Season of the Force Debuts to Packed Crowds at Disneyland

November 17, 2015, 8:03 AM · The power of the force is real and it’s everywhere, folks. With only a month to go until “The Force Awakens” hits theaters, Star Wars mania is reaching a fever pitch and Disney, never one to miss an opportunity to exploit a franchise, is taking full advantage. The answer for Disneyland is “Season of the Force,” a takeover of Tomorrowland that promises to celebrate the Star Wars saga as a whole. So on the evening of its debut, I made the jump to lightspeed on the 5 freeway (kidding, traffic sucks) and landed in Anaheim to see what all the hype is about.

Season of the Force

A Star Wars presence in Tomorrowland is nothing new, of course. The franchise that happened “a long time ago” has somewhat ironically taken residence in the land of the future in the form of Star Tours since 1987. What’s different with “Season of the Force” is how all-encompassing it is. This is the most unified Tomorrowland has been in decades. Themed signage greets you at the entrance. Memorable music from the Star Wars films fills the air. Lighting and smoke effects create atmosphere and divide the walkways in blue and red: blue with the symbol of the Rebellion for the “light side”, and red with the symbol of the Empire for the “dark side”. It’s festive and well-executed.

This special event doesn’t solve all the land’s ills, however: banners hanging from the abandoned Peoplemover track only draw attention to its sad desolate state, and the space junk up on the former Rocket Jets platform, while nicely lit, is still junk, and it no longer spins like it used to.

Theme park fans who follow the rumors know that Imagineering made (and later shelved) plans to turn Tomorrowland into their full-fledged Star Wars land. Those plans have since evolved and relocated to 14 acres in the back of Frontierland, but it’s interesting to see a small taste of what might have been.

Star Wars Launch Bay

I didn’t see any on this particular night, but during “Season of the Force” Disneyland allows guests of all ages to wear Star Wars costumes, including masks, as long as eyes are visible.

My first stop of the night was Star Wars Launch Bay, which takes residence on the ground floor of the circular building now called the Tomorrowland Expo Center (previously Innoventions, and before that America Sings and Walt’s Carousel of Progress). It should be noted that this building has shorter operating hours (on this visit, 10am-8pm) than the rest of the park (9am-10pm). This space contains museum-like areas containing props and costumes from the new and previous Star Wars films, video game stations to play Disney Infinity 3.0, meet-and-greet areas for Darth Vader and Chewbacca, a small theater space showing a behind-the-scenes documentary, and a high-end retail location with helmets, costumes and figures ranging in price from $750 to $9,000.

Star Wars merchandise

The entire time I couldn’t shake off the feeling that Disney was trying to sell me something – and in a classic move, they make you exit through the gift shop. I can’t deny that the force to buy merchandise is strong with Star Wars collectors, but none of this stuff (a $70 lightsaber umbrella?) particularly appealed to me, the “casual” Star Wars fan who enjoys the films but doesn’t have unlimited funds or a bedroom full of action figures. As corny as Innoventions was, at least it offered exhibits and activities that didn’t all end with a cash register. The display area does not currently devote any space to Star Wars Land; I would be interested to see concept art and models of that here later.

I took a peek upstairs at Super Hero HQ, the Marvel-focused area of the building which also opened the same day. Not much has changed here: the Iron Man Tech and Thor areas are unchanged from before, Spider-Man has moved into Captain America’s meeting space, and a Marvel retail location took over the space where Honda’s ASIMO robot theater once was. If meet & greets, video game stations, and merchantainment is your thing, you’ll love it. I left underwhelmed without an urgent need to return.

Next up was “Star Wars: Path of the Jedi”, a 10-minute montage in the theater previously occupied by Captain EO. It nicely summarizes the Star Wars story arc, in case you’ve been living under a rock far, far away. It includes footage from “The Force Awakens” but if you’ve been paying attention to the trailers there’s nothing here that we haven’t seen before. It’s not in 3D but does make use of the theater’s lighting and “rumbling seats” effects. It’s competent, but nothing special and not very repeatable.

Every Star Tours flight now includes a new scene from “The Force Awakens”. Once my Starspeeder 1000 made the jump to lightspeed, we were placed smack dab on the planet Jakku. Loud screams of approval erupted in my cabin when Finn appeared on screen. We chased the Millennium Falcon for a bit before taking back off into space and then we received a transmission from BB-8, that soccer-ball shaped droid which I adore. My boyfriend asked me how I could love a character from a film I haven’t even seen yet, and I don’t have an adequate response to that question. Somehow Star Wars hype is different than other kinds of hype.

BB-8 sipper

Special Star Wars themed food items are available at Pizza Port and Tomorrowland Terrace (renamed Galactic Grill). I tried the Jedi Order Chicken Sandwich which, while edible, was nothing to write home to Alderaan about. The bun was too moist and it stuck to the Star Wars branded wrapper. The BB-8 krispy treat was tasty but loaded with empty calories and saturated fat. Cool tip: never, ever look at the nutrition label on Disney treats.

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to ride Hyperspace Mountain on this visit. I tried, really! I entered the standby queue at 9pm with a posted wait time of 85 minutes, and before I reached the indoor portion, the ride broke down and it was announced that it would not reopen for the remainder of the night and everyone in the queue was out of luck. I’m not worried, though: while “Season of the Force” has no announced end date, I expect it to last at least through spring break if not all of summer 2016. If you’re reading this, you probably already know that several Disneyland attractions on the west side of the park will close in January for a lengthy period while Star Wars Land construction begins, and it makes sense to give guests something else to do in the meantime. Almost everyone who has experienced Hyperspace Mountain so far has told me it’s great. I’ll be back soon.

Replies (6)

November 17, 2015 at 9:39 PM · It's a "long time ago" from the perspective of the narrator far, far into the future. I'm not a Star Wars geek, but I do know that. ;-)
November 17, 2015 at 11:29 PM · There is no narrator or indication of the 1st person in any SW opening sequence. If that was the case then it would be a long time ago but not necessarily far far away. Why would a narrator be far away from us and the Star Wars galaxy yet in the future?
The premise is for our benefit the viewer because in every episode we are dropped into the middle of a story, like the Flash Gordan serials that inspired it. By placing the story far into the past and far away we are more easily able to suspend disbelief and accept this exotic world regardless of our current or future tech. Unlike sci fi films that always offer a glimpse into our future Star Wars is not. Bu placing the story in the past it transcends time and remains relevant unlike sci fi films set in the future which can quickly become outdated. George Lucas created the genre of Space Fantasy. The story takes place in an advanced tech civilisation but is really about classical and ancient themes and mythology.
It takes place a long time ago and far away period.
November 17, 2015 at 11:40 PM · In Star Tours it looks like Finn is piloting the Millenium Falcon, could he be the son of Lando, the last owner? Also he's a blast from the future, because the time frame for Star Tours is between the two first trilogies. He should be encountering the Starspeeder 6000, not the Starspeeder 1000. But then again the Hoth battle hadn't yet taken place either...oh well. Space Mountain finally has a story, sort of. It should be a permanent overlay.
November 18, 2015 at 9:03 AM · The future isn't about technology and innovation, it's about shopping.
November 18, 2015 at 7:51 PM · Future-Past-Who cares? The story transcends to hope. Hope for the future. Hope we've learned from the mistakes of our past. And as the writer so excellently portrays: he'll get in line earlier next time... He hopes.
November 19, 2015 at 6:55 AM · While certainly open to interpretation Wookiepedia states:

"The line "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.…," which appears at the beginning of every Star Wars film, is the only way the Star Wars galaxy has been defined in relation to the real world. It is alluding to the classic fairy tale line "Once upon a time, in a land far, far away…" and variations thereof. It may reflect that the films are to be interpreted as the myths of the future, as opposed to literally meaning that the events take place in the past. Lucas himself intentionally left the details open to interpretation."

Myths of the future is the common interpretation for many Star Wars fans.

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