One of the highlights of each year's IAAPA Expo is Bob Rogers' annual Legends panel. What was once a gathering of Disney Legends reminiscing about the old times working with Walt has grown into an annual master class dissecting a major project in the past year of themed entertainment. And in 2019, there was no bigger, more ambitious project in this industry than Disney's Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge lands.
So Bob this afternoon welcomed Scott Trowbridge, Margaret Kerrison, Anisha Deshmane, and Chris Beatty from Walt Disney Imagineering to share their report from the Galaxy's Edge. Like a true showman, Bob saved the juiciest prompt for near the end of the panel:
"I know you must have had this meeting, this must have happened. Imagine a meeting room full of very high level executives, in suits. These are people who think in spreadsheets. They have recently paid $4 billion - that's billion with a 'b' - on Star Wars and its characters. And the art team here is cheerfully explaining your vision for Galaxy's Edge is that there will be no 'Star Wars,' no Star Wars logos, no Luke Skywalker, and no Darth Vader."
You can skip to the 63-minute mark to see the panel's reactions. Or just take it from the beginning and enjoy an in-depth look into the creation of this award-winning and precedent-setting theme park land.
If you're just skimming for highlights, though, allow me to share some of my favorite extended quotes from the panel. Here is Chris Beatty on the origins of the Galaxy's Edge story:
"There's a lot of similarities I think in our industry for us as art directors and theme park designers, we take along the same path and a lot of the same development cycles that filmmakers take. We start with story. We talk about locations - where do we want to take our guests? What type of experience that we want to take our guests on? In fact, that's where we started this process. It wasn't where we want to take our guests, what planet? What storyline? We actually started with what do we want our guests to feel like when they walk into the land? Where do we want to take them? What do we want to we want their experience to be?
"That's what led us down the path. Then the location came out of that. When we tried to start creating like a conversation around, should we build a Tatooine or should we build a Dagobah? The book report... we just got lost. Oh, I have to see this, and I have to see that. I have to tell this story. The team just got derailed with all these details. So when we free ourselves to talk about what we want the guest experience to be, that all went away and it turned into this very free open conversation about what I want to feel when I walk into the land - do I want to feel tension, suspense? Do I want to feel anxiety like you're getting ready to go on this journey, you're excited, but I don't know what awaits me? Are you the hero or the villain? Those are the cards we were pinning on the wall. It wasn't, oh, I want to see this or do this, or I expect to see this character.
"We worked on all these different ways to bring the land to life [and that] came out of those conversations. That process was happening at the same time as the look and the feel of the land were developing. We went through the same process as the filmmaker - we start talking about the textures, the smells, and what's the ground like, and what the stones are. What's the story behind the stones on the ground - how long have they been there? Have they been patched - did a big beast creature come through there and loosen the stones and the little Java proprietor had to come out of the shop and patch in one day and he's angry and just had to use whatever he had to fill in the mud?
"Those are the conversations you want to have because they lead to the textures, they lead to the color palette, and then you start to pair those with a partner those with locations and research trips that you go on, and before you know it, you have this really rich, diverse palette that lets you bring that in the light, to let you paint that landscape."
And Margaret Kerrison on the authenticity of experience in Galaxy' Edge (Update: This followed a comment by Bob noting that, in Pirates of the Caribbean, the pirates do not know that you are there):
"I remember one of the earlier meetings and we were talking about Savi's Workshop and the lightsabers. One of the creative directors who had just joined the team to help us with that experience. I remember he asked, 'what is it - what do you ultimately want people to be?' My answer to him was, as a guest, I want to be seen.
"I want to be seen. You know I want to know that I'm coming in here, and that you see me, and not only that you see you see me as someone unique and special. That I, with all of my all my dreams of one day building a lightsaber, all of my dreams of one day feeling the force and hearing from a force ghost - all of these things - it has to make sense to me as a person who for the first time is coming into the Star Wars universe, [that] you can see me, and I feel special because of that.
"So in building this, that's something that we took in everything that we did, because it's not just about how as cast members we react to guests, but it's how cast members react to each other. I see you, and this is what I think. And also cast members [reacting] with the characters in our land, too, and characters with each other. So it's not like, oh I'm going to go visit this one attraction and they live in isolation there from the rest of the land. You go from one place to the next. There's the truth of what is there - the location, the purpose, everything - and then there's what there's a second layer of the theme. How do I as a cast member, as a local Batuuan, feel about the recent arrival of the First Order to my town? [Scott Trowbridge: Not great.]
"I've been working hard hours and like I was just working in Docking Bay 7 Food and Cargo and then these people come in and they say that there's people hiding in here it's, like, 'Look, I just want to get back to my day job. Oga is not going to be happy, the crime boss is not going to be happy about me getting in late for work because there's marching Stormtroopers.' So, we want our local Batuuans to have opinions about that. That really elevates the authenticity and their believability. As a local Batuuan, I'm seen. I am seen in this world and in this land, and I have a part in the story as well. And when you see our cast members play, you want to play, too. Play encourages play. And that's something that we feel very, very strongly about.
Finally, here's Margaret Kerrison on the future of the Galaxy's Edge story:
"The Lucasfilm story team and publishing team were incredible in working with us and with our producers within Imagineering to help us shape the slate of programming that we would like to have, and believe me it's not over. We're looking into the future of storytelling for Galaxy's Edge, and any other activation related to Galaxy's Edge - above and beyond what you currently see today. So this is something that is ongoing, something that's evolving, and something we're very excited about.
"It really truly takes many minds to come together and work ourselves into determining what is the best kind for this particular story, and there are many moments where we decide, you know what, I don't think we're ready to tell this particular story right here, right now. Let's let's hold on to that one. Let's keep it in our pocket, and let's wait for something bigger in order to tell the story. Or, let's wait for something that is either in the land or in the book or through a game, but ways that we can actually have all of those formats speak to one another, because truly we are building one universe - all of these stories speak to one another and because of the carrying carrying the torch that we have Star Wars storytelling, we, we take that responsibility very, very seriously.
"And because of that we work very closely with our Lucasfilm partners, to make sure that this is truly part of the Star Wars story."Tweet
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