Will the Force Awaken in Disney's Star Wars Land? Reinforcing the Theme with People, Food

December 24, 2015, 2:48 PM · This week we are taking another look at Disney's plans for Star Wars Land, in the context of what Disney has done to reboot the Star Wars franchise with The Force Awakens. We've talked about Disney's decision to delay the development of the new lands and the importance of cosplay in reinforcing fan loyalty to a franchise. Today, we will talk about two elements of a new land that can undercut its themed environment: people and food.

When Disney CEO Bob Iger announced Star Wars Land at the D23 Expo in Anaheim last summer, both he and Disney Parks Chairman Bob Chapek made a point of telling people that the cast members in the new land would not just be playing the role of Disney cast members, but of inhabitants of the newly introduced world upon which Star Wars Land would be set.

Why is that a big deal? Let's back up by taking a look at the template used by Universal in its Wizarding World of Harry Potter — build a credible depiction of a physical space where the story is set, populate it with attractions in which visitors can spend time with beloved characters from the franchise, and reinforce the theme with employees who play the part of inhabitants of the franchise's universe, offering food and merchandise that reflect the universe of the franchise.

If any of these elements brings you outside the world of the franchise, it undercuts the land's credibility and makes it a less desirable place for fans to visit. For example, if you could order a Coke with your fish n' chips in The Three Broomsticks, that would remind you that you are actually visiting a theme park, and not the village of Hogsmeade, given that Coca-Cola does not exist in the Wizarding World. Similarly, if Universal team members working the stores in the Wizarding World wore generic park uniforms instead of themed costumes, that would destroy the illusion that you really were shopping in Diagon Alley.

Just as we wrote yesterday in talking about cosplay, the goal is to bring fans to a point where they stop seeing themselves as outsiders visiting a fictional land and begin to see themselves as participants inhabiting a world that feels real, instead. Every element of the land must support this illusion for it to work. If employees break character, or a store or restaurant display items incompatible with the franchise's world, the illusion shatters, and fans don't feel the same deep connection that they feel when the illusion works.

Disney's not building Star Wars Land to remind fans what a good job Universal did with Harry Potter. Disney is building Star Wars Land to encourage its fans to skip the trip up the road to see the Wizarding World. If Disney's design and operation of Star Wars Land includes more "breaks" than Universal's Wizarding World does, then it risks failing this most basic test of success.

That is why Disney's promise about Star Wars Land cast members is so important. We got a first glimpse at the level of detail Disney is bringing to the Star Wars Land project in the Season of the Force event at Disneyland. Take a moment to look at the name tags that cast members in Tomorrowland are wearing during the event. You won't find cast members' home towns listed under the names. Instead, you will find the name of a "home planet" from the Star Wars universe: Mustafar, Alderaan, Tatooine, etc. It would have been easy for Disney to overlook this detail in costuming its cast members, but the fact that Disney is addresses now, years before Star Wars Land opens, should give fans hope that Disney won't break the details in its new land.

That's the people, now what about the food? Let's face it, Star Wars provides far less opportunity in food than Harry Potter does. This is a war, after all, where eating is about sustenance — not sitting down to a sumptuous communal feast, as the students of Hogwarts do on a daily basis. The original trilogy offered scarce examples of characters eating: some Bantha blue milk with breakfast in the first film, Luke's space food sticks and Yoda's gruel in "Empire," and that's about it.

The Star Wars franchise does offer one amazing opportunity for drinks, however. The cantina scene from the first film remains one of the most iconic locations in the entire franchise, and a place where fans have longed to visit. (Warning: Now we start with the mild spoilers. Stop if you haven't seen The Force Awakens yet and want to go in totally cold. But nothing we say today will reveal plot points — just a few scenic moments.)

Maz Kanata's cantina on Takodana calls back to that original Mos Eisley cantina, providing a gathering place for the denizens of the Star Wars universe. We see more food in Maz Kanata's cantina, too, as we get to watch Rey chow down on what looked to me like a loaded potato skin with tiny Christmas trees stuffed in it. Rey gets to eat more in The Force Awakens than just about any other character in the Star Wars canon, and she provides what may be the most iconic food-related moment in the series to date — the instant bread she whips up and eats on Jakku. That was the first moment in any Star Wars movie that made me stop and say, "hey, I want to eat that!"

So Disney now has some examples of food from within the Star Wars universe that it can offer to visitors in Star Wars Land. (Though I have no idea how they're going to pull off instant bread.) What Disney ought to avoid, however, is the sort of food selection that it has been offering during Season of the Force and the Star Wars Experiences at Disney's Hollywood Studios in Florida.

Chewbacca-head stein
Uh... no.

Food service in a themed land breaks the illusion when it references characters and settings within the franchise rather than recreating its food. No one in the Star Wars universe eats chocolates shaped like Darth Vader's helmet. That's something that fans on Earth do. While Disney's shown a smart attention to detail with things such as cast members' name tags, it has yet to show the same reverence for in-franchise authenticity with its Star Wars-related food items. Again, Disney starts at a disadvantage here given the relative lack of material to work with in the first six Star Wars films. But with more examples of food and drink available from The Force Awakens, Disney needs to do better than offering Chewbacca-head steins by the time it opens Star Wars Land, if it wants to create the fully-immersive environment that fans have seen up the road in Universal's Wizarding World.

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Replies (14)

December 24, 2015 at 3:26 PM · I do not know how Disney will ever solve this food issue. Besides Bantha blue milkshakes, I don't know what they could have that is Star Wars-like. They would be smart in Episode-8 to have a scene at a banquet and come up with some foods they can have in the park that would be placed into the movie, and referenced again in Episode-9.

That is the missing element when comparing to Potter: the butter beer, chocolate frogs, Bertie Botts beans, etc. are not just mentioned once in passing but instead are featured repeatedly throughout the Potter books. They are part of central, memorable moments. Unlike Bantha milk, which really only super fans know about.

Disney really needs Star Wars to have memorable food items that average people could remember.

December 24, 2015 at 8:38 PM · The omission of Coca-Cola products in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is an example of extreme attention to detail, but is also a great example of a details that really does not matter. If Coca-Cola products were sold it would have no impact on the experience.

There are other details that really make a difference, but the omission of Coke is meaningless.

December 25, 2015 at 4:40 PM · I disagree regarding the Coke: I think not having it in Wizarding World is a big deal. That's a "muggle" drink, and so they don't have it in the Wizarding World. I like that.

Having Coke would be like having the employees who work in the Wizarding World wear regular theme park uniforms. It would just be one other thing to take you out of the environment.

I like the idea of only having themed foods and drinks available in the themed area. It makes it feel like it's own magical world.

December 25, 2015 at 6:56 PM · you clearly haven't been to Universal or didn't understand the article because it does make a huge impact, just like Starbucks kills it at MK or at the main street at IOA. The next level in theming is taking real life, recognisable elemente out of the themed enviroment to make it complete.
Sure if Disniey doesn't care for that level of detail they can put whatever food and drink options in their Star Wars land but I would apploud it if they show inventiveness and expand on the Star Wars Universe and come up with food and drink items that could exist in that world and differs from from regular theme park food.
December 25, 2015 at 7:56 PM · Two things: I don't think either Disney or Universal necessarily competes against the other. More people coming to Florida for Harry Potter means more for Disney and vice versa. If they build Star Wars to pull people away from Universal they will undercut themselves (although the last time I was in Orlando, I only went to Universal, and that is due to Disney not having a viable line skipping solution). Second, I do agree that Disney cannot Disneyfie Star Wars. No plastic Chewbacca mugs. No Mickey walking around with a lightsaber. The current outfits at Star Tours look like Disney cast member costumes, not something out of Star Wars. They must make it like you are in the Star Wars Universe, and Universal has accomplished that with Harry Potter. It is OK to have a store that sells stuff, but they must avoid the cheap, plastic crap. Everything about the new lands must be authentic. I do think they can come up with food items, but they cannot call them Jedi burgers, etc. And finally, I can guarantee that I am the biggest Star Wars fan that visits this site regularly, and I will not visit any of their parks until they get their wait times down.
December 26, 2015 at 5:12 AM · I'm very curious to see how Disney will tackle food and theming within this new land. I can safely say that I am not the biggest Star Wars fan. I have seen every Star Wars movie (including the Force Awakens) and have watched the movies starting at around the age 6. Today is the first time I've ever heard of blue milk, definitely an issue with trying to translate food from screen to reality.

i'm very curious to see how they handle theming in this new land. I've been to both Wizarding World sections many times and have gone with individuals who don't really care for Harry Potter. Each time they are blown away with how finely detailed it all is, especially the immersion factor. Disney will have to push their old ways aside of having crazy souvenir cups, Jedi MIckey/Darth Vader Goofy, and numerous other (in my opinion cheap) merchandising efforts so that they can create that kind of atmosphere that should really take you "out of this world."

December 26, 2015 at 6:44 AM · Harry Potter definitely has a leg up on Star Wars in the food department.
I noticed that bread Rey made- it was really cool. I also noticed that cute little deviled egg with tiny pine tree looking things that Rey was eating that seemed more likely to be recreated in a land. I hope they are making Maz's castle in the new land. Her castle looked maybe like it was inspired by art from India so I suppose they could borrow some flavors from there to make some kind of food for the land. The food did seem sort of inspired by Japan (having the food be interesting shapes) so they could continue with that theme. I do agree that having plastic cups shaped like characters and glow cube shaped like ships in drinks wouldn't really fit with the authenticity of the land, but those glow cubes are cute. Maybe that kind of stuff could be sold at snack carts outside of the actual land.
December 26, 2015 at 4:10 PM · If Disney is inventive enough they could make up as many food as they want, even connect the area with the food like an Endor salad or Hoth frozen Tan Tan milkshake. Just like the flaming Moe is a bubly smoking juise they could invent other new stuff, but it would have a tough time resonating with the fans because it's not recognisable.
December 26, 2015 at 11:25 PM · Disney has a simple mindset; we're Disney and if we say something goes...it goes. Too, Disney doesn't compete with anyone. Star Tours may become an anathema to the new Star Wars land. Star Tours makes no attempt to offer any kind of immersive experience. And neither will Star Wars. why? Because before you get there you gotta traipse through the gay 90's, and either Fantasyland or yesterday's Frontierland. Unlike Universal's Potter-based theme park, it is, after all DISNEYLAND. The absence of food products in the Star Wars world makes Coke an natural. Just call it what it's sold as on Fulo-9, Calokeh...ow whatever the mythology Disney will cook up. And bet that in some future film someone, somewhere will order a Calokeh to drink. They're Disney and so it shall be.
December 27, 2015 at 4:57 AM · I agree with the last post. Disney could be as inventive as they want to be. A really good chef (who happens to also be a Star Wars fan) could create inventive dishes that reflect the Star Wars verse. Serve that food in the cantina without the Chewbacca drink-ware and people will be happy.
December 27, 2015 at 4:08 PM · The discussion of whether a Coke is going to destroy the illusion misses the obvious: all the park guests. Unless Disney plans on confiscating souvenirs and cell phones, you're going to see non-Star Wars stuff in Star Wars land. You're also going to see little girls wearing princess dresses. Worrying about a Coke is rather silly to me.
December 28, 2015 at 5:52 AM · I am curious to see how involved LucasFilms will be involved with the theme park land? It would be great if they could get George Lucas on board as creative support. Cars Land and Disney California Adventure definitely benefitted from Lassiter taking on such a key role. He made sure everything was high quality. Kathleen Kennedy or George Lucas could do the same for Star Wars Land.
December 28, 2015 at 9:24 PM · Hey dummies, soft drinks don't matter. Slap a few Star Wars labels on the food and they're fine. Attractions and look of the park is what matters
December 29, 2015 at 12:35 PM · uniforms are a big deal in a themed environment since you constantly see, run into, and interact with people who wear them.

Coca-Cola products are no big deal. The products in the food cart or those behind the counter are so insignificant to the overall theme where they reside.

Don't try to argue that a small product is equal to something like uniforms.

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