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Blueprints detail more of what we will find in Disney's Star Wars land

By Robert Niles
Published: November 18, 2017 at 11:39 AM
The Disneyland Resort has revealed more details about its upcoming Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge land, via local government permit applications obtained by my colleagues over at the Orange County Register.

We've known the broad outlines of Disney's Star Wars land for some time now: Two rides, including one where you pilot the Millennium Falcon and one depicting a battle between the Resistance and the First Order, a cantina-style restaurant, shops, and character encounters, spread across a 14-acre land. At D23 last summer, Disney revealed a scale model of the land and ride vehicles for the First Order battle ride that suggested it would be a motion-base dark ride, in the tradition of Indiana Jones, Spider-Man and Transformers. Then yesterday, Disney confirmed that the name of the new planet in the Star Wars canon where Galaxy's Edge is set will be Batuu.

The Register's blueprints add more detail to the picture. The side of the land closest to Critter Country will be devoted to the Resistance while the far side, nearest Fantasyland, will be occupied by the First Order.

The two rides sit in between, with the First Order ride's show building taking up nearly a fourth of the land's area. "Visitors will weave through projection scenes depicting a major space battle, elaborate props such as AT ATs, gunners, and a possible encounter with Kylo Ren (nicknamed Kylo-Vator in plans) before leaving in an escape pod. There are 18 scenes in total," The Register's Joseph Pimentel wrote.

The Millennium Falcon ride is built on turntable rooms, which look a bit to me like scaled-down versions of Epcot's Mission Space. The Cantina is a U-shaped bar, plus booths and tables. And there is an additional table-service restaurant in the plans, too. Additional locations include Merchants' Row of shops, a landspeeder garage, a droid mechanic shop and droid charging stations throughout the land.

The second installation of Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge, in Disney's Hollywood Studios at the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, will be identical save for being oriented differently within that park's layout. The new lands will open in 2019.

I think one of the more engaging insights about the land came from lead designer Scott Trowbridge, in a statement describing Batuu released by Disney:

Once a busy crossroads along the old sub-lightspeed trade routes, but its prominence was bypassed by the rise of hyperspace travel. Now home to those who prefer to stay out of the mainstream, it has become a thriving port for smugglers, rogue traders and adventurers traveling between the frontier and uncharted space.

Hmmm? Once a popular travel route, now bypassed and largely forgotten thanks to a faster transportation route elsewhere? Now home to those out of the mainstream? This sounds familiar....

Yep, in its premise, it sounds like Galaxy's Edge, ultimately, will be an outer space version of Cars Land. Actually, I'm good with that. What do you think?

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Disney's new Star Tours offers fans an edge-of-your-seat surprise

By Robert Niles
Published: November 17, 2017 at 7:55 AM
Let's cut to the chase. Disney's latest iteration of Star Tours offers attentive theme park fans one of the most rewarding Easter eggs I've seen in a theme park attraction in years.

I know that others are spoiling it, but I won't, because being caught by surprise by what I realized I was seeing made even jaded old me shout "wow!"

But having seen it, I really, really want to talk about it and share the moment with other fans. So let's back up and start in safer territory.

Star Tours 3.0, if you will, is still officially "The Adventures Continue," but the randomly-selected destinations are off the table, at least for now. This version offers two destinations from the sequel trilogy - in whose timeline the attraction now remains. No more jumping around in time as well as space anymore.

The well-publicized trip to Crait is our second destination. But first we return to the Jakku sequence that Disney offered to promote the release of The Force Awakens. In between, we do get a random element. I got a message from Maz Kanata the first time I rode and from Poe Dameron the second.

Crait provides a visual wonder. We don't just skim along the surface of this new Star Wars world, we also dive below it into the planet's interior. And with its blood-red geology, I felt like I'd hopped a ride back of Epcot's old Body Wars, the first motion simulator ride at the Walt Disney World Resort.

Back on the surface, of course all has gone terribly wrong and we are engaged in battle with the First Order. In the midst (mist?) of the fight, there's a fun call back to the windshield wiper joke from the ride's load queue video.

This Star Tours is filled with little touches like that. Look for BB8 before you launch, for example. Finn, Poe, and Hux also make appearances if you keep your field of vision wide. Perhaps some fans will lament the missing characters and scenes from the original trilogy. But this Star Tours helps establish the new trilogy within the theme park canon, and resolves a roiling fan debate on that topic as it does it.

The new Star Tours is now playing in Disney theme parks worldwide. Star Wars: The Last Jedi opens in theaters next month… unless you haven't bought your tickets yet, in which case it opens for you sometimes around the debut of the Star Wars Galaxy's Edge land in 2019.

On that topic, after this morning media preview, Disney officials teased the upcoming Star Wars Galactic Nights hard-ticket event at Disney's Hollywood Studios next month. One element of that event will be a panel on the upcoming Star Wars land, led by design team leader Scott Trowbridge from Walt Disney Imagineering. (Plug for our coverage of that amazing Legends panel he participated on this week at IAAPA.) The panel will reveal some new details about the land at the event, Disney promises. And they teased it with one new official confirmation today: The name of the new planet upon which the Star Wars Galaxy's Edge land is set is Batuu.

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The holidays come alive with new shows at Universal Orlando

By Robert Niles
Published: November 16, 2017 at 10:27 PM
ORLANDO — The holidays have arrived at the Universal Orlando Resort, with three all-new shows to celebrate the season.

Universal hosted invited media to preview its holiday performances this evening, kicking off with the new Universal's Holiday Parade Featuring Macy's. Yes, the iconic department store has been kicked down to supporting billing in this new production, which uses the character balloons inspired by Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in more of a supporting role to the Illumination and DreamWorks animated characters that star in this parade.

After having spent the past few summers watching Disney's Paint the Night and the Main Street Electrical Parade, this nighttime presentation seemed... almost reserved compared with the amped-up, beat-you-over-the-head-with-the-melody aggressiveness of those productions. Despite not having a crowd to reflect the energy of the performance, the parade still delivered all the moments with beloved characters that one should expect. And like the New York original, it all builds up to the arrival of Santa at the end.

As much as I enjoyed the parade, I loved the new productions in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. We started in Diagon Alley, where Celestina Warbeck and the Banshees have a new holiday special.

Celestina's a diva, and I love her for it. The holiday show gives her four new numbers to wail on, and she delivers, as always. It's campy, but musically satisfying, too. This really is one of the best theme park shows out there, and I am so glad that Universal is investing in expanding this character with a seasonal production.

Over in Hogsmeade, Universal is presenting The Magic of Christmas at Hogwarts Castle, a projection mapping show that envelopes the castle with delightful, holiday-themed moments.

Unlike some projection mapping shows, the animation here never changes the castle's form into something else. It's always Hogwarts. But it's Hogwarts draped in snow. Or illuminated by fairies. Or with the walls cut away to see the Yule Ball going on within. Or, in its most humorous moment, draped with advertising signs from Weasleys' Wizarding Wheezes.

Each iteration of the Hogwarts projection show has improved upon the last, and this production continues that tradition, adding more detail and narrative to the show that ran in Hollywood last summer. (Orlando and Hollywood are showing the same Christmas show on their Hogwarts Castles this season.) The show runs every 20 minutes or so after the sun sets in the evening, so if you're in the park, it should be easy to catch at your convenience.

Universal Orlando's holiday shows officially start on Saturday and run through January 6.

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IAAPA Legends panel 2017: What makes a great IP-based attraction?

By Robert Niles
Published: November 15, 2017 at 9:13 PM
ORLANDO — Intellectual property can give theme park designers a head start in appealing to their audience, but parks and their design teams cannot count on IP to deliver a great attraction without help. Three leading theme park designers who have worked with some of the most popular IPs in the world kept coming back to that thought during their discussion on the use of IP in theme park attractions, at the IAAPA Attractions Expo this afternoon.

Bob Rogers' Legends panel this year welcomed Joe Rohde and Scott Trowbridge from Walt Disney Imagineering and Thierry Coup of Universal Creative to talk about their adaptations of Avatar, Marvel, Harry Potter, Star Wars, and more, for the Disney and Universal theme parks. But lots of movies make big money at the box office. How does a designer know which ones would work well in a theme park?

"A profoundly character-based intellectual property, that focuses almost exclusively on the events that happen to a set of individuals and that doesn't really have place-making and doesn't really have a physical plant, is just simply not worth even pursuing," Rohde said. "Where do you go with it? You are locked to plots about characters and things that happen to then. It's very difficult, then, to create something immediate."

"When we think about using IP, it's not about taking a creative work that was designed for one medium then trying to shoehorn it into another," Trowbridge said. "A good way to use IP is to take the essence of what made that story successful, understand the DNA of that creative work and then find the best possible way to express that DNA through another creative medium."

"Film is format that allows you to explore the character-based side of a story-telling world," Rohde said. "The stuff we do is much more about direct experience. It's about you and what's going to happen to you inside this story world where these (other) things happened to those characters."

"You allow the guest to enter a world they seem to know that they are emotionally connected to," Coup said, "but they are discovering new places within that world, and they are the stars of that."

"When we adapted the Harry Potter stories, it's almost like we added a few pages there" for fans to discover in the park experience, Coup said.

Trowbridge pointed out that expanding an IP in this way requires a collaborative approach with an IP holder, in contrast to the simpler relationship that results when a park simply licenses a work or a mark.

"Not everyone is approaching it as we have the luxury to do," he said. "Sometime it just about 'how do I differentiate my new coaster in the marketplace?'"

But if a park is pursuing a collaborative relationship, it must find a way to develop a positive working relationship with the IP owner, all three designers agreed.

"You have to be open to this idea that somebody who is not from your industry, but who is a master storyteller, might have an insight how to get something done that you would never think of," Rohde said. "At the same time, you have to be able to convey that there is a business here; there is an art form here; it does have parameters."

"If you are talking with someone who is just licensing IP to you... that person or group is probably not able to have a conversation about 'let's expand this universe,' they're really only able to interpret scripture and not write new scripture," Trowbridge said.

"It's almost like marrying someone for their wonderful child," Coup said. "It's give and take, you have to make compromises. There's a lot of educating going on... you have to put your ego away and both sides have to really listen to each other. It creates a great marriage and in the end it's a great experience."

But even with that relationship, IP is, at most, a head start and not a shortcut.

"The idea is that I can go buy credit by buying a property and when I stick it on this thing, it will have more credit," Rohde said. "But in fact it won't, unless you put the same amount of effort into it that you would put into anything."

"Intellectual property has great value as a marketing asset, absolutely," Rohde said. "It's just that, if you are doing your design properly, and starting the story at zero, then an intellectual property assignment, as a designer, is very little different than any other assignment."

Near the end of the session, Rogers asked the three to identify a source of inspiration for their work, which launched Rohde into a four-minute discussion of the art and science of theme park design that ought to be required listening for anyone in this business — or any fan who wants a deeper appreciation for it.

More from the IAAPA Attractions Expo:

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Chowing down on theme park treats, on the IAAPA show floor

By Robert Niles
Published: November 15, 2017 at 12:03 PM
ORLANDO — Vendors aren't just selling rides, slides, theaters, and games at the IAAPA Attractions Expo. Every year, the food and beverage pavilion attracts some of the biggest lines on the show floor, as many of the 38,000 attendees head over to taste the free samples offered at these booths.

Let's take a quick video tour of this year's highlights.

The slyly-named Beaver Tails remain the most popular offering on the trade show, based on the length of the queue waiting for a sample. But I also enjoyed the delightfully-shaped custard-filled treats available from Delimanjoo (Korean for "little cake"). The fish-shaped Taiyaki were both cute and delicious.

I also enjoyed making my own shaved ice at the "Be the Hamster" booth, where I had to flip more switches than an electrician and run a giant hamster wheel in order to produce my own little cup of root beer-flavored shaved ice. It's not always about the food — sometimes its the experience that makes the treat.

Finally, I "wrapped" up with Kono Pizza, a cone-shaped pizza that's perfect for walking around the park. New Yorkers can consider this the logical extension of folding your slice, while Disney fans can just think of this as a pizza Handwich.

More coverage from the 2017 IAAPA Attractions Expo:<

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Downtown Disney to add Black Tap Craft Burgers & Beer restaurant

By Robert Niles
Published: November 15, 2017 at 11:57 AM
The wacky milkshake thing finally is making its way to Southern California's theme parks.

Orlando-area theme park fans have been enjoying the battle between Universal's Toothsome Chocolate Emporium & Savory Feast Kitchen and Disney's Planet Hollywood Observatory to offer the most outrageously-flavored and topped milkshakes to fans thirsty not just for sweets, but also for Instagram likes. These photo-ready concoctions further blur any remaining distinction between food and attraction at the parks.

Now, Disney is bringing the photogenic fun to the Disneyland Resort's Downtown Disney district. "CrazyShakes" will be on the menu at Black Tap Craft Burgers & Beer when it opens its first California location at Downtown Disney next year. The New York-based restaurant chain will bring its menu of hamburgers, veggie burgers, and craft brews to the resort, along with those shakes.

Black Tap Craft Burgers & Beer is going into the former Build-A-Bear location, across from Uva Bar in the middle of Downtown Disney, just around the corner from the Splitsville bowling restaurant that's also now under construction. Disneyland recently announced plans to close the establishments to the west of the monorail track in Downtown Disney, including the ESPN Zone, Rainforest Cafe and Earl of Sandwich, to clear space for the luxury fourth hotel that Disney will build on the site. The addition of Splitsville and Black Tap Craft will help restore more dining capacity in the district following the loss of those other restaurants.


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Mark Hamill joins fans for a ride on Disneyland's Star Tours

By Robert Niles
Published: November 15, 2017 at 7:25 AM
Poor Mark Hamill. He's the star of what might be the hottest entertainment franchise in Hollywood, with Star Wars: The Last Jedi ready to drop next month. But apparently, Disney is still scheduling him to work ops shifts at Disneyland to earn his paycheck.

That's the reason why he was on stage working Star Tours: The Adventures Continue in Tomorrowland last night, right?

Luke Skywalker himself showed up unannounced at the park last night, no doubt so that the news would go viral and we'd all write stories about it. But meta-awareness of our role in the worldwide media machine isn't always fun, so let's get roll with it and enjoy the moment. How cool would it be to ride Star Tours with Luke. (It's pretty much guaranteed that he was the spy, though, right?)

Disney seems to be establishing a habit of sending its stars into the park to promote upcoming films. While Hamill did not appear as his Luke Skywalker character on Star Tours, earlier this year, Johnny Depp pulled as shift at Pirates of the Caribbean in costume as Captain Jack Sparrow before the most recent Pirates film debuted.

Back to Star Tours, Disney will continue to promote The Last Jedi with a new destination on the ride — Crait, from the new movie. Unlike Mark Hamill's appearance, all Disney theme park visitors will be able to see that one. We are scheduled to be at Disney's Hollywood Studios Friday morning for the early-morning press preview of the new destination and revamped attraction, which debuts to the public that day. Stay tuned.

Update: Disneyland has released its official video of Hamill's visit:

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