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.
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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