I suppose it is somewhat difficult to express a multitude of thoughts and opinions on a topic for which there is very little content. As everyone knows by now, The Walt Disney Company recently announced the forthcoming arrival of the Star Wars universe to both the California and Florida parks. The announcement provided some concept art for the new Star Wars themed land and a very brief description of two key attractions – a Millennium Falcon ride and a second ride that “puts you in the middle of a climactic battle between the First Order and the Resistance.”
So, is The Beast Pumped or Not Pumped about this announcement? Here are my initial thoughts:
There are plenty of excellent reasons for being extremely pumped up about this announcement. First, I am a huge Star Wars fan. I do not follow the so-called “extended universe,” which means I don’t read the books, watch the animated Clone Wars series, and so forth. But when it comes to the movies, especially the original trilogy, I know them inside and out. Thus, I would be hard pressed to think of another film franchise that could elicit as much anticipatory elation within me as Star Wars. So at the raw emotional level, I am most definitely pumped!
Second, I believe in Disney. We at RexandtheBeast.com do not turn a blind eye to shortcomings at either Walt Disney World or the Universal Orlando Resort, but we are most certainly not haters. We root for both companies because, frankly, we want both to succeed in bringing theme park fans like us great attractions for the rest of our lives. Although it is undoubtedly true that Star Wars Land would not be announced as a 14 acre solitary IP land without the enormous success of Universal’s Harry Potter “lands”, it is equally true that Universal Studios would not be where they are today without the vision and precedent of a man named Walt Disney. Both are great resorts, both have great parks, both have world-class attractions, and both know what they are doing. In other words, I give Disney’s Imagineers the benefit of the doubt on this announcement – I am confident they will deliver a jaw dropping experience.
Third, the concept art is beautiful. So beautiful in fact that hardcore theme park fans, including Universal Orlando lovers, were virtually unanimous in their celebratory comments about the concept art. To put it mildly, when our Twitter feed is 90% positive about a recent theme park announcement, especially one as big as this, it signals something very special has happened. Negativity seems to dwell among theme park twitter feeds, but not on the day of this announcement, and it was fun to watch.
One little phrase in the SWL announcement caught my eye, caused my heart to sink, and cut my confidence in half. The line describes the nature of the planet on which park guests will be thrust into the Star Wars world. It says, “these new lands at Disneyland and Walt Disney World will transport guests to a whole new Star Wars planet…” (emphasis mine). In another paragraph, the wording is similar and says, “Ambitious plans to bring Star Wars to life in the two parks include creating Disney’s largest single-themed land expansions ever at 14-acres each, transporting guests to a never-before-seen planet…”(emphasis mine). For me, this is troubling. To be a mega-fan of the Star Wars franchise inherently means to have fallen in love with the places, the imagery, and the atmosphere of the films. For me, the primary motivation for creating a 14 acre land themed to one of the most beloved films in the history of cinema is the ability to place die-hard fans in the world they know and love. Creating a “never-before-seen planet” kills a significant aspect of what SWL could be, but won’t be.
In my opinion, one of the reasons The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and Diagon Alley work so well for Universal is because fans actually make the walk through the hidden entrance to Diagon Alley, an entrance they know so well, and can now actually see, touch, smell, and taste the very place they have imagined in the books and saw on film. We are there in person! We get to go in the actual wand shop, see the actual castle, be amazed at the actual bank, and sneak into the actual dark places. How effective would both Harry Potter lands at Universal be if Universal Creative designed two never before seen Harry Potter locations? Answer: Not nearly as effective.
When I look at the concept art for SWL, I am impressed by it’s beauty as I’ve already mentioned. But take away the picture of the Millennium Falcon and the fact that C-3PO is standing around and I would have NO IDEA this is a Star Wars themed area. No idea at all! As a matter of fact, the concept art without the addition of those Star Wars ships and characters could easily be confused for a portion of Avatar Land, or anything else for that matter. However, go to Universal and you will immediately know where you are because you have already been there – in your imagination and in the theater. As a matter of fact, J.K. Rowling will not allow character meet and greets with “Harry” and others because there is only one Harry. So, the way you know you are in the world of Harry Potter is not by a guy waving at you and saying, “Hi, I’m Harry Potter,” but rather because it is the real deal, the real place, the world you are familiar with.
In my opinion, this will dramatically lessen the impact of SWL, at least for me. I’ve seen a few tweets from fans discussing the cantina that is mentioned in the SWL announcement, hoping and praying that it will be themed similar to the Mos Eisley Cantina in Episode IV, a heart-warming place with heart-warming music. They want that because we want to experience what we know and love.
Can Disney overcome this issue? Yes, absolutely. As Tim Cappello so powerfully reminds us, I Still Believe. But it does take more faith.
Lastly, I’m confused by the timing of the announcement. Whereas Universal will announce a major new attraction or land and have that sucker built within 2-3 years, Disney seems to be doing a very similar thing they did with Avatar Land; making a huge announcement that has no hope of being completed within 5 years. Perhaps the pressure from Disney fans that has been applied from Universal’s seemingly endless array of ground breaking attractions and resort additions caused Disney to make a premature announcement in order to silence the troops. But boy, it sure seems like a long way off.
I want to end on a positive note and say once again how excited I am about the prospect of SWL. I think what we know now and what we will see then might be two very different things. But I’m thrilled to see Disney make such an exciting and potentially game changing announcement, even though I’m concerned it might be only a fraction of what it could have been.
May the force be with Disney. And with us all.