Disney and the challenge of finding a setting for a Star Wars land

April 9, 2019, 12:30 PM · The most fascinating thing about Disney's new Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge land might be its setting. That's because there really wasn't any obvious location for Disney's Imagineers to set this land. Star Wars, as a franchise, is actually pretty dystopian toward its locations, which include a dizzying array of planets and space stations that characters are trying to escape or blow up... or both.

I wrote about the challenge of setting Galaxy's Edge in my newspaper column this week, Why Disney created the planet Batuu for its Star Wars land instead of using Tatooine, Alderaan or Naboo. (And if you see this week's column as a geek's excuse to cram the name of every Star Wars planet into one newspaper article, well, you would not be wrong.) But I raised this issue quite a while ago here on Theme Park Insider, asking in a Vote of the Week six years ago, The setting of Star Wars Land?

Interesting that the option that Disney ultimately chose, "Another 'Star Wars' planet," placed dead last in that poll. But creating the planet of Batuu and its Black Spire Outpost might have been Disney's best choice. As I wrote in my column, the Star Wars galaxy offers too many choices... but too few of them good for the purposes of a themed entertainment attraction.

The best choice for a Star Wars setting, in terms of fan affinity and time continuity, might have been the Millennium Falcon, which is why I suspect Disney quickly chose to make it the centerpiece attraction of the new Star Wars land. Everything else in the land, frankly, seems to build around that, which is fine by me.

On board the Millennium Falcon

But beyond the Falcon, little — if anything — in this new land will be instantly familiar to park visitors and Star Wars fans who have not been obsessively following the development of this land online for the past few years. That raises a creative risk for Disney and its Imagineers. Will the public see this Star Wars land as authentically "Star Wars?" Or will they perceive it — even on a subconscious level — as some form of knock-off, a theme park land inspired by Star Wars instead of one that actually transports you into Star Wars' galaxy far, far away?

We won't know the answer to that until some time after the land opens, of course. But that question remains fascinating to consider in the meantime, at least to me.

Was Star Wars the right franchise to build an immersive theme park land around? Star Tours was the perfect attraction for the Star Wars franchise, because it allowed people to experience the humor and thrills of flying around the galaxy that made these films so engaging. The "Adventures Continue" refurb improved upon the original by making Star Wars' over-abundance of characters and locations into a strength, with randomly selected combinations that rewarded fans for riding again and again.

After spending billions to purchase Lucasfilm and the Star Wars franchise, Disney wants to get its money's worth, not just in theaters but in the parks, too. And with archrival Universal setting a new creative standard for the industry with its Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Disney embraced this opportunity to show what it could do with a Star Wars land.

But Star Wars is not Harry Potter. You can't design and build a Star Wars land like a Harry Potter land and have it work, either creatively or logistically. Disney had to do something different to serve the Star Wars franchise. And first on the list of things that it did differently was to create an all-new setting for this land.

Will it work? We will find out when Galaxy's Edge opens at Disneyland on May 31 and at Walt Disney World's Disney's Hollywood Studios on August 29.

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Replies (14)

April 9, 2019 at 1:26 PM

I'm sure the land will be packed. And I hope it's success.

But it'd still rather go to Star Wars scenes I know, like Tattooine. Visit the cantina. Search for the smoldering remains of Owen and Beru. Scope out some moisture vaporators.

April 9, 2019 at 2:14 PM

I agree with Cole no matter what this will be a huge success like Harry Potter was for Universal. I'm not a fan of Star Wars so I won't be going anytime soon but from what I've seen it looks like Star Wars and the Falcon is there so super fans should still be pleased.

All though deciding on this approach might have been a tough decision overall I think Disney had it a bit easier. Mainly since their main target market is families and kids so anything this themed will be a huge hit with kids. The unhappy super fans of Star Wars were not the target audience and I'm sure Disney doesn't really care they are unhappy. Kids will love this place and their parents by default will too since it will make their kids happy.

April 9, 2019 at 2:44 PM

Hogsmede and Diagon Alley set the theme park bar too high for Disney to ignore. They want you to believe that you are in their world not in a theme park or studio tour. Just as it doesn’t make sense to be able to walk from Hogwarts to Gringotts, it doesn’t make sense to walk from Endor to Tatooine to Naboo.

But really there will be a lot of guests will think they’re on that desert planet that where Luke Skywalker was born.

April 9, 2019 at 5:19 PM

I think the land will be a success & by basing it on a (newly unknown) land, it actually frees them from the pressure of appealing to specific groups of people. Sure some guest would love it to take place on Tatooine...but you'd have just as many who would've prefer the death star or Naboo, etc.

I think the land will feel authentically "Star Wars" was all the elements are in place. Droids, Stormtroopers, The Falcon, the original score.

The decision to not just recreate what guest saw in the films, but rather create an entirely new land gives them more storytelling power for the narrative.

Batuu doesn't have a history, so anything can happen here. They can change & adjust should they need to, without changing well known locations in Star Wars lore.

April 9, 2019 at 5:46 PM

First problem for Disney is that, unlike Potter, Star Wars lacks the food, candy and drinks playing a role in the movies (besides the blue milk). The movies have a lot of items that could result in souvenirs and toys but the problem there it that the market is already saturated by billions of items sold from the release of the first movie until now. It's hard to top what is out there and make it worth for the fans to go there to pick it up.
Than there are the locations in the movies, most of them had a minor role in the stories, unlike Hogwarts Castle or Diagon Alley who are seen multiple times over all the movies and the books even go deeper. The Star Wars world isn't that fleshed out.

But going to a generic unknown location doesn't make my blood rush. I would like to walk on the Death Star, I'd love to visit the cantina or get lost on the base on Hoth or visit Joda on Dagobah. I'd rather have a patchwork of these experiences instead of one cohesive land that does nothing for me.

April 9, 2019 at 7:48 PM

While I have posted here about the Star Wars land, and my big fear is the crowds, I believe everyone has it wrong on this setting issue. It just won't matter. A few weeks ago a mother in her early thirties was taking her seven year old son to DHS. We were on a bus together. His sole mission was to see the Star Wars fireworks show. His eyes were as big as saucers. He could care less what planet he was going to. He just wanted to see Star Wars. He cared about nothing else, and when we pulled in, the look on his face was enough to know that this place will be crazy. I just hope they do it justice for the people like that. What kind of shocks me is that Universal has really high quality items to buy relating to Harry Potter. Disney has really low quality and limited items for Star Wars. I hope they are not just going through the motions. This is a franchise that means a lot to many people.

April 9, 2019 at 8:09 PM

@JC....I don't Disney is going through the motions. The entire land has reportedly cost close to a billion dollars (this is according to multiple sources)

There are a ton of small details: the cast member uniforms, John Williams new original score, etc. The fact that (the DLR version) was positioned so guest can't see another areas / land of the park. So many things that suggest this was just an average land they added to the park.

In one of the media previews. they discussed the light saber experience and spoke about the weight & quality of the object....(vs the Star Tours version)

This is the most expensive land Disney has created, I don't think are just going through the motions.

April 9, 2019 at 9:40 PM

I hope you are right, and I believed so for a long time, but as things started to trickle out, I have started to suspect that it might be a little Potter-lite. Look, I believe Universal would have gone cheap if there had not been certain contractual restrictions, and when the attention to detail worked out, they continued with it. I may be wrong. I hope so. To pull off a new land like Star Wars and have it authentic is much harder than Potter. Avatar, while nice, does not have the attention to detail that Potter does. There are cheap Avatar mugs and plastic toys. The stores in Potter have people that know every single iota of Potter trivia and stay in character. You can get movie quality replica souvenirs. The butterbeer is terrific. Moaning Myrtle is in the bathroom.

Now that all of that is out of the way, I was glad to see that they are not just going to let the typical fast pass system run the show. The rope drop at DHS will get someone hurt. The design for the buildings and artwork looks great. I hope they have droids running around and others in costume. While not being talked about much, there is augmented or virtual reality technology in the works that may be used for the land in ways that have not been announced. If you have experienced the Void, you know how good that is. I was highly impressed with the Toy Story Land, and that was a fairly simple land, but had many very creative touches that are fantastic. I think they can pull it off, I do, but it needs to be all Star Wars.

April 9, 2019 at 10:58 PM

I don’t think Disney World thinks Galaxy’s Edge will be a success since the current closing time on August 29th is 830pm and 8pm the entire month of September ;)

April 10, 2019 at 12:19 AM

You do realize the park will have EMH all those nights, just like what DAK adapted for Pandora, right?

April 10, 2019 at 1:29 PM

I've been thinking about this for some time now. The one thing that needs to be noted is that the Harry Potter and Star Wars franchises, while very similar in terms of popularity and applicability to theme parks, are still different in one very important aspect. Star Wars is grounded in a visual media (movies), while Harry Potter is grounded in literature. While the Harry Potter movies gave fans a visual basis for what the Wizarding World looks like, there is still room for interpretation of the original source material. That means, UC could tweak the look of Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley to meet the needs of a theme park setting without upsetting the die-hard fan base or disrupting its authenticity for more causal fans. UC took queues from the movies, going as far as to cast many of the actors, voices, and soundtrack in the lands, but could explain away any inconsistencies or departures from the films by calling back to the original books. Star Wars doesn't have that luxury, and even with stories left untold and movies still to make, the only visual basis that most fans have to the Star Wars universe is grounded in the movies. Yes, there are Star Wars books out there, but the Rosetta Stone for what makes a world "Star Wars" only comes from the existing visual media, which itself is not very consistent as the look of the movies has changed over time. That means Disney cannot explain away incongruities, inconsistencies, and theme park necessities through the "crutch" of liturgical interpretation. Therefore, Black Spire Outpost and Batuu, almost became a necessity because of the inability to faithfully recapture the visual look of Star Wars based on movies made over the course of 40+ years.

Theme park designers have a lot of different masters when working on such an expansive project, and we need to recognize there are different levels of fans that will want to check out and enjoy Galaxy's Edge. That means Disney has to provide various levels of detail to ensure each type of guest is satisfied with the result. The casual fans, who will comprise a majority of the visitors to Galaxy's Edge, want to have fun, but could care less whether the Aurebesh characters actually say anything. Those guests just want to have experiences in a Star Wars-like place with familiar characters and situations. The long-time fans want to be immersed in one of their favorite franchises. They want to see, feel, and experience what their favorite characters from the movies have gone through. However, these fans know enough to tell when they're being duped, so you can't have multiple planets/settings represented without some reasonable way to get between them (like the transporter affect at the Star Trek Experience, except there are no transporters in Star Wars). Then you have the uber fans that know the Saga so well that there would be no reasonable way to please them even if you put them on a set with Mark Hammill, Ewan McGreggor, and Daisy Ridley. Even Black Spire Outpost is unlikely to please these guests, but at least Disney gives themselves a chance by allowing super fans the chance to role play in a world that is less stringently defined than a movie set recreation.

As much as I would love to ride a tauntaun on Hoth, have lunch at Yoda's hut on Degobah, or smash an AT-ST on Endor, it's simply not practical to try to capture all of that visual detail and expectation in a single theme park land. I realize that trying to recreate real, already visualized locations from the Star Wars universe would have been an impossible task. Disney definitely took the "easy" way out by creating a new Star Wars location for Galaxy's Edge, but based on the source of Star Wars being a purely visual media, I don't think they had a choice.

April 10, 2019 at 6:39 PM

Let’s just put this to rest now: setting the land in Tatooine would make ZERO sense. Disneyworld is in Central Florida where it rains nearly everyday. Don’t think a daily shower on a desert planet would be very immersive.

April 11, 2019 at 12:35 PM

They should have made them different settings for each park as well then. Why not? It would be more realistic

April 11, 2019 at 7:47 PM

@jacquiv, I'd think you'd still run into issues in that Star Wars doesn't have a singular central location.

Over the course of 9 (main) films, the setting has hopped all (pun intended) all over the galaxy. Hoth, Endor, Naboo, Tatooine, Cloud City / Bespin, death star, etc.

Even Star Tours, once originally just focused on a trip to Endor, evolved to include trips to multiple locations.

I think by setting the land in an original location, Batuu, frees them being tied to whatever narrative the other lands would have required.

Anything can happen on Batuu. Any storyline that needs to be told because it isn't based on a previous plot point. Plus, I'm sure the new film(s) will acknowledge this outpost.

This was the best idea for a franchise that has so many recognizable locations.

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