Why Disney's Star Wars land won't be the big hit people expect

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 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.

Capacity

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.

Frustrating interactivity

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.

Franchise fatigue

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.

For the flip side...

Replies (20)

February 8, 2019 at 12:50 AM

Consider the fact that Disney made Avatar Land a smash hit which still pulls in triple digit waits even on the slowest days two years later, and nobody cared about Avatar for many years leading up to its opening.

February 8, 2019 at 4:20 AM

I loved reading both articles and both have valid points.
Calling something a success is a double edged sword. I'm sure a lot of Disney theme park fans would flock to Galaxy Edge. They also did that for Avatar and Disney closing theaters when there is less demand makes it look as if it is as popular as when it opened. But the merchandise shop doesn't do well as a lot of inventory can be found in the Disney Outlet stores in Orlando. Disney has still a problem filling hotel rooms so it didn't add new visitors. This is also reflected in their financial calls and promotions they need to do to fill the rooms.

When Universal build The Wizarding World they created a huge growth and their hotel occupation is +90% even after doubling their room count.

Regarding the interactivity and roll-play aspect of the new Star Wars land, I think they give every person a specific job as a navigator or pilot and despite the result in the group you will be judged on your single task. But can they deliver on their promise? Giving the guest the feeling of recognition throughout the land? Judging from Avatar land, where a lot of interaction was promised Disney never delivered on their promise.

The land has indeed 2 low capacity rides and no unique ride systems to offer. If they are any good is to be seen but I expect the dark ride to be on a "Pirates of the Caribbean Shanghai Disney version level" E ticket ride and the simulator be a solid F ticket ride.

Than there is food and merchandise. The Star Wars world doesn't have much in the way of iconic food or drinks (except for blue milk) so on that level it won't be able to up-sell the feeling of being their trough food but it will for sure not hold them from trying. If it's better than a cup cake with a Darth Vader chocolate on it has to be seen.
Star Wars merchandise is not doing well in stores. Due to the waning interest in the movies and a lot of hard core fans actually hate and dislike Disney for what they are doing with the movies and characters they love I'm struggling to see the land as a must visit for every person who likes/loved Star Wars. And I don't see guests buy bags full of Star Wars merch.

New visitors would sit well with Disney. But new visitors don't know you have to book your ride months in advance. Imagine you come all the way from Germany or France and you spent a ton of money to get to Orlando, hotels and theme park tickets and there is hardly a chance to ride the rides? That won't be fun at all.

Conclusion: Will it be filled with current Disney guests, hell yeah. Beyond that? I think it will see a spike but if word of mouth isn't good it won't last.

February 8, 2019 at 6:29 AM

I concur! Galaxy's Edge will be themed entertainment's answer to (off) Broadway's 'The Shaggs: Philosophy of the World.'

February 8, 2019 at 6:57 AM

All valid points - although, on opening day, I think they will all become squashed under feet of millions of rebid fans beating their paths to the parks. However, as Disney learned with Solo, nothing is a sure thing, not ever the words "Star Wars".

The only additional qualifier that might result in a diminished attendance numbers is: expectation of huge attendance numbers. I'm a HUGE Star Wars fan, and a HUGE theme park fan, but I'm putting off my next trip to Florida until, at least, 2021 - specifically because I don't want to get caught up in the rush of people expected to get there early.

February 8, 2019 at 8:19 AM

Good article (as the other one as well)

Most of the reasons you mentioned above can easily be tweaked or changed on Disney's whim. If there is enough clamoring for Darth Vader, we will get Darth Vader.

With Pandora: World of Avatar, Disney has shown that they can make somewhat of a storyline and an aging movie into a massive hit. Remember, we still only have one physcial Navi in the entire land and one Avatar.

February 8, 2019 at 8:27 AM

I think even with all the fan rabble rousing on the internet (I share their sentiment in some ways), most of them will come flocking anyways. Even if "it sucks", Star Wars fans that feel like the franchise is dying will come to visit out of curiosity. Honestly, I think success is in the bag and if it isn't, well they have some sorely needed added capacity (especially at Hollywood Studios). I think the Millennium Falcon attraction is going to have some serious capacity issues. Specifically the roles everyone takes. I bet very few people will want to be in the back and do the "engineering" job. First off, I bet the view will be inferior. Who wants to look at the backs of people's heads? Secondly, Star Wars' dog fights are all about the flying and shooting. There's no Scotty/Geordi like on Star Trek. Call me skeptical, but I think for those specific roles it'll be about as fun as pressing the buttons on Mission Space.

February 8, 2019 at 9:09 AM

Two words: Millennium Falcon. I think that photo-op alone will make this area full-to-capacity for years. People are already waiting hours just for Pins and Popcorn Buckets.

Disney already has an active customer base. Fans/Customers are screaming for more "Disney Quality" product. I think Pandora could have been themed to anything and it would still be successful because it's better than the mediocre product that Disney has been producing for years (cough Pixar Pier).

The larger question for me, is Disney "wasting" the Star Wars theme here. Again, Disneyland needs something, anything to increase capacity and feel new again. Star Wars will definitely do that, but so would any new quality land.

Did Disney end up boxing themselves into a 14 acre corner? Was there a potential for a new "Action" park featuring Star Wars and Marvel that Disney tossed for a quick profit?

February 8, 2019 at 9:27 AM

I think I stand on both sides of the fence. I can see the potential of Galaxy's Edge, and what Disney COULD do with it. Inventing a new world and allowing guests to explore and create their own stories is tantalizing and makes the experience repeatable. However, as OT noted, we were promised interaction and new technology to increase the immersive nature at PtWoA, but got nothing except for some plants that get their jollies when you rub a special spot. Disney says that what we do on Smuggler's Run will affect interaction elsewhere in Galaxy's Edge, but they haven't given any indication of what that will be. When Mission: Space opened, the thought was that the outcome of the ride would be impacted by your performance during the mission, but you end up with the same stale movie every time, even when the ride was upgraded a couple of years ago. Why should we expect Disney to do anything different here. The rumored Lightsaber interaction similar to wands at WWoHP has not been mentioned, and Disney hasn't revealed any specifics as to how interaction will happen. Until I see something that shows how the land will interact with guests' actions, I will be highly skeptical of the interactive elements that Imagineers continue to casually reference but offer little specificity.

I don't think the generic nature or the lagging popularity of the franchise will have that much of an impact on the success/failure of Galaxy's Edge. I think what will be the biggest variable will be the crowds and Disney's management of those crowds. There are undoubtedly millions of people out there that have been to Disney parks over the past 10-20 years in the face of suffocating crowds. I'm sure there are plenty that take the crowds in stride and make the most of the situation, but there is a large contingent of people that have forever had the impression of a visit to a Disney park tainted by shoulder to shoulder, claustrophobic crowds and unending lines. After all, that's why Disney invented FP (and FP+) to try to give guests some control over their visits and offer some relief from the madness. I know of a number of friends that either refuse to visit again because of the crowds, or prepare diligently to avoid or simply accept the crowds for the sake of the smiles on their kids' faces. Those that have a negative impression of the crowds, and Disney's management of them, are likely going to give the company another shot for the sake of visiting a piece of their childhood. Galaxy's Edge gives Disney an opportunity to connect with guests that wrote off any trip to their parks because of previous negative experiences. If Disney can manage the crowds and limit the lines, then guests that had vowed never to return may come back, tapping an entirely new fan base that could see attendance soar like never before. However, if Disney does much of what they have over the past 5-8 years, those crowd-adverse guests will make their one trip to see Galaxy's Edge, and probably never come back, no matter how good the interaction is or how awesome the rides are. Disney's crowd management will be the single most important key in the future of overly detailed and expensive theme park expansions. Those that come on opening day(s) and the weeks that follow will have some understanding under the crush of crowds, but after a month, Disney has to be able to make Galaxy's Edge accessible to anyone willing to pay for a ticket to enter the parks. As mentioned above, many people are deliberately delaying trips to the parks to avoid crowds or to better time visits to maximize the number of new attractions available compared to a previous visit. If Disney can show that they can handle the initial crush of people and not have lines winding around the parks, maybe some people who are waiting until 2021 or 2022 (like us for WDW) will considering moving up a visit instead of continuously delaying visits.

February 8, 2019 at 9:48 AM

As Disney Park fans who are totally ANTI Star Wars - we are NOT looking forward to the increased crowds Galaxy's Edge will bring. I just hope they lay it out in a way that will make it easy to avoid that entire area completely.

February 8, 2019 at 10:53 AM

"When Universal build The Wizarding World they created a huge growth and their hotel occupation is +90% even after doubling their room count."

Universal Orlando was struggling financially before Potter opened, except for horror nights and Christmas/spring break the place was always empty and the normal closing time for the parks was 5-6pm. WDW is already a mature business it's not going to have that level of spike no matter what they open. Potter took UO from being mostly unprofitable to very profitable, Star Wars will take WDW from being ungodly profitable to even more ungodly profitable.

February 8, 2019 at 2:05 PM

I am a big Theme park fan and a big SW fan. However due to the dysmal treatment Disney has shown to the SW saga and its fans so far, I have little interest in visiting this new land. If I visit at all it wont be until years down the road. I am honestly more interested in visiting Pandora and the new Universal offerings.

To those comparing this to Pandora I would strongly disagree. Avatar is a franchise that nobody cares about but is visually breathtaking and novel and is at this point a single film. Star Wars is a 40 year old franchise with legions of fans, but those fans grew up with the Original and the Prequel trilogies and will be dissapointed to see their stories and characters absent. I mean imagine if Universal built a Harry Potter land and excluded Harry, Hermione and Ron. That would be a more valid comparison.

February 8, 2019 at 11:10 AM

I am going to have to disagree, if you've watched any of the animated series' there is a beloved character coming there, Hondo. However, any actual Star Wars fan would be ecstatic as I am that we're getting a new planet and new characters. Star Wars doesn't revolve around the Skywalkers or Han or the Jedi, and I'm actually glad they didn't bring them in for this as it's based in the new saga and having them there wouldn't make sense. Star Wars has more than just the Skywalkers in it, now it's time to see the story of some others.

February 8, 2019 at 11:25 AM

You have a point Daniel, but there's something to be said for creating a new, yet uniquely Star Wars location. Trying to design a Star Wars land based on locations from the films would be an impossible task, and take an improbable amount of space (a luxury to WDW, but not so much at DL). It would be easy to have interiors based on the Death Star or other spaceships, but how do you portray those exteriors? How do you juxtapose the desert planet of Tatoine next to the molten surface of Mustafar and frozen surface of Hoth with the swampy Degobah in the distance? How do you keep certain locations intimate (like the trash compactor, Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru's place, Yoda's house, etc...) but still capable of accommodating thousands of guests? How do guests walk between these locations while still maintaining the illusion that they are actually there, and not simply walking between movie sets? Universal has the Hogwart's Express with Platform 9 3/4 along with the brick wall at USF to link the outside world to the Wizarding World and the two distinct lands to each other, making those locations appear and feel real. The Star Trek Experience did it in an ingenious way through the transporter effect, but again that was just between a handful of mostly interior locations. Unless you limited yourself to a single exterior location (you would probably get at least a dozen different suggestions from a cross-section of fans), you simply could not do the same in the Star Wars Universe. In fact, George Lucas specifically noted that when he developed each of his movies, he strove to create at least three unique locations in each one that contrasted in color, texture, and temperature. By creating a new location that is still grounded in the style and motifs of Star Wars, Disney will limit disappointment while trying to make Galaxy's Edge feel as real as possible.

February 8, 2019 at 11:52 AM

@Russell Meyer - "In fact, George Lucas specifically noted that when he developed each of his movies, he strove to create at least three unique locations in each one that contrasted in color, texture, and temperature."

This, In my opinion, has been the greatest failing of the newer Star Wars films. At a glance, what makes Takodana distinct from Endor...or Jakku from Tatooine? I feel like setting as character was extremely important to both the original trilogy and the prequels and is so sorely lacking in the new content. I really hope that Galaxy's Edge will bring us a distinct new location in the Star Wars universe.

February 8, 2019 at 11:56 AM

Robert, you captured my biggest fear: I don't want to be at the mercy of a seven year old's piloting. Nobody goes around dreaming about being a third tier Space Engineer and pushing buttons. But EVERYBODY has thought about piloting the Falcon! I'll try not to, but I know I'm going to feel disappointed each time I have to sit in back. Pressing buttons that light up when they're supposed to be pressed just won't be as cool.

What if Chewbacca gets mad at you for having crashed the Falcon when it wasn't even your fault? (I admit it I'll be childishly depressed to have Chewie mad at me.) I can't imagine how a child might feel.

February 8, 2019 at 1:25 PM

As before .... It's going to be hell on earth, and it'll make the MK at Easter and/or Christmas feel like a deserted beach on a tropical island.

I'm up for the FP+ challenge though .... bring it on ..... :)
But then, even if I get one will I be able to get into the park ?
Hmmmm ... that's a thought.
What if I get one, and the park is full to capacity. Will they let me in ?

I wonder, if as a pass holder, I'll get a preview ?

I am not a Star Wars fan in any way shape or form, but I'm still looking forward to see the new area.

I'm at DHS next Tuesday night (I finally got a FP+ for Slinky Dog) so I'll have a peek and see how it's looking down in the far corner.

February 8, 2019 at 2:10 PM

Ironically Disney has rejected all the main characters from the OT, yet the most interesting aspect of this new land seems to be the Millenium Falcon, the classic ship from the OT.

February 8, 2019 at 2:46 PM

These articles made me think about the first summer that Star Tours was open. I was in the 6th grade and my father drove us down from the bay area to see it. I was so blown away by that ride and how it made me feel like I had stepped into the Star Wars universe. But just as importantly, I was so excited to see new things and new characters in that universe. Sure, it was cool to see C-3PO and R2 in person, but the idea that there was a galactic tour service and a new droid named Rex (I have a tattoo of Rex on my forearm now. I'm guessing my father would have never guessed that would happen) just added so much more to the experience than just seeing Han and Luke again. My imagination was overcome by all the adventures I could have on different planets. I'm wondering if my 10 year old will feel the same about Galaxy's Edge. I actually think that Star Tours 2.0 (or the journey continues or whatever) is weaker story-wise (not technology-wise) than the original because it relies so heavily on the main characters from the movies.

February 8, 2019 at 5:51 PM

While these are some valid points, I think ultimately it will be a success.

1. Lack of Original Characters - While this "could" be disappointing for some fans, it isn't going to force anyone to leave. Worst case, the land could always ADD these walk around characters should they feel the need to. This is an easy fix should the complaints be loud enough......but again, I think most won't care.

2. Unfamiliar World. - With the exception of the die hard fans, I'm thinking casual fans only know about a few of the actual locations enough to care. Plus with the M. Falcon attraction, riders are going to be "leaving" Batuu anyway. I think basing Galaxy's Edge on a new location was the only logical option for doing true world building. Plus Episode 9 (and any future installments) can easily reference it......and now its part of the canon & the universe. Done.

3. Capacity. - There's no way around this. The only way to avoid this would've been an entire park. People are going to be annoyed.....but they will stay. That's the key. You can be mad & leave, or you can be mad & stay.


4. Interactivity - This one could be the kicker. On paper, it all sounds cool. We'll see how it plays out in the real world.

5. Franchise fatigue - I feel like when it comes to theme parks, something like this doesn't matter. You'll have non Star Wars fans piling into Galaxy's Edge as well. It's a part of the park.....and it's new. That will be all that matters for many guest. I feel like the fatigue is simply because of oversaturation. 4 films in 3 years was too many. But again, theme park guest who paid entry to the park won't care about franchise fatigue. We paid to enter this place & we're going to ride as much as we can.

I think, depending on how things go......there might be some changes or adjustments to Galaxy's Edge should things not go as smoothly, but overall its going to take some pretty big failures for this not to be a success.

Again, there will be disappointment......but I'm thinking not enough for guest to X off the land from all future visits.

February 10, 2019 at 5:39 PM

Why bother arguing both sides when this side is so unlikely? Come on, everyone knows GE will be at least as big as Potter.

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