Why Disney's Star Wars land will be the biggest theme park hit ever

February 7, 2019, 9:21 PM · Disney CEO Bob Iger seems convinced that his company's upcoming Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge lands will be huge hits with theme park fans. So much so that he bragged on this week's investor call that the company wouldn't need to spend much money to promote it. That's a huge break from Disney's SOP, which is to drop the equivalent of a small nation's GDP hyping each new product it launches.

But Iger is right. Galaxy's Edge is going hit like no other theme park development before it. Let's look at some of the reasons why Disney's Star Wars land will be the biggest theme park hit ever.

[Note: Don't miss our companion piece to this post, in which we argue why Disney's Star Wars land won't be the big hit people expect. Yep — we are arguing this one both ways, setting up a vote for you to decide. Because, well, ultimately you are the only ones who will decide how big a hit these lands will be.]

Franchise popularity

Star Wars is the second-biggest movie franchise of all time, according to box office receipts. (Disney's Marvel Cinematic Universe - with twice as many films - ranks number one.) Generation X grew up with Star Wars, creating the demand that allowed Lucasfilm to build a real-life Empire across film, television, publishing and merchandising.

And, oh yes, theme parks. Disney brought Star Wars to its theme parks with Star Tours in 1987, and its continuing popularity speaks to the enduring appeal of this franchise among theme park fans. With Galaxy's Edge, however, Disney finally will have a Star Wars-themed attraction that matches the scale and appeal of the Star Wars franchise.

Build quality

Want an insider's way of forecasting the appeal of a new theme park attraction? Go stand in the corner and look at the walls.

Seriously. For anything other than a straight roller coaster installation, attraction success tracks strongly with its build quality. Just look at the shop and queue walls in a Six Flags or Cedar Fair theme park, then compare them with the walls in Disney or Universal park. Notice the quality of the building material and finishes. Are details simply painted or created in material? Look down at the floors and up at the lighting. Touch stuff. (Or note if you'e even tempted to do that.)

When I think of great build quality in theme park attractions, I think of Universal's The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Disney's Pandora - The World of Avatar, and the entirety of Tokyo DisneySea. These are places where people crave to be. The Black Spire Outpost on Batuu in Galaxy's Edge will surpass them all for build quality. This is Disney's opportunity to show that no one in this business — especially Universal with its Harry Potter lands — can build a higher-quality theme park attraction than Disney. It ain't gonna miss this shot.

Scale

At 14 acres, Galaxy's Edge is Disney's biggest single theme park land development ever. It offers the size to accommodate record-setting crowds, while at the same time creating a sense of intimacy that will make people rave about it to family and friends... while planning their own return visits. Building upon the lessons of past Disney masterpieces such as Epcot's Morocco pavilion, Galaxy's Edge will provide the ultimate expression of Disney magic — summoning tens of thousands of people to surround you in a land, while at the same time effectively making them disappear from your notice.

Interactivity

One of the main ways that Galaxy's Edge will suck in guests' attention will be with its unprecedented level of interactivity. This is massive, multi-player role-playing come to life. We've joked that Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run will be Star Tours crossed with Mission: Space. But those won't be disconnected placebo buttons you push on the bridge of the Millennium Falcon. You will be playing a team game when you ride this Galaxy's Edge attraction, but this won't feel like some shooter ride. Disney will be using its Play Disney Parks app to help make a visit to Black Spire Outpost feel like a live-action role-playing game... if you want it to be.

Prefer to experience Galaxy's Edge as a more traditional theme park attraction? You can do that, as well. In true interactive fashion, the story of Black Spire Outpost will adjust to your preferred levels of input and participation. That type of reaction from a attraction can be addictive, and will drive many to want to return to experience it - and perfect their input - just as the best video games keep you playing for hours on end. That addictive quality will drive attendance for this land higher and higher as the months go by.

Disney's PR machine

Let's not kid ourselves. I joked on Twitter about how much money Disney's PR teams now will spend to tell the world how much money they won't have to spend to promote Galaxy's Edge. Hype is as Disney as Mickey Mouse. The company is already using its Marvel Comics and book publishing business to promote Galaxy's Edge, and there's simply no way that it will be able to resist the temptation to spread word about this land on its ABC television network, social media channels, and network of celebrity influencers, as well.

Yes, Disney has been raising prices and increasing blockout dates to keep the crowd levels inside Galaxy's Edge manageable. But do not for a minute delude yourself into believing that those crowd levels will be anything other than very, very large. Disney's PR machine will fill Galaxy's Edge to capacity... and keep it filled for years to come.

And that is why Disney's Star Wars land will be the biggest theme park hit ever.

For the flip side...

Replies (4)

February 8, 2019 at 8:21 AM

As usual, you provide a quality article!

I tend to believe the "yes" camp over the "no" camp. I have friends who never showed any interest in Disney asking me about this land. The hype is WAY higher than for Pandora. If this land can perform at least as good as Pandora, we have a hit. I think its going to do better.

February 8, 2019 at 11:30 AM

Just see how so many mainstream places that barely pay attention to theme parks are doing huge stories on this land. Star Wars is just part of our entire cultural landscape. As amazing as it sounds, there are people who don't care that much about Harry Potter so while they make like Wizarding World, it's not a must. Star Wars? There's a much, MUCH bigger and wider range fanbase to get folks to come out for this.

This whole "fans hate new movies" thing has been ridiculously overblown. There are scores more lovers than haters and it's just one of those Internet things to "look cool" by blasting TLJ and such. What matters is that the idea of riding the Falcon and other attractions is something fans have wanted for years and the massive interest shows this is going to pay off big time.

February 8, 2019 at 11:57 AM

Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge will succeed at both theme parks and drive revenue and attendance higher- real question is how that "success" will be measured by others. Disney will measure it by cold, hard figures- positive results. The percentage of increases at either Walt Disney World or Disneyland will not likely appear huge since both theme park destination resorts are already achieving stellar numbers. Overall, this is not the big gamble in the industry worldwide. That honor goes to Dubai's Expo 2020 world's fair where the fate of the entire industry in the U.A.E. is likely on the line. Disney and the other major players in the themed entertainment industry have full confidence in Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge- they're not looking for a mere larger slice of a large pie, they are making that pie larger and their competitors are looking to cash in on these gains themselves.

February 8, 2019 at 12:17 PM

Success is always quantified. The only difference is how you spin the numbers. For Disney, the line between success and failure will be in the increased revenue generated by Galaxy's Edge compared to its cost. If the parks are already near capacity, and Galaxy's Edge is only able to add 10% to the bottom line, will analysts and shareholders view that as a success? I don't know, but when it comes to business, there's no question as to how "success" will be measured = dollars and cents.

I don't think this is a big gamble in the short term, but long term it could be. Disney is spending over $2 billion on Star Wars in the parks (and probably will spend more if they see good reactions to the initial developments). However, if they aren't as successful as internally projected or guests reject the conceit and upwardly rising price points (Star Wars Hotel), then it could have huge ramifications down the line. Disney is investing tons of money on new developments in their parks beyond just Star Wars, yet there's a question as to where that growth will come from. Aside from Asia, Disney is not bringing any new parks online, so attendance can only go so high before they reach capacity. Is there enough room left to grow the existing parks to meet growth projections without continuing to raise admission costs? Universal is taking a different approach by significantly increasing their capacity through the development of a new park. It will be interesting to see which strategy pays the biggest dividends in the long term.

This article has been archived and is no longer accepting comments.



Get Tickets