Disney, “Star Wars,” and a new theme-park hope: A look back at the Lucasfilm purchase

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In 2012, the Star Wars fandom was stunned by a triple whammy of news: George Lucas (the creator and main creative force behind the franchise) retired, The Walt Disney Company purchased Lucasfilm (his production company), and the long-awaited sequel trilogy was announced. Additionally, with the acquisition of the mega-property, Disney planned to leverage Star Wars for new endeavors in the realms of television and theme parks.

Now, eight years later, many of these developments have come to fruition, giving us plenty to reflect on. Let’s jump to lightspeed and do just that as we take a nostalgic trip to everyone’s favorite galaxy far, far away.

Episode I: The movie menace

Disney’s purchase of Lucasfilm ushered in the sequel trilogy

In 2012, the first film in the Star Wars sequel trilogy, Episode VII: The Force Awakens, was announced, with a planned release year of 2015. The movie marked the first in the franchise’s entire history to not involve George Lucas in a major role; instead, he served only as a creative consultant. In fact, Lucas later shared that his early story ideas were discarded by Disney – his original plans for the sequel trilogy involved a journey into the “microbiotic” world of the ethereal entities known as the Whills. (Whether that would have played well with fans after their lukewarm reception of the prequels’ midi-chlorians will remain a mystery.)

Instead, Force Awakens introduced audiences to the new stars of the multimedia juggernaut: scavenger-turned-Jedi Rey, liberated stormtrooper Finn (later revealed to be Force-sensitive himself), hotshot Resistance pilot Poe Dameron, and Kylo Ren/Ben Solo, Leia Organa and Han Solo’s son, who fell to the dark side of the Force. In 2017, the critically acclaimed (but controversial) Episode VIII: The Last Jedi was released, and Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker concluded the trilogy in 2019.

While the new film subseries’s reception has varied wildly within the fandom – especially in regard to Rise of Skywalker, which seemed to focus more on pleasing audiences than staying true to the established plotlines – there’s no question that it reignited the popularity of the brand. In between the sequel-trilogy installments, two standalone movies were also released: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story in 2016 and Solo: A Star Wars Story in 2018. The former was generally lauded by critics and viewers alike (myself included), while the latter fell short of expectations, both financially and critically.

The overall success of Walt Disney’s Star Wars films has led to plans for at least five more, including a new trio that will be released from 2023 to 2027 and additional projects overseen by Taika Waititi and Kevin Feige, the Marvel Cinematic Universe mastermind. The details on these undertakings are scant, but Disney has assured us that they will not focus on the Skywalker legacy – which ended (supposedly) in Episode IX – and will instead branch out to new territory.

Episode II: Attack of the television series

The Mandalorian season two logo
Season two of The Mandalorian just premiered

Since 2012, the Star Wars franchise has made its mark on the small screen in a big way. The Clone Wars was revived, with its seventh and final season airing on Disney+ in early 2020 to a universally warm reception. Two other animated series, Rebels and Resistance, also unfolded to generally positive reactions (although the latter ended after a very short run of only two seasons). And on the live-action side, the groundbreaking The Mandalorian earned Disney an Emmy nomination, along with countless adoring fans for the Child, who is perhaps better known by his colloquial name, Baby Yoda.

With success on both of these fronts, The Walt Disney Company has announced a number of additional endeavors for everyone to look forward to. The first of these will arrive in 2021 in the form of The Bad Batch, an animated series following a squadron of clones originally featured in Clone Wars as they navigate the galaxy in the Galactic Empire’s early days. For live-action fans, next year will also see the arrival of the untitled Cassian Andor miniseries, with Diego Luna reprising the titular role and Alan Tudyk returning as K-2SO (both characters were originally introduced in Rogue One, of course). And further down the pipeline, another miniseries based on Obi-Wan Kenobi and a female-centric show are scheduled to start production sometime (relatively) soon, as well.

Episode III: Revenge of the theme-park attraction(s)

Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run at Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge
Ever wanted to fly the fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy? Look no further than Galaxy’s Edge

At last, we’ve come to the area where Disney’s procurement of Lucasfilm has had the greatest impact: the arrival of Star Wars in Walt Disney World and Disneyland Resorts.

Well, maybe “arrival” isn’t exactly the right word to use. George Lucas’s multimedia baby has had a presence in the Disney parks since 1987, when Star Tours first debuted at Disneyland in Anaheim, California. In 2011, following the completion of the prequel trilogy, the attraction was reimagined as Star Tours: The Adventures Continue, which features randomly generated locations to allow for literally dozens of different ride experiences. Actually, this revamped version opened to little fanfare and much-shorter-than-expected lines, raising questions about the potential of future Star Wars additions to the parks.

Those questions were answered when Disney officially announced Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge on August 15, 2015, during that year’s D23 Expo. (Although, at the time, it was known only by the moniker “Star Wars Land” – the official name wasn’t revealed until the 2017 D23 expo, along with a smorgasbord of other details.) Disneyland’s version of the 14-acre land opened on May 31, 2019, with Disney World’s take following shortly afterwards, on August 29.

For a full rundown of the history of Galaxy’s Edge, be sure to check out our overview, but, in brief, the themed area encompasses Black Spire Outpost and a Resistance base located on the far-flung planet of Batuu. The land boasts an intricate backstory bolstered by tie-in novels and comic books, and it takes place between The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker in terms of the in-universe timeline. The Disneyland and Hollywood Studios lands are nearly identical, and both feature two rides: Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run and Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance. Guests can also choose from a variety of other themed experiences, such as constructing their own lightsaber, building a droid, or exploring Dok-Ondar’s Den of Antiquities.

Rise of the Resistance at Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge
The First Order really sends out the welcome wagon on Rise of the Resistance

If any questions remain as to the viability of Star Wars as a theme-park asset, Galaxy’s Edge – and Rise of the Resistance, in particular – provides the answer. The area, along with its attractions and dining experiences, is impressively immersive, and even more impressive is the fact that everything ties into the broader narrative of the sequel trilogy, rather than existing in an unspecified period of time (like The Wizarding World of Harry Potter). Rise of the Resistance has proven popular enough to need a boarding-pass system rather than a traditional line, and slots are routinely snagged up within minutes of dropping on the My Disney Experience mobile app (although the company is hoping to fix this starting next week). The land itself is often packed to the brim with guests eager to try a sip of Blue Bantha Milk or encounter Chewbacca and Rey hard at work fixing the Millennium Falcon.

Now, one question still does persist: what comes next? Well, Disney already announced at the 2019 D23 Expo plans for Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser, an on-site (and in-site) hotel that is currently slated to open in 2021. The fancy resort will feature a two-day, fully-themed, immersive experience, including a “port day” at Galaxy’s Edge and “cruising activities,” such as lightsaber training and helming the ship during a First Order attack. Decisions you make both on and off the vessel will even affect the story that unfolds during your stay.

The sky – or, more appropriately, the galaxy – is truly the limit.


How do you feel about how Disney has handled Star Wars? Will you be taking a trip to Batuu on the Galactic Starcruiser in 2021? Let us – and thousands of other Disney fans – know in our Orlando Informer Community on Facebook.

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About Nicole Wills

Nicole was born and raised in Orlando, so it's no surprise that theme parks have been part of her life for as long as she can remember. With experience writing content for both Universal Orlando Resort and her own theme park blog, she's turned that passion into a career, and she loves nothing more than helping others make the most of their Orlando adventures. When Nicole isn't writing, she can be found playing video games, hanging out with her cat, and counting down to Halloween Horror Nights (sometimes all at once).