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Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disney World’s Hollywood Studios – overview and history

There are few theme park projects anywhere in the world that can compare with the interest or, even, potential revolutionary nature of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. The new land, which will arrive first at Anaheim’s Disneyland in early summer 2019 and then some point thereafter at Orlando’s Hollywood Studios, looks to up the theming ante in ways both big and small, taking the paradigm-setting nature of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and the refinements of Pandora: The World of Avatar and running with them to the nth degree. Indeed, just to convey the scope of the undertaking, Galaxy’s Edge is 14 acres in size, making it the biggest expansion Disney has ever devoted to just one property, and Industrial Light & Magic, the visual-effects company that writer-director George Lucas started in 1975 in order to help him realize his Star Wars films, has been recruited to help develop the area.

Star Wars Land at Hollywood Studios early concept art
Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Hollywood Studios concept art

The land’s arrival will also complete a years-long rebirth of Hollywood Studios, resulting in a park that will be one of the strongest – and busiest – at Walt Disney World instead of a half-day stop on the way to other adventures at the resort. In this way, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge will be a massive game-changer for Orlando, specifically, as well as all future themed additions, generally (Universal’s Super Nintendo World, take notice).

Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge – history

Star Wars may have exploded on the big screen in 1977, but it took another full decade before it would find its way to a theme park. In 1986, at the direct behest of Michael Jackson, George Lucas got involved as the executive producer and co-writer of Captain EO, a 17-minute 3D film that starred Jackson, was directed by Francis Ford Coppola, and (originally) played exclusively at Disneyland and Epcot; using this collaboration as a launching pad, Disney pitched the idea of doing a ride themed to that galaxy far, far away (an attempt to salvage a long-trapped-in-development-hell attraction that had originally started life as a Black Hole motion simulator).

Original Star Tours poster at Disney's Hollywood Studios
Star Tours promotional art

Star Tours arrived a year later at Disneyland’s Tomorrowland, marking not only the first Star Wars ride, but the very first attraction in Disney’s history to be based off of an intellectual property not owned by the company itself (a fact which is now somewhat ironic, given that Disney would end up purchasing Lucasfilm – and taking full control of the multimedia franchise – 25 years later). Featuring what was then state-of-the-art technology, Star Tours would prove to be so popular, it eventually spread to three other parks, starting with Tokyo Disneyland and the then-brand-new Hollywood Studios in 1989 and finishing up with Disneyland Paris in ‘92.

Lucas infamously wanted to update first the ride’s tech and, then, once the new batch of Star Wars films saw release from 1999 to 2005, its story, but Disney’s executive leadership at the time was more interested in keeping costs low than refreshing an attraction that was still popular, even if it was aging. All this changed when Bob Iger became CEO in 2005 – almost immediately thereafter, a Star Tours upgrade was announced. Star Tours: The Adventures Continue arrived in 2011 at both Florida and California, with Japan and France following in the years afterward, and it added a few new tricks to the last-generation motion-simulator technology, such as 3D ride footage and the randomization of locations visited in the attraction (something which continues to be updated to this day, as each new mainline Star Wars release has one of its just-introduced planets be included in the roster).

More importantly, however, this new project once again served as the jumping-off point for a further business venture between the two companies. When Iger and Lucas were gathered at Hollywood Studios’s Brown Derby for a pre-opening-celebration meal, the Disney head honcho brought up the possibility of purchasing Lucasfilm, generally, and Star Wars, specifically, from the famed filmmaker. Within the next year-and-a-half, George Lucas agreed to the proposition, and the $4 billion transaction was grandly announced on October 30, 2012.

Bob Iger, George Lucas, and Anthony Daniels (C-3PO) on Star Tours: The Adventures Continue
Bob Iger, George Lucas, and Anthony Daniels (C-3PO) on Star Tours: The Adventures Continue

Although the public’s immediate attention went to the new slate of films that was confirmed alongside news of the sale, thought about how the property could be further implemented into Disney’s parks around the world wasn’t far off; although a number of SW-themed shows, meet-‘n-greets, and fireworks displays had cropped up in the years since 1987, starting with the annual Star Wars Weekends in 1997 and most recently including Symphony in the Stars: A Galactic Spectacular in 2016, these were more half-step experiences, not full-fledged, multimillion-dollar attractions. Rumor had it that an entire land would now be devoted to Lucas’s brainchild, one that would represent one of Disney’s biggest investments in its theme-park history.

Those rumors, of course, ended up being true, but it took the company a long time to formally acknowledge them, partially thanks to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley (which, it was reported, sent the project’s Imagineers scrambling back to the drawing board to create a land that was just as detailed and just as immersive as the Boy Wizard’s) and partially thanks to the latest round of Star Wars films (Disney wanted to wait and see how well they were received so as to figure out how heavily to incorporate them into the new themed area). After nearly three years of promises, hints, and teases, Disney finally made “Star Wars Land” official on August 15, 2015, during that year’s D23 Expo.

Construction started at both Disneyland and (a little later on) at Hollywood Studios on April 14, 2016; an initial opening-date announcement of 2019 followed eight months later, which was issued during a quarterly earnings call. Though the company had been releasing a small-but-steady trickle of information on the project’s contents all throughout this time, it really started to open the floodgates during the 2017 D23 Expo, debuting a fully-detailed, 50-foot-long, half-inch-to-one-foot scale model of the entire land, revealing the expansion’s name as Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, and disclosing the new ride vehicle for one of the two attractions.

Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge – location

Construction of Star Wars and Toy Story Lands at Disney's Hollywood Studios in March 2017
Construction of Star Wars and Toy Story Lands at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in March 2017

It is currently believed that Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge will be going into that giant swath of Disney’s Hollywood Studios that originally belonged to the Studio Backlot Tour, which was the very heart of the movie studio-themed park when it first opened in 1989. This giant complex of working soundstages and employee-only facilities had been slowly-but-surely chipped away at during the first two decades of Hollywood Studios’s existence, with Disney eventually creating the Streets of America and Pixar Place lands out of it (along with such attractions as Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show).

The Star Wars-themed land specifically is set to occupy the former Streets of America section, which closed on April 2, 2016 – roughly a year-and-a-half after the stripped-down Backlot Tour itself was axed – in order to make room for that galaxy far, far away. (The only Streets of America attraction to remain standing is Muppet*Vision 3D, which will now be receiving its own mini-land called Muppets Courtyard – a fitting development, as this particular stretch of real estate was originally to have been called Muppet Studios shortly after the park opened and would have been home to a miniaturized, Muppets-ized version of Hollywood Studios as a whole.)

This, of course, leaves a fair bit of distance between the future Galaxy’s Edge and the pre-existent Star Tours: The Adventures Continue (and its next-door Jedi Training: Trials of the Temple), not to mention the interfering presence of Muppet Courtyard. It is currently unknown how – or whether – Disney will connect the two areas to make one continuous Star Wars presence; the company could choose to snake a road around the Muppets show to link up with Star Tours, possibly even switching the ride’s entrance around to the other side of the show-building (just as it’s doing with Toy Story Midway Mania, in order to give it an entrance and exit directly unto the new Toy Story Land), although this seems rather far-fetched. Another possibility that has been rumored is the moving of at least Jedi Training to a closer, now-empty soundstage, but the viability of this scenario also remains dubious.

More likely than not, the two older Star Wars attractions will have to remain disconnected from the new expansion – not only for logistical reasons, but also for narrative and thematic concerns (as we’ll see next).

Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge – backstory

Star Wars Land at Hollywood Studios concept art at night
Star Wars Land at Hollywood Studios concept art

Taking a very big page from The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge inhabits just one specific city from one specific planet (instead of attempting to cram all the familiar locations in together from all eight films). In conjunction with Lucasfilm’s Story Group (the division responsible for supervising the narrative of each and every Star Wars release, from the movies to the novels to the videogames), Walt Disney Imagineering opted to make this planet a brand-new entry in the canon, with an entirely new backstory, culture, and inhabitants; guests are meant to feel as if they’re exploring a fresh chapter of the Star Wars mythology instead of retreading old adventures.

Although this new planet doesn’t yet have a name, it does have a backstory: located in the Outer Rim in the Unknown Regions, the world used to function as a vibrant trading post before the advent of faster-than-light travel through hyperspace. Now, interstellar commerce has passed it by, making it one of countless forgotten destinations – except for by those individuals who don’t want to be found, including bounty hunters, smugglers, and rogue adventurers. This planet is now a safe haven for the galaxy’s seamy underbelly, and guests will be able to interact with all of these different groups to various degrees.

But just because it’s been left behind by the galactic community doesn’t mean that visitors can’t expect to see some familiar faces there. The setting of Galaxy’s Edge places it squarely within the confines of the current sequel trilogy (which began with 2015’s Episode VII: The Force Awakens and will conclude with 2019’s still-untitled Episode IX), meaning that the newly-dominant First Order will have a presence here – but so, too, will General Leia Organa’s Resistance, along with the legendary Millennium Falcon (yes, with Chewbacca still aboard).

Finally, given the fully interconnected nature of the new, Disney-owned Star Wars Expanded Universe, don’t be surprised to see this new planet be formally introduced in, say, a television series or comic book before the theme park land has its grand opening; given the narrative’s current predilections towards the Unknown Regions, in specific (it turns out that Emperor Palpatine was getting ready to explore them before his untimely death at the hands of Anakin and Luke Skywalker), it seems inevitable that Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge will be fully integrated into the canon.

Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge – layout

Overview of the Star Wars Land model at Hollywood Studios
The giant, 50-foot model of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at D23 Expo 2017

Although plenty of concept art (and that big, beautiful model!) has been released, Disney has yet to unveil where all of Galaxy’s Edge’s rides and experiences will be located in the land – which isn’t that surprising, given that a final roster of attractions, including their names, has yet to be issued in the first place.

Here’s what we do know: a giant berm will be erected to shield the inside of the land from the prying eyes outside, making it as secluded and immersive as is Diagon Alley (where Disney picked the trick up). When using the main entrance, guests will first be exposed to an exotic marketplace that is populated by low, circular buildings and which offers up all manner of merchandise, including illicit items from the galaxy’s black market. This area will also constitute visitors’ first exposure to the planet’s various denizens, which will consist of aliens, droids, and animals.

In the land beyond will be two further sub-sections: a spaceport controlled by the ever-expanding First Order and an ancient forest compound that has been turned into a secret Resistance base (in keeping with Episode IV: A New Hope’s Yavin IV and The Force Awakens’s D’Qar). It is here that we believe Galaxy’s Edge’s two E-ticket attractions will be located – one in which guests pilot the Millennium Falcon and another which will see them try to escape a battle between the Resistance and the First Order. There will additionally be at least one cantina, which looks to be stocked with exclusive offerings (including blue milk!), populated by audio-animatronic alien chefs and droid DJs, and, just maybe, will offer up live entertainment.

More should be revealed soon, even if the area’s arrival isn’t for another two years.

Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge – attractions

As previously stated, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge’s two rides have only been spoken about in vague terms by Disney, more hints than actual descriptions – for instance, although the premises of the attractions are known, we have yet to receive official names for them. Still, when coupled with the copious amounts of speculation from the themed community, we start to get an idea of their scope and potential impact.

Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge conceptual art
Concept art of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge’s Millennium Falcon ride

First up is the Millennium Falcon ride, which has six guests sit in the cockpit of the famous ship and pilot her on a series of missions for the Resistance. At least a few of the riders will have one specific job function, whether that be manning the quad guns or prepping the navicomputer for a hyperspace jump, and how well they perform them will follow them out onto the streets of the alien city, informing how certain individuals will react to you.

What may perhaps be even more interesting than the ride mechanics themselves is the attraction’s backstory. Hondo Ohnaka, a recurring character from the Star Wars: The Clone Wars animated series, has approached Chewbacca, the inheritor of the Millennium Falcon, to use the legendary vessel on some sort of secret undertaking – one that requires the two familiar faces to round up a new flight crew. This is a perfect example of Disney attempting to fully ground Galaxy’s Edge in the Star Wars Expanded Universe – and also attempting to make the ride vehicle a full part of the narrative, as well.

Battle ride at Disney World's Star Wars Land
Concept art of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge’s “battle escape” ride as revealed on ABC

The battle escape attraction, as it’s currently known, is a dark ride that sees guests get trapped right in the middle of a skirmish between Supreme Leader Snoke’s First Order and General Organa’s Resistance. Although we do know that this will be located inside of a tall show building, most likely to fit such sets as a Star Destroyer launch bay and such items as AT-ATs, we’re not certain about practically any of the ride’s other details; rumors indicate that there will be tons of audio-animatronic stormtroopers and also hint at the possibility that part of the attraction will have passengers disembark from their ride vehicle, hoof it on foot through a section of the battle, and then re-board another vehicle (possibly a different one from before), but all of this remains to be seen, of course.

One concrete detail we do have, however, is what that ride vehicle will look like and how it fits into the franchise’s canon. Called a First Order fleet transport, its official description reads:

Within the First Order fleet, troops, officers, and personnel traverse the interiors of massive ships using small transport vehicles. Piloted by astromech droids, these vehicles are programed with ship schematics and security access codes.

First Order battle ride vehicle at Star Wars Land
The “battle escape” attraction’s ride vehicle at Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge

Various meet-‘n-greet opportunities will also be on-hand. Although Chewbacca, Kylo Ren, and (possibly) Hondo are the only confirmed ones thus far, Disney has stated that several familiar faces will be present in the land; presumably, given the alien-planet premise, it’ll be extremely easy for the company to trout out nearly any character for limited appearances when the or she is “in the interstellar neighborhood.”

The final attraction in Galaxy’s Edge is, arguably, the most exciting – and, certainly, the most revolutionary. User customization is set to play a big role in the land, and it seems the chief method for determining this level of interactivity will be guests’ fictitious bank accounts: turning back to the Millennium Falcon ride as an example, riders will be rewarded for their good results by being issued galactic credits (the Star Wars universe’s currency); if they do poorly, not meeting the mission’s criteria or damaging the ship, they’ll be docked money. This, in turn, will influence how the trading outpost’s denizens will respond to you, whether they put a bounty on your head (for owing more money than what you currently have) or, possibly, attempt to sidle up to you to get some of those credits for themselves.

(Don’t worry – those visitors who don’t want to engage in all these extra layers of content won’t have to, though Disney has yet to specifically detail how, exactly, they can opt out.)

Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge – hotel

Star Wars hotel at Walt Disney World
Star Wars hotel at Walt Disney World concept art

Yes, being able to have an individualized experience on a brand-new planet in the Star Wars mythos – all while being able to take rides on the Millennium Falcon, to boot – is exciting… but, as it turns out, that’s not even the best part of Galaxy’s Edge.

The Star Wars hotel is coming – eventually – to Walt Disney World, with rumors strongly suggesting that it’ll be placed directly on Hollywood Studios property, right next to the Star Wars land itself (and featuring a private entrance unto it). Themed as a giant starship, it will “depart” from Earth and “arrive” on the alien planet that Galaxy’s Edge resides on (a current trend in the experience business that is referred to as land-based cruising); guests would book a package – two nights is the stated minimum – that would include “travel time” to the planet, special access to the area (presumably afterhours, when crowds are nonexistent), and then “travel time” back home.

Along the way, patrons will get fully into character by dressing up, undergoing specific “training” (such as for espionage or lightsaber combat, depending upon what disposition they chose for themselves), undertaking certain missions, and interacting with a whole host of individuals that hail from all across the Star Wars Expanded Universe – namely, to be as fully enmeshed in that galaxy far, far away as is humanly possible. It is believed, though not confirmed by Disney as of yet, that food will be included in the price, consisting of buffets for both breakfast and lunch and Disney Signature meals for dinner (which would feature live entertainment that would rely more heavily on audience participation – if you chose to do so, of course). The hotel rooms, meanwhile, are themed to starliner cabins, which include views out onto (hyper)space instead of boring parking lots back on Earth.

Star Wars hotel at Walt Disney World
Star Wars hotel at Walt Disney World concept art

How much will these vacation packages cost? A survey that Disney ran prior to officially announcing everything suggested $900 per person as the starting price – and we have absolutely no doubt that there will be sold-out accommodations nearly every single night for at least the hotel’s first year of business.

This type of vacation concept has been labeled by the company as a “Disney 360” experience, so named for having every second of every hour be totally immersed in a narrative (think live-action role-playing games, but on a much grander scale). Such a program description, of course, entails the existence of other such theme park/hotel/storytelling combinations, and, indeed, we’ve already heard from our sources that Disney is contemplating rolling out similar experiences for such properties as Indiana Jones and Frozen.

Needless to say, this may very well represent the future of all theme parks across the globe for decades to come.

Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge – expansion(s)

Star Wars Land marketplace concept art
Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Hollywood Studios’s marketplace concept art

One final, quick note to end our comprehensive coverage of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge on: it has already been suggested that Disney is saving space at both Hollywood Studios and Disneyland for at least one expansion, should the new area prove to be as successful as the company clearly thinks it will be. Rumors currently indicate that such an addition would consist of one new street, one new E-ticket attraction, and one new restaurant, although those contents could easily be switched up if fan demand or park operations finds that one particular facet of the experience needs to be expounded on.

This may yet prove to be yet another way that Disney’s Galaxy’s Edge is analogous with Universal’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter – the two properties could continually see updates and refreshes for a full decade, at least, after their original openings.

Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge – index of articles

Here are all of our recent news updates, in-depth features, and speculative pieces regarding Galaxy’s Edge, both here in Orlando and in Anaheim. Keep your eyes peeled here for the latest:

2017

Universal researching Star Wars hotel impact and Express changes

Star Wars hotel confirmed

Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge details revealed

Star Wars Land’s secret interactivity revealed?

Star Wars Land model revealed

The one way that the Harry Potter and Star Wars lands backfire

Is Star Wars Land getting delayed?

Our first glimpse of Star Wars Land’s layout and attractions

Is Disney making Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and Frozen hotels?

Four things we just learned about Star Wars Land

New behind-the-scenes video released about Star Wars Land

Did Disney just confirm a major Star Wars Land rumor?