Disney's Star Wars land and the battle over its opening date

February 14, 2019, 6:42 PM · So when is Disney finally going to tell us when, exactly, its Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge lands will open?

All we've heard officially so far from the company is "summer" for Disneyland and "fall" for the Walt Disney World installation, though Disney CEO Bob Iger let slip to a business magazine "June" for the Disneyland opening, which matches our guess from last summer.

Let's look to Disney's recent history for additional guidance. The last major new land that Disney opened was its Pandora - The World of Avatar at Disney's Animal Kingdom. Iger announced the May 27, 2017 opening date for that land on February 7, 2017. That was 109 days in advance.

If Galaxy's Edge were to open on Saturday, June 22 — as we suggested last year and consistent with Iger's earlier statement — the an announcement 109 days in advance would come on Tuesday, March 5. But Iger's Pandora announcement came during a conference call with investors discussion Disney's first-quarter financial performance. This year's version of that call has passed already, so would Disney use some other occasion around this time to announce the opening date?

There's a D23 10th anniversary event that weekend, on March 10, at the Disney Studios lot in Burbank. Or maybe Disney is going to wait for some other, more Star Wars-focused event, such as runDisney's Star Wars Rival Run Weekend at Walt Disney World on April 4-7. Or maybe the annual Star Wars Celebration, which is in Chicago on April 11-15 this year.

Or maybe Disney won't bother announcing the opening date at all. That's what Iger teased during that latest investor call.

Iger said that Disney wouldn't need to spend a lot of money on promotion to ensure that fans would show up to crowd the new lands. That might be true, but Disney didn't get be the biggest name in entertainment by soft-selling its new products. Galaxy's Edge is a multi-billion-dollar investment, and Disney has the ability to promote it across countless television, publishing, and social media channels. So why would Iger suggest that Disney could lay up on Star Wars Land?

Two thoughts. First, Iger is playing defense against potential delays in completing the land. By claiming that Disney might not do much to promote the new land, he might be trying to head off articles such as this one, wondering when the opening date announcement will come. Now that the company's leader has planted the idea that Disney will soft-sell the land, people might not grow surprised when they don't see a big opening-date PR push starting within the next few weeks.

Even if Disney ultimately is able to open in June, not having publicly committed to a date months in advance takes some pressure of its Imagineering and operations teams as they work to get the Disneyland version of the land ready for the public. If they have to push back to July or August, so be it. That's still "summer." Given what Iger has said, analysts might not ding the company for waiting until the last minute to announce the land's opening.

Second, Iger could just be trolling the competition. Iger's Pandora announcement came just 12 days after Universal Orlando announced that it would open its Volcano Bay water theme park on May 25, 2017. And then Disney scheduled Pandora's media preview day for May 24 — the same day that Universal had invited the press to preview Volcano Bay. (Then Disney straight up tried to kill us by putting the media event for Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout in Anaheim on the next day, May 25. Actually, that was fun. 10/10 would do again.)

Universal has its own big mega-franchise attractions opening this summer, with a new Harry Potter-themed roller coaster experience at Universal Orlando and a Jurassic World update to its old Jurassic Park ride at Universal Studios Hollywood. And the company has zero intention of allowing Disney to step over its media campaigns to promote those attractions, the way Disney did with Volcano Bay.

Having spoken with many, many people throughout the industry about this, it's clear that Universal (and every other theme park company) strongly would prefer that Disney announce its opening date for Galaxy's Edge in Anaheim before they commit to an opening date for their new attractions. Regardless of what Iger says about promoting the new Star Wars land, everyone in the themed entertainment business respects Disney's PR machine far too much to want to go up against it.

By playing coy, Iger baits Universal to keep holding off on announcing opening dates for Potter and Jurassic World. Universal clearly could open its Potter coaster before Galaxy's Edge opens in Florida, but Universal understands that media is global now, and it doesn't want to lose notice for the Potter opening to Star Wars in Anaheim.

Now, with Iger having suggested a June opening before and Disney promising a summer debut for Galaxy's Edge, Universal probably would be safe announcing a May opening for the Potter coaster. The fact that it hasn't suggests that perhaps Universal does not foresee the coaster being ready by then. (For what it's worth, Universal Orlando's previous Potter attractions opened in June and July.) That would put the as-yet-unnamed Potter coaster in the mix with the Disneyland opening.

So, for now, we seem to be watching an industry-wide game of chicken, as other theme parks await Disney's decision on when to open Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge.

Replies (16)

February 15, 2019 at 9:01 AM

I’ve read that the testing of Falcon hasn’t been going well in Florida and it won’t make the opening in California. My guess is the game system is crashing.

Maybe Iger wasn’t just being cocky about not having publicity if they just have the one ride open this summer in California.

February 15, 2019 at 8:23 AM

"I’ve read that the testing of Falcon hasn’t been going well in Florida and it won’t make the opening. My guess is the game system is crashing."

That doesn't make any sense...The system is the same as the one in Anaheim, so if one is "crashing", then it would be the one in California as it would have entered the testing phase prior to the one in Florida. Also, the Florida installation isn't supposed to open until fall (reportedly late October to early December time frame), so just because testing in February isn't going well doesn't mean that the systems won't be ready 8+ months from now, and any bug fixes would be worked out through the testing in California.

This hypothetical "stand off" seems very much like what's happening in MLB right now between Bryce Harper and Manny Machado (the 2 most coveted free agents in some time). Neither player wants to sign first and have the other player one-up their contract, so both are biding their time waiting to see who will make the first move. Because neither wants to sign a lesser deal, they've both ended up deteriorating their values with rumors that one or both of them may sign just a 1-year deal (instead of initially rumored 10-year deals) just to make sure they're on a team and can try for a long term contract next season. If this perceived "stand off" between Disney and Universal really is happening, they're not helping either company, because the most informed guests that deliberately plan trips around new attraction debuts are growing frustrated as the time to book summer vacations is now. The two companies should be working together to promote trips to both regions, and understand that success of one resort has carry-on effects for the other. Yes, there are some that will only go to one resort over the other (becoming increasingly true in Orlando because of the number of days needed to fully experience both resorts), but in general, a big addition to a Disney park will bring more tourists to the area and ultimately more guests to Universal's parks (and vice versa).

As long as Disneyland's version is open by the first week of August, I'll be happy.

February 15, 2019 at 9:05 AM

They’re testing in Florida because they can use cheaper non-union labor in that state. Then they’ll give the data to the cast members in California. I guess if the game system has to be taken back to Imagineering for more R&D, the ride won't make the summer opening for California.

February 15, 2019 at 10:16 AM

What are you talking about Aaron? Do you have sourced reports to backup your claim, because what you're saying makes absolutely no sense and has not been reported in any of the reliable sources I follow. Computer programmers and testers are not "union labor". FWIW, Disney uses plenty of union labor in Florida, so the presence/absence of union requirements should not have any impact as to where the testing occurs. In fact, testing will have to be completed on both coasts, but the construction progress has been 3-6 months ahead in California versus Florida (because of the earlier groundbreaking), meaning that the physical ride systems and infrastructure were in place at Disneyland BEFORE the identical installations were/will be completed at DHS. Why in the world would Disney wait to start testing in Florida when the identical ride systems were ready for testing 3+ months earlier in California?

Just to put some credibility behind my retort, here's an article verifying that "testing" is occurring in California...

Orange County Register 1/29/19

I'm calling shenanigans on you.

February 15, 2019 at 10:05 AM

It's interesting. Disney could sell months and months worth of "Early Look" hard ticket event packages if they had a concrete date. So that sounds like money left on some table, and that gives some credence to the "Issues with the Falcon" rumors. Perhaps those monetizing special events will pop up as they get closer to opening.

Personally I think it'd be cool if they followed Iger's suggestion and just let the thing soft-open. The bloggers and APs, the JedHeads and the Disnoids out there will do a better job promoting it at this point than Disney can do. And they'd comprise the first major crowds. Later on, Disney could specifically target the families.

February 15, 2019 at 6:46 PM

Aaron? Aaron?

February 17, 2019 at 10:31 PM

The Falcon being delayed rumor was from @Sw_edge handle. They were one’s whobare quoted in the article Russell posted. I don’t really have time to relisten to a Jim Hill podcast about how over budget GE is (2Billion!!!) if I mis heard anything.

February 18, 2019 at 4:50 PM

Why does a project being over budget automatically lead to the conclusion that there are technical problems?

February 18, 2019 at 5:23 PM

I have it on good authority that the Falcon is NOT going to launch on time, as they're having trouble getting the coordinates from the navicomputer. Traveling through hyperspace ain't like dusting crops, boy! Without precise calculations we could fly right through a star or bounce too close to a supernova and that'd end your trip real quick, wouldn't it?

February 18, 2019 at 6:28 PM

Watch your mouth, Hawley, or you'll find yourself floating home!

February 18, 2019 at 8:49 PM

You have to remember that TH is a battered old theme park constructionist who built for Universal and then was spurned (based on his rhetoric). The sad ex who is looking at their partner thrive without them. My question for the ever anxious TH is when will the next book of your epic theme park trilogy drop? Should we expect it before or after The new Universal gate?


February 19, 2019 at 7:01 AM

Not really sure why Mr. Zuckerkorn is coming after me on this particular thread. I haven't mentioned Universal and J am actually in line with RM's assessment of rumors regarding Smuggler's Run.

But ... By all means, Barry. Have at me, I guess.

February 19, 2019 at 7:19 AM

"Jim Hill podcast"

Well that answers it right there. Don't rely on the TMZ of theme park news. He used to publish outlandish rumors in writing, but now that he's moved to a podcast, he can be even more absurd with his "theories" and allegedly insider knowledge. He drops a few good nuggets from time to time, but his speculation is based solely on his degree in Wanna-be Imagineer.

February 20, 2019 at 11:07 PM

TH: I feel like despite your astute observations, you've failed to realize my main issue. It's you. You're a troll and bully. While I have no problem with your attacks on those long time TPI folks...it's the snark and nastiness towards the random comments that makes you disgusting.

February 21, 2019 at 2:09 AM

Russell, you’re being defensive. You didn’t discredit SwGalaxy’s Edge ‘s rumor. I want both rides to be great and have short lines in perfect world. But I should be able to take a pot shot at Disney and Iger.

February 21, 2019 at 10:27 AM

You're certainly welcome to take pot shots, but do so by basing them around obviously false information is not the way to do it. If you want to say the lands might be delayed because of rumored issues with testing, that's fine. However, don't spread complete fallacies about initial testing occurring in Florida because of "cheaper non-union labor" or insinuating that testing in Florida is being conducted in lieu of California when the overall project timeline in Anaheim is more than 3 months ahead of the one in Orlando. Also, when you say you "read" something, when in reality you just heard it in a podcast makes a big difference, and underlines any credibility you may have here.

It's no secret that I've allowed my opinions regarding the management of different resorts to ring through my discussion posts, but I would not let those override reported facts and common sense knowledge regarding the management of projects (particularly construction projects, where I have some lengthy personal experience).

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