Why is Disney opening Star Wars land at Disneyland first?

May 24, 2018, 3:56 PM · Disney Parks announced this week that its new Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge land would open in summer 2019 at Disneyland in California and in late fall of 2019 at Disney's Hollywood Studios in Florida's Walt Disney World Resort.

We'd known since early 2017 that the Star Wars lands would open next year. But the specific timing of the openings on each coast has prompted many fans to ask why Disney would lead with what promises to be its most-anticipated theme park attraction ever at the smaller of the two resorts.

The simple answer is logistical. Disney started construction at Disneyland first and the construction progress there consistently had remained about three to six months ahead of that in Florida. That accounts for the difference in the announced openings.

Disneyland had to reroute its Rivers of America to make space for its Star Wars land, which otherwise is going in on the site of what had been back-of-house operations. In Florida, Walt Disney World had to close and remove several attractions to clear space for the new land, including the Lights, Motors, Action auto stunt show, the Streets of America (and its holiday Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights), and the Studio Backlot Tour, including Catastrophe Canyon. That put the start of the Florida development behind Anaheim's.

But why didn't Disney pour more resources into pushing the Walt Disney World installation ahead of the project in California? Wouldn't opening in Florida first, with its larger base of tourists, have been more profitable for Disney?

This is where we get into the internal politics of the Walt Disney Company. We think of Disneyland and Walt Disney World has being part of the same corporation, but they actually operate somewhat independently on a project-by-project basis. If Disney World wanted to rush its Star Wars land construction, that expense would have come out of its bottom line.

And to what end? To upstage a debut that would otherwise have happened in the media capital of the world?

The opening of Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge is going to be a media and promotional event to put all previous theme park debuts to shame. Mounting that in a region that's already home to Disney's corporate HQ, the ABC TV network, Walt Disney Imagineering, and most of the stars of the Star Wars franchise — not to mention many, many more journalists than call Florida home — just makes the process of putting on this show logistically easier for Disney.

And by letting California take the lead, that means a huge PR event falls onto Disneyland's budget, allowing Walt Disney World to mount what should be a much less expensive opening event for its land. That, in turn, should help make Florida's bottom line look better, especially when the Disneyland opening should result in a huge surge of bookings to Walt Disney World, anyway.

So for Walt Disney World managers, allowing the west coast to go first with Star Wars land turns out to be an internal corporate win-win. And that is why Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge is opening first at Disneyland.

Replies (14)

May 24, 2018 at 4:16 PM

Nope. They figure all the non-Californian Star Wars fans will go to LA to see it the instant it opens whereas otherwise they would just have gone to WDW as usual. :)

May 24, 2018 at 6:59 PM

Because it's close to Hollywood and probably figured to get the stars to the opening.

May 25, 2018 at 12:15 AM

If they really wanted to create an earth shaking media event they should have chose to open them the same day, or at least within the same week.

May 25, 2018 at 4:08 AM

I am guessing they will try to have this set for D23 in Aug.

May 25, 2018 at 7:12 AM

Sorry Robert, not buying it. While I think there is some autonomy between the different parks and resorts in the Disney chain, they still operate under the same umbrella (#blameshanghai anyone??) with project approvals (certainly billion dollar projects) that go all the way to the top. I'm sure there's some level of healthy competition between the resorts, particularly DL and WDW, but to presume that one resort wants to save money on a debut while another is more logistically positioned to stage a debut is hogwash. Also, to think that re-configuring backstage areas, in park resources, and completing construction under CalOSHA is more convenient/cheaper than closing some underutilized park space under more lenient Florida construction rules (aside from Water Resource Management) is simply not true.

The timing of these additions has nothing to do with money or logistics and has more to do with coincidence and feasibility. The most likely reasoning is the original design of Galaxy's Edge was supposed to be just at DL, and then PMs approached executives with a proposal to add a second, identical installation at DHS at a later date (kind of like how directors convince producers to film multiple sequels simultaneously to save money). The DL version had been green lit long before the DHS version was even considered, and because the planning and logistics were easier there, they were able to quickly catch up to the DL project through the planning phase, but weren't able to fully close the gap before construction started.

Once they decided to build twin copies of Galaxy's Edge, I think the plan was to get both versions open within a few weeks of each other to take advantage of world wide buzz in the Star Wars Universe (west coasters and Asia go to DL, while east coasters and Europeans go to WDW). Remember that 3+ years ago (when the DL project groundwork started), Episode IX was originally slated for a May 2019 release, and was pushed back to December 2019 when JJ took over in the director's chair. However, for whatever reason Disney was unable to get the DHS version to catch up with DL, and the Orlando version has been unable to fully make up the gap between the 2 construction timelines.

I highly doubt there was any calculating here aside from perhaps Disney keeping the DHS timeline untouched because of the decision to add Mickey and Minnie's Runaway Railway (maybe that timeline was altered to fill in when it was recognized the Galaxy's Edge would not be ready for Summer 2019 without significant cost). That is probably the biggest reason Disney has not invested additional resources to bump up the DHS timeline to coincide with DL's opening.

May 25, 2018 at 8:42 AM

It would be smarter to open DHS’ version of Star Wars Land within 3 months to take advantage of the remaining PR Buzz from Disneyland. They are simply not ready. I think the separation means there’s more time to figure out how to align all their projects including transportation, parking, and the new roadways. The more low key approach suggests this opening isn’t going to have the same impact as if it should.

May 25, 2018 at 10:10 AM

Let's not forget two other factors that affected the construction timeline. One, the weather in Florida is much more seasonal and variable, with frequent showers and tropical storms able to set back construction times no matter how well planned. Also, the DHS site is going to have its own hotel with direct access to the land, and that addition complicates matters to complete it. However, with the opening of that hotel along with the new park, I'm sure Disney World will be able to leverage plenty of press coverage for its Star Wars Land whenever it opens.

May 25, 2018 at 10:51 AM

You would be surprised by how little the rain in Florida effects construction in comparison to California. Construction may continue in the rain in Florida to a certain extent, whereas in California it stops with practically a rain drop. The laws, regulations, & culture are immensely different.

May 25, 2018 at 12:20 PM

Here's another reason to open the smaller one first: you have a big opening for it, then when the larger one is ready Disney can say "this one's even bigger!" You don't get very far saying "our second one isn't as impressive!"

May 25, 2018 at 3:38 PM

@Craig White - the Disneyland version is actually slightly larger, so nice try.

May 25, 2018 at 6:53 PM

We're forgetting probably the biggest reason: DHS is opening Toy Story Land this summer and probably that Mickey/Minnie Movie Ride replacement next summer. It doesn't NEED to open Star Wars Land first.

Furthermore, Stupidly-Named Star Wars Land threatens to be the next Harry Potter. If Disney opened it in both parks at the same time, the whole thing could be a bicoastal disaster that will never be forgotten. Everyone kind of expects Disneyland's opening to be a hot mess, because Disneyland is often a hot mess. Nobody gets shocked at this point by Disneyland's hot-messitude. Let's face it, at this point a volcano could erupt in the middle of Disneyland and 60,000 people would still show up the next day.

So spreading out the openings by three (or more) months means that Disney can see what worked and what didn't and "fix" it for the Florida opening, where a hot mess actually has the potential to turn away customers. DHS is now WDW's least-popular park that remains in the attendance Top Ten solely due to Parkhopping. They can't afford to give people yet another reason to stay away.

In fact, I'm thinking that they WANT this to open after the kids are back in school. It wouldn't have been an issue to speed up construction. And, yes, demolition of everything in this park is a MUCH easier task than rerouting a river. Plus, we are forgetting that Disney closed all this stuff, announced Star Wars, and then let everything sit there before actually starting demolition.

Anyhow, if the new land DID open with summer crowds, this park would probably implode. Even with Toy Story Land open, there will still only be SIX rides in this park. They are six BIG rides - okay, 5 1/2 because that saucer thing is a C-Ticket, at best - but they are six nonetheless. Once Star Warslandia opens, there will be a whopping EIGHT rides, NINE if they get that Mickey/Minnie thing opened (which they probably will, but I'm not expecting much excitement for that one either). So there's a very real chance that the Star Wars rides will turn into the new Toy Story Mania, meaning if you don't show up at open, you may not be able to ride. A lot of families with younger kids already stay away from this park because it's seen as the "scary ride park". With Star Wars and Toy Story, they will no longer stay away. And they will come to a park with two no-way rides, a roller coaster that still might be too much, and at least one Star Wars ride that also may be too scary. Not only are these WDW's bread and butter, but they are also the people that are most likely to complain online when Disney does something they don't like. Disney may end up doing A LOT of things these people won't like.

It gets even worse than that. One of the two rides promises to be a plussed-up version of Mission: Space. Chances are very real that WDW stalwarts will not be as impressed as the Disneyland crowd, who don't have that ride system on the West Coast. Mission: Space is NOT a very popular ride. And that's saying something considering it's in a park with very few other popular rides. It's not the themelessness that hurts it though. A lot of people do not like that ride system. Will plopping in Star Wars characters be enough to change that?

This delay could very well be Disney's sly way of preparing for the worst. Next year is going to be interesting...

May 26, 2018 at 12:10 AM

There is one big side-effect the Walt Disney Company benefits from having the California version of Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge open in summer and Florida's debut in fall-
The company's fiscal year starts on October 1.
This means the two expansion theme areas' respective openings guarantee increases in two different fiscal years. Plus, the openings on both coasts could be timed to coincide with the anniversary months for both coasts as well since they coincidentally also match the announced opening dates.

May 26, 2018 at 6:25 AM

Well, DHS has actually been building TWO new lands next to each other. Also, WDW generally has more construction going on than DL.

I also have a feeling that Disney brass is just plain lazy and would rather do everything out of California and let the chips fall where they lay.

Finally, I think Galaxy Edge would do a bigger boom in attendance at DLR than WDW. Sure, people are going to flock to DHS, but the resort is already jammed pack, sales are up, and they are clearly winning over the competition (Universal has made tremendous gains, but its still Disney's Orlando)

May 26, 2018 at 2:58 PM

@ The Milleniun Falcon ride system is absolutely nothing like Mission Space’s ride system.

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