Saturday, November 11, 2017

Star Wars Saturday: The Disney Parks and Star Wars


Since Disney acquired Lucasfilm back in 2012, the presence of Star Wars at the Disney Parks around the world has steadily increased. Each new item added has only improved upon the Star Wars brand, in my opinion, and helps fans to immerse themselves as we've wanted to for so long.

There are growing pains with every transition, but I have loved all the changes that Star Wars has brought to the Disney Parks Let's take a little look at how things have changed:

Pre-Lucasfilm Acquisition

Star Wars became a permanent resident in the Disney Parks in 1987, when Star Tours premiered in Disneyland. Two years later, the attraction opened in Tokyo Disneyland and MGM Studios. It was a simple trip to Endor that goes awry thanks to your terrible pilot, Rex.

That iteration of the attraction lasted until 2011, when the simulation became randomized and guests could visit two planets while trying to sneak a Rebel spy through Imperial space. 

The attraction has always been a lot of fun, and the update in 2011 was perfect. (Plus they say that the re-opening of the attraction was where George Lucas suggested that Disney buy Lucasfilm!)

The Jedi Training Academy was brought in as a Star Wars Weekend attraction, and parents loved it so much that they made it a year-round attraction with four or five shows a day. In the past few years the plot has turned from a pre-Episode III Jedi Academy to a pre-Episode IV Jedi-on-the-run story to its current mix of every era. 

Another Star Wars part of the parks was Star Wars Weekends, a Hollywood Studios special event that took place from 3-5 weekends in May and June each year. Along with featured hosts like James Arnold Taylor and Ashley Eckstein, there were various Star Wars movie actors and voice actors that did a motorcade and meet-and-greet throughout the days. There were a few special shows, some character meet-and-greets around, and a famous party to close out the days called Hyperspace Hoopla, where Star Wars characters danced to non-Star Wars songs. 

The Weekend was a really fun experience - I got to do it once and had a lot of fun. Eventually it was phased out after 2015, which was disappointing for a lot of fans. But there was a reason it left: Disney was making room for more Star Wars!

2012-2018

On the heels of The Force Awakens came a few new Star Wars opportunities in the Disney parks. Instead of the lighthearted, occasionally-self-parodying shows we were used to, the Star Wars brand brought in was a bit more serious and reverential of the IP. 

In Disney's Hollywood Studios in Orlando, there have been two Star Wars nighttime spectaculars: Symphony of the Stars and Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular. The former was a nice little fireworks show that took place behind the Chinese Theater and had John Williams music attached. However, the nighttime show that started last year uses a ton of projections on the Chinese Theater, lasers, and fireworks combined with that iconic score and audio clips. I have seen it on YouTube and really hope to see in person soon. 


There are several shows that take place throughout the day as well. The first takes place completely on the center stage in the Studios: Star Wars: A Galaxy Far, Far Away. The show brings lots of familiar characters to the center stage, including lots of droids and villains. The second is the March of the First Order, where First Order stormtroopers march down the boulevard with Captain Phasma at the lead. 

In Disneyland and Hollywood Studios there is an area called Star Wars Launch Bay, which is basically a Star Wars exhibit with various props (movie-used and replicas) from the movies and television shows, along with various meet-and-greets. There are Jawas, Chewbacca, Darth Vader, and Kylo Ren, and they're all worth meeting at least once, if not just to understand why Darth Vader terrifies the galaxy so much without even having a face that moves and contorts. Stormtroopers occasionally march around the area, promoting the First Order dominance and seeking out Resistance spies. 

The Future

After 2018 things start to change drastically. In Disneyland and Hollywood Studios an entire area of each park will transport people to a galaxy far, far away. It's called Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge. This land will mimic The Wizarding World of Harry Potter that Universal Studios produced to near perfection in their American parks back in 2010. It is a highly immersive area, where not only the scenery, but also the cast members will transport you to a planet on the Unknown Rim, where there will be cantinas where you can eat, stormtroopers with which you can scuffle, and a certain ship that you can spot, tour, and even fly! (Hint...it's the Millennium Falcon.)

This was announced a few years ago, and last April Disney Imagineering released its first full look at the land from a microscopic scale. This is subject to change, but what was shown has looked amazing. My only worry is that they underestimate how many people are going to try to crowd into this land as soon as it opens. 

What's more, there has been a single announcement so far of a hotel that will also be greatly immersed in Star Wars lore, and resort guests will be assigned not only a room, but also a character that they will play in the resort. Not much is known about this right now, but it's going to be incredibly expensive and incredibly amazing. 


The presence of Star Wars at the Disney Parks started out a lighthearted, almost self-parodying display when Star Tours first opened in the 1980s. But now it is grabbing hold of canon and making it possible for every Star Wars fan to actually be in Star Wars. 

Get excited, people. 

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