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.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
But Iger should not be so confident, if in fact he is. That's because Disney is taking a multi-billion dollar risk with Galaxy's Edge, creating a land that violates many established principles for successful theme park attractions. Let's look at some of the reasons why Disney's Star Wars land won't be the big hit that many theme park fans expect.
[Note: Don't miss our companion piece to this post, in which we argue why Disney's Star Wars land will be the biggest theme park hit ever. 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.]
Lack of original characters
Generation X grew up on Star Wars. But fans won't find Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Han Solo, Obi-Wan Kenobi, or Darth Vader when they visit Galaxy's Edge. Disney has decided to exclude almost all of this franchise's beloved characters from the land. If fans hated seeing their Han and Luke getting killed off in the new Star Wars movies, at least they got to spend a little time with them on screen in those productions. They will be absent in Galaxy's Edge, which instead creates new storylines unconnected to the original trilogy that made Star Wars, well, Star Wars.
Galaxy's Edge might turn out to be the biggest bait and switch in theme park history, as thousands of fans spend huge amounts of money to visit the Star Wars of their youth, only to discover that Disney has created an unrelated land that is, in many ways, "Star Wars" in name only. Imagine the social media backlash when that word gets out.
Unfamiliar world building
Just as Galaxy's Edge will not feature the most popular Star Wars characters, it will not feature any iconic Star Wars locations, either. No Death Star. No Tatooine. No Coruscant. Instead, Galaxy's Edge will be set in the Black Spire Outpost on the up-until-now never-heard-of planet of Batuu.
Say what? Again, fans coming to Disney's Star Wars land to spend time with the franchise they fell in love with might leave it feeling burned, since they ended up in what feels more like a backdoor pilot for some Star Wars spin-off series on the new Disney+ streaming service. Yes, Galaxy's Edge will share a design sensibility with more familiar Star Wars locations, but it won't be those locations.
Imagine visiting The Wizarding World of Harry Potter without Harry Potter, and instead of visiting Hogwarts, you ended up in some other wizarding high school's castle that you'd never heard of before. That's Galaxy's Edge. The only thing truly familiar about this new land is its backstory, and I quote the project's creative design leader,
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.
That's right. Galaxy's Edge is the SciFi version of Cars Land.
At 14 acres, Galaxy's Edge is Disney's biggest single theme park land development ever. But in all that space, Disney is offering just two rides: Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run and Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance. And the more we hear about these two attractions, the more concerned that I become that their combined hourly capacity won't be enough from keeping the back of their queues from extending to a galaxy far, far away.
An attraction's theoretical hourly capacity is the product of how many people can fit into a ride unit times how many of those ride units can dispatch in one hour. A theater that holds 250 people and runs four shows per hour has a capacity of 1,000, for example. That doesn't mean each show is 15 minutes, though. An attraction's "cycle time" includes all the time needed to load and unload, as well, so four shows an hour might mean shows just six to eight minutes long.
From photos released by Disney, we know that the Millennium Falcon ride will feature six-person ride vehicles (the Falcon cockpit) and Rise of the Resistance will ride eight people in each vehicle. The best estimates I have heard from sources I trust suggest that the number of ride units and cycle times for each attraction will put the hourly capacity for the Falcon ride in the low 1000s and Resistance in the mid-to upper 1000s. Together, that's like adding another Pirates of the Caribbean to the park. That's nice, but not nearly enough to soak up the crowds who initially will visit the land. That's just going to mean more poor word of mouth as wait times extend past ever those for Flight of Passage.
Disney has sold hard the interactivity that it will feature on the Falcon ride, saying that your performance in the cockpit will affect how you are treated in the rest of the land. But what happens when your "Smugglers Run" fails because some seven-year-old in the family you had to ride with doesn't press his button at the right time.
Okay, seven-year-olds will probably ace this. So what happens when grandpa takes as much time with his controls as he does trying to find the TV remote at home? Point is, no one's going to want to spend seven hours waiting to control the Falcon (see point above), only to have their one shot ruined by some stranger. That doesn't encourage you to come back. It makes you want to never return.
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.) But the trend is heading down, with the latest Star Wars movie, Solo: A Star Wars Story underperforming, and an increasingly toxic fan base turning on the franchise, potentially driving away casual fans (example: the abuse heaped on Kelly Marie Tran). Maybe if Galaxy's Edge embraced the old school Star Wars everyone fell in love with, it would work, but instead Disney is doubling down on a the new stuff that many fans are beginning to reject.
And that is why Disney's Star Wars land won't be the big hit that many people expect.
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