Disney’s Galaxy’s Edge: “Star Wars Land” is Good For You

Thinking about the future, looking at the past of Star Wars in the Disney parks

Disney's Galaxy's Edge: "Star Wars Land" is Good For You
Galaxy’s Edge model

Galaxy’s Edge: A Group Dream

Back in 1978, New West Magazine’s Charlie Haas wrote a piece entitled, “Disneyland is Good for You.”
Disney's Galaxy's Edge: "Star Wars Land" is Good For You
“Disneyland,” he wrote, “is not an amusement park but a themed entertainment experience.” He continued, quoting legendary Imagineer John Hench, then speaking specifically of Disneyland:

…the designers responded to a kind of group dream, a group aspiration. In the same way, a folk song was not written by some guy at a piano. That represents a lot of experience, and no one person can put it down [on paper].

Fast-forward nearly 40-years, that “group dream” or aspiration is precisely what Imagineers — in conjunction with Lucasfilm — are trying to produce in Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge; not on paper. Not on film or in music, but in rebar, concrete, wood, and plastic.

The good news is that the experts think they’ve nailed it.

Galaxy's Edge
Artist concept, Galaxy’s Edge. (Disney Parks)

Just a starting point…

“Yes, I’m very excited,” said Len Testa, the co-author of the Unofficial Guides to Walt Disney World & Disneyland, when asked about upcoming additions to the Disney parks in Anaheim and Orlando. “The Star Wars story has history, and unlimited depth and possibilities.

” I think Galaxy’s Edge is just a starting point,” he continued. “Disney’s doing two rides now so they can have them open in time for the 50th anniversary.

“I’m sure they already have ideas for Rides 3, 4, and 5 already vetted.”

“I’m just looking forward to walking through that portal,” added Jim Hill, a contributor to Testa’s books, and a foremost expert on everything Disney. “I’ve heard all sorts of stuff about the rides

“The building for the battle with the First Order attraction, and there are individual show scenes in this thing that are housed in buildings that are big enough to hold — any other attraction; this would be the building that held the entire ride.

“However, those individual show scenes are just that big…so I’m just looking forward to walking around and just having it, sort of, swallow me up.”

It’s that immersive experience that all fans are hoping for; that experience that rivals the thrill of watching the movies for the first time and transports them to a galaxy far, far away….

But immersive environments, as evidenced by the article from 1978, are nothing new; probably not for Disney, in any case.

Step into the movies…

Jason Surrell, a former Imagineer now with Universal Creative, said it amuses a lot of theme park folks when people talk about 4D environments as cutting edge.

“It isn’t,” he said. “That’s really what the entire themed entertainment industry is predicated upon, and it’s what Walt Disney wanted — that’s the whole reason he built Disneyland, was to allow his audience to step into the movies, and he wanted to surround them in the story. That’s why you couldn’t buy a newspaper; you wouldn’t see telephone lines — you know, all that stuff. So it’s not new.

“I think what is new to some people is the notion of taking a single property and allowing people to step into it and immersing them in a single story. And that can mean anything from the number of acres that are devoted to it to the number of experiences, so that is a little more of a recent thing.

“I think ‘Harry Potter’ is what started that. Now you see it more and more, with Diagon Alley [at Universal], with Cars Land [at DLR], with Avatar [at WDW]; because people have responded to that opportunity to step into a single alternate reality, let’s say, and just get lost in it.

“I think that’s why you’ll be seeing more of it,” said Jason.

As a fan…

Surrell can speak to Disney’s collaboration with Lucasfilm being fruitful, as he worked on Star Tours, Star Wars Weekend, and the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular while working with Disney.

Now, strictly as a fan, he’s excited about how things are developing in Florida and California.

“We work in an industry where everything has an incredibly long lead time when you’re talking about designing and building a single attraction,” he said, “let alone an entire themed land.

“So I think what Disney did after the acquisition with things like ‘Star Wars Launch Bay’ and some of the entertainment offerings — including ‘Trials of the Temple’ and ‘Path of the Jedi’, the film that they show — I think that was an effort to just get something out into the parks,” added Surrell. “That way they could start quenching that thirst. And, that way, keep the audience satisfied while they work on these much longer lead pieces.”

Disney's Galaxy's Edge: "Star Wars Land" is Good For You
Galaxy’s Edge will be an immersive environment. (Disney Parks)

Fantastic visuals…

Moving forward, that lead time, coupled with the pragmatic approach since Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm, should make for some outstanding new attractions – with some caveats.

“It was smart to acquire Lucasfilm, especially at that price,” said Testa. “They’ve got a story that can go for decades.

“As for the Star Wars stuff in the parks, I thought [Star Tours] was good for the 1990’s, but it needed so much more regarding technology and depth. I think the Launch Bay is poorly done. Disney knows it can’t build anything else substantial [regarding Star Wars] at the Studios right now.

“But it’s absurd to say these pop-up exhibits have the content or depth to justify charging money to see them.”

However, if Disney pushes the envelope, fans are in for a treat.

“I think Disney will strongly encourage you to wear MagicBands in GE, and they’ll be themed to Star Wars,” added Testa. “In my head, Galaxy’s Edge looks like Mos Eisley, possibly a little dirtier.

“I expect to see lots and lots of free-roaming characters there to talk and trade information with you. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were various interactive games to play across the land, in addition to the two rides.

Based on what Disney was able to achieve with Pandora, I think the visuals will be fantastic.”

Another level…

That said, as of mid-2017, Pandora was not riding as high as it was expected to (although early 2018 data said there had been a bump in theme park revenue).

“Pandora’s beautiful, and people love Flight of Passage,” said Testa. “That said, the entire problem with Pandora is the story it’s based on. No one gives a damn about the Avatar characters. Disney doesn’t have that problem with Star Wars.”

In fact, Testa thinks Disney will have the opposite problem in Galaxy’s Edge.

“No, I don’t think DLR or DHS will be able to handle the crowds very well. I expect that, like the early days of Diagon Alley, you’ll get some sort of ‘return ticket’ time to enter the land,” he said. “That’ll keep crowds manageable.

“For everyone else, Disney’s making lots of changes now to be able to accommodate the crowds. I expect to see many more new dining options in DHS and DLR to handle these crowds.”

Disney's Galaxy's Edge: "Star Wars Land" is Good For You
Guests will be able to fly the Falcon in Galaxy’s Edge. (Disney Parks)

A fully immersive experience…

Meanwhile, the excitement for Galaxy’s Edge is reaching fever pitch.

Vlogger Jack Kendall, who hosts DSNY Newscast on YouTube from his catbird seat in England, has devoted quite a bit of time to Galaxy’s edge over the last several months of reports.

“We’re getting beyond the theme park — where you know you are in a ‘park’ — and into being in that [fantastic place],” said Kendall. “It is going to be breathtaking.

“You won’t be able to see any other part of the Disney park from within the land. Disney is making sure that you can’t see anything that will ruin the illusion.

“So, they are making sure that it’s a fully immersive experience.”

Incredibly excited

Inside the Magic’s Mike Celestino, who lives near Disneyland, agreed, but took that sentiment one step farther.

“I almost wonder if the average guest is going to be thrown off by a significantly more immersive experience,” said Mike, who spoke of the offerings at last summer’s Star Wars Celebration.

“The panels made me incredibly excited to hear/see/participate in whatever Disney has planned for the areas,” said Celestino. “I adore the idea that the choices you make on the rides can affect how characters interact with you in other sections like the cantina or the marketplace.”

That’s exactly where Kendall finds himself as well.

“I didn’t expect Disney to name the planet that you’ll be on,” he said. “But for them to call it Batuu and for them to build up this whole backstory of it being on the outer rim – they are really diving deep into what this experience will be.

“And the more I hear about the ‘Galactic Credit System,’ or the ‘gamification’ around the experiences… it is game-changing.”

The notion of a totally immersive experience of a Star Wars themed hotel is also game-changing.

Live Star Wars

“I think, personally, the biggest thing from Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge and Star Wars in the parks, is Star Wars Hotel,” explained Jack. “That is a different level of theming because you’ll be able to walk into that hotel, adopt a character, and stay in character.

“You will live Star Wars.”

An ocean and a continent away, Celestino echoed those sentiments.

“In a couple of years, we’re all going to be able to go to the parks and live Star Wars,” he said. “That’s a pretty exciting notion.”

Disneyland Gallery – January 2018

Walt Disney World: Hollywood Studios – July & August 2017

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John Bishop

A graduate of Boston and Northeastern universities, John Bishop became the beat reporter for BostonBruins.com prior to the B’s 2006-07 hockey season. While with the Bruins, “Bish” traveled North America and Europe to cover the Black & Gold’s every move via laptop, blog, and smart phone. The co-author of two books, Bygone Boston and Full 60 to History: The Inside Story of the 2011 Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins, John covered the XXI Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver in 2010 and the B’s 2011 championship run and banner raising before taking a faculty/communications position at a prep school outside Boston in 2013. He lives with his wife Andrea and sons Jack, Scott, and Luke in central Massachusetts.

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