the nickname could be "Crowd City." In the end, it is a good title, direct, to the point, and says, "Find your adventure at the edge of the galaxy."
More Rey is a Good Thing
Last month I discussed the importance of naming Rey as owner of the lightsaber, the one originally carried by Anakin Skywalker. That not only has she earned it, the blade has been used more effectively by her than its previous owners. Now this month we are seeing Rey show up in more places. First, she has appeared in the debut episode of Disney's Forces of Destiny cartoons. The series of shorts feature female characters from the Star Wars universe and detail some of their actions in off-screen scenes. No need for me to go into any details; just view them. The first one, featuring Daisy Ridley herself voicing Rey, is here:
Forces of Destiny Episode 1, The Sands of Jakku. Video © Disney.
I like how these shorts are taking the approach of filling some storyline gaps from the feature films. Rey has to deal with Teedo who gave up BB-8 a little too easily and another episode shows Leia's friendship with the Ewoks who give her the tailored dress. The series even explores a deleted scene from The Empire Strikes Back when wampas attack Echo Base on Hoth.
In the second place, Rey has joined the cast of regulars at the Center Stage show, "Star Wars: A Galaxy Far, Far Away" in Disney's Hollywood Studios. Now guests can see how the character interacts with BB-8 and the other performers. This gives fans the opportunity to watch the character outside of the films which will no doubt draw on the anticipation for what she will accomplish in the upcoming movies. Rey is certainly the centerpiece of the new trilogy and her presence in these shows is exciting. As the Forces of Destiny shows us, it is the decisions and actions that build its starring characters and with Rey, as we will see, her choices will not only make clear her destiny, it will shape the stories moving forward in the franchise itself.
Have a Bad Feeling about this?
Lots of blogs and even Washington Post articles are talking about Star Wars being disappointing and that Disney is not taking any needed risks with the franchise. With the recent departure of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller from the Han Solo movie, many people online are questioning Disney's handling of the franchise. In my opinion, this movie wasn't about risks; it was about making Lawrance Kasdan's vision come to life the way he intended. Disney bought Kasdan's version, not Lord and Miller's apparent changing of it.
This isn't to say that Kasdan's screenplay doesn't have risks. In fact, doing any kind of prequel is a big risk and a difficult. The difficulty here is that we know what happens to the characters in the end: they live. So, when making such a film , how do you create tension in the lives of Han, Lando, and Chewie when we know they survive? I reckon it's the side characters we have to look out for. We may just start a countdown clock for how many of them will make it. It is one of the reasons I believe Rogue One worked so well. We followed the actions of all new characters and were crushed at the sacrifices they had to make for a mission that in the end, were not in vain. The film may center around Han Solo, but it will be the new characters we meet that will flesh out the adventure.
The new characters from Episode VII were able to keep the film fresh even though it borrowed and repeated many concepts from the previous trilogy. The Force Awakens didn't have Luke so that all three main characters from the original stories—Han, Luke, and Leia—didn't dominate the screen over our new characters Rey, Finn, and Poe. Now without Han, the room is more open. We will see more Luke, for sure, but there is a lot of good tension to work with because we don't know why he's got this bad attitude ("It's time for the Jedi to end") and we wonder what might become of Luke himself. Meanwhile, Leia was set to have a larger role in Episode IX but with Carrie Fisher's untimely death, it looks like Leia may not be in it at all which again will leave more room for our new characters at the new trilogy's conclusion.
I've even read some articles saying that there weren't any plot twists in The Force Awakens and cited that as some accompanying reason that made the film weak. You just want plot twists? Plot twists should only be used to serve the story. They're not a means to an end. After The Force Awakens, we have lots of questions instead of twists. The movie, while carrying it's own purpose, was also a setup for the new movies. It created a new playground for the next story-writers. I like this approach that is a bit looser than the Marvel Cinematic Universe where, hopefully, each film will have some distinction from the others before it. It should allow the directors and screenwriters to make their visions real. But it must come with a team effort and group understanding between writers and directors which didn't seem to happen for the untitled Han Solo film.
I understand the criticism of fans and can see why it worries us about this director change for Han Solo especially after the reshoots that took place for Rogue One. We want to hear that the companies of Lucasfilm and Disney are on steady course and are remaining on track. We know there are always production problems along the way, but the timing of recent issues certainly raises concerns. Rogue One reshoots were late into production and this directorial change, while early in production for Han Solo, happened right after shooting began. These aren't the best times for drastic changes. However, I believe Rogue One turned out quite well either in spite of or because of the late reshoots. With Han Solo, I for one feel reassured with Ron Howard at the helm. His relationship with George Lucas and Lucasfilm go way back and not only that, Howard has created some truly wonderful films and I include Willow in that list. Finally, I'm confident we'll get a great movie, but that doesn't mean I won't be critical of it. I think that being part of a new sincerity is better than holding on to cynicism even when it's sometimes more fun and hip to be cynical.