It feels like we’ve been discussing Star Wars Land, Disney’s biggest single-property land in its 62-year theme-park history, forever now; in reality, however, The Walt Disney Company only officially announced the expansion in 2015, and construction began just a year ago.
Still, even within this two-year context, we actually know precious little about the area beyond some vague details: it will be set on a brand-new planet that has never before been seen in any of the Star Wars Expanded Universe (that giant collection of television shows, novels, comic books, short stories, videogames, and action figures that fill out the mythos beyond the films), it will consist of two attractions (one in which riders control the Millennium Falcon, and another where guests find themselves in a battle between the Resistance and the First Order), and, finally, it will be populated by a colorful cast of characters (including aliens, droids, and fan-favorite Chewbacca).
Over the weekend, at Star Wars Celebration Orlando, Disney and Lucasfilm decided to lift the curtain just a tad more on the mysterious proceedings – during a special panel, various Imagineers and filmmakers spoke about some of what visitors can expect to experience when they finally set foot in the area in 2019. Though not concrete announcements, they still are highly revealing of what Disney has in mind for what is arguably its most important addition to both Disneyland and Walt Disney World Resorts.
1. Lightsabers are “real”
This one is perhaps the smallest and quickest revelation of the bunch, but, then again, it’s probably also the single most exciting for most of the fandom.
Walt Disney Imagineering has been hard at work developing a new technology to realize lightsabers in Star Wars Land, one which has the result of making the laser swords look “real.” Given the fact that sabers have been populating store shelves for the better part of four decades, and given that some of them look, sound, and feel especially authentic (if you’re willing to spend a few hundred bucks on them, that is), this is no idle undertaking – or boast. Being able to offer a premium replica will instantly make the Star Wars collecting community abuzz, and it’ll add an extra level of immersion for all those die-hard visitors – not unlike Universal with its magic wands in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
Speaking of Universal’s premier collectible, Disney selling exclusive lightsabers opens up a whole set of theming doors. What if some of these elegant weapons are interactive, allowing their owners to have certain experiences at certain spots – just like the interactive wand spots at Universal Orlando? And what if carrying these sabers around opens up even more possibilities for interactions at character meet-‘n-greets – like, say, Kylo Ren challenging you to a duel? (We’ll have more on these individualized encounters in just a moment.)
2. Food and… smells?
We’ve talked dozens and dozens of times here at Orlando Informer about how Universal changed the nature of the theming game when it made Butterbeer an indelible part of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade seven years ago (and how the company has done it time and again since, starting with Duff beer in Springfield, USA and carrying on through to Volcano Bay’s unique South Pacific cuisine).
Disney has more than learned this lesson, and though Pandora: The World of Avatar will be the first Disney World property to attempt to make its own fundamental stamp on food, it appears that Star Wars Land will double down on this approach. Specifics, of course, were fleeting, but we do know that various types of meats that the various vendors cook at their food stalls will be offered to guests, along with the infamous blue milk that Luke Skywalker was seen imbibing at the Lars homestead all the way back in the original film (though whether the panelists were kidding here or not is open for debate). We even got to see concept art of a podracer engine being used to cook food, which is a fun little nod to Star Wars continuity and a cool potential in-park visual effect, to boot.
Surprisingly enough, however, the various designers talked more about smells than they did culinary offerings. Discovering what SW smells like, they say, will be one of the biggest draws for fans – and a way to make the medium of theme parks their own, as the franchise has already existed for decades in practically every other media and, thus, can already feel a bit well-explored and -inhabited. It’s hard to overplay just how many times the sense of smell was brought up during the presentation, meaning that this could very well be Disney’s ace up its sleeve come the summer of ‘19.
3. Star Wars Land will be fully canon
Being a brand-new planet in the mythology, there is much heavylifting that has to be done in terms of backstory and integrating the location in with all the rest of the Star Wars stories that have come before. This is not new knowledge. What is is just how thoroughly it sounds like Lucasfilm will be incorporating the still-unnamed new planet in with all the rest of the Expanded Universe.
Though nothing concrete was offered, the hints and insinuations that were floated made it sound as if the Lucasfilm Story Group – which is a small body of individuals who are responsible for supervising every last new piece of the canon, from television episodes to comic book miniseries to, even, the movies themselves – has already worked up a plan that will properly introduce this latest location into the fiction. Let’s take the 2015 videogame Star Wars: Battlefront as an example: a prequel book, called Battlefront: Twilight Company, was used to introduce the basic elements of its story shortly before it released. Similarly, the book Aftermath was used as a jumping-off point for the (now-defunct) mobile game Uprising, and a whole slew of novels, comic books, short stories, and, even, Uprising itself all helped to set up Episode VII: The Force Awakens. Lucasfilm and Disney could introduce the planet in grand fashion through this type of multimedia cross-pollution – and then ensure that SW fans of all stripes just have to experience this thrilling new environment for themselves by traveling to either Disney World or Disneyland.
It should also be noted that the Unknown Regions, which is where Star Wars Land’s planet is uncomfortably close to, is already playing an increasingly important role in the overarching narrative. Just this year alone, it was revealed in the book Aftermath: Empire’s End that Emperor Palpatine had spent decades attempting to calculate a safe trajectory through the Unknown Region and, even, out into other galaxies – and what we now know as the First Order, in fact, got its start out there in the mystery of intergalactic space. And the character of Grand Admiral Thrawn, who was just officially welcomed into the Expanded Universe (thanks to his appearances in the TV series Rebels and in a self-titled novel), hails from this sector and is busy preparing both his people and the Empire for what dangers lurk out there. Should Disney wish to really make its new theme park land a part of the canon, it could deliver a small-but-important piece of this narrative puzzle exclusively to guests.
4. The attractions will involve choice – and consequence
This is the stuff of dreams: theme parks, it seems, will be getting closer and closer to the massively-multiplayer online role-playing nature of videogames.
Though the exact technological infrastructure is entirely unknown at this point, Disney has revealed that the actions you as a guest take will potentially influence how the characters in Star Wars Land perceive and interact with you. The chief example given revolved around the Millennium Falcon attraction: how poorly riders handle the ship and how well they manage to accomplish their tasks will be logged and then made available to the various actors (and, we’re assuming, audio animatronics) in the area. While Chewbacca, specifically, might have something to say about how you manhandled his trusty ship, the data could also be used to color how the two factions vying for supremacy on the planet – General Leia Organa’s Resistance or Supreme Leader Snoke’s First Order – approach you, if at all. (Since the land’s second ride is all about these two sides squaring off against one another, there might well be some additional chances for interactivity here, as well.)
The potential for revolutionizing the theme park game cannot be overstated. If implemented well, and if guests fully get into the swing of things, we could potentially be looking at the first dynamic land ever seen at any park anywhere in the world. Though the buildings and the rides themselves would (more or less) remain the same, how you act as a participant in the proceedings could be different each and every time you arrive, potentially even going down the Westworld route of having you choose to be either a white or black hat – that is to say, whether you want to walk the streets as a hero (brandishing that new, premium lightsaber of yours) or as a villain.
The possibilities, actually, are dizzying – imagine walking down Knockturn Alley at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley and either having all the stores be closed off to you or having the denizens come streaming out to welcome you as one of their own. Not only would the character encounters be completely different (in terms of both quality and quantity), but you could theoretically have certain pieces of merchandise or food be exclusively available to you – for this trip, at least.
Next time could be an entirely different story…
You can see a behind-the-scenes video from this last weekend’s Star Wars Celebration Orlando panel here.