The Force is Strong at Disney Theme Parks
Photo: Disney Parks.
Just in time for the launch of J.J. Abrams’ much-anticipated Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens film, both Disneyland in Anaheim and Walt Disney World in Orlando have increased their Star Wars presence.
It’s all part of Disney’s master plan to integrate Star Wars into everything from cruise ships (there’s a Millennium Falcon simulator on the Disney Dream) to video games like Disney Infinity 3.0. And you can’t blame the company for trying to recoup the $4 billion it paid to George Lucas for Lucasfilm to take over his beloved universe.
“It’s never been a better time to be a Star Wars fan because there’s so much amazing stuff on the horizon,” said Walt Disney Imagineer Brent Strong, creative director behind the new Star Wars integration at the theme parks.
Fans who visit the Florida or California theme parks will get fairly similar offerings. Both Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Disneyland now include a huge Star Wars Launch Bay, which is set up like a museum with three huge galleries filled with props of all sizes from all seven movies. There are two dedicated themed 360-degree areas where fans can interact with stars of the films from the Dark Side such as Darth Vader and the Light Side like Chewbacca.
In the Cantina area you’ll be find a Jawa to interact with. (Hint: They love to trade.) There’s a theater with a short behind-the-scenes film featuring Abrams and the creators of the new films discussing the revitalization of the franchise and the journey forward.
“We partnered with J.J. Abrams and all the other directors and writers in the Lucasfilm story team to get the roadmap of where Star Wars is headed, so that here at Launch Bay we can not only celebrate the past but also nod toward the future,” Strong said. “When you come here you can reminisce about all of your favorite characters and scenes and as we see the new films and new characters emerge, the items in our galleries, and the characters that you meet are going to take on more significance.”
One of the larger areas in the Launch Bay is dedicated to video games. Disney Interactive’s Disney Infinity 3.0 Star Wars games are featured throughout the Game Center on a dozen Xbox One consoles. Each kiosk features a pair of Star Wars figures from across the universe, including the original trilogy, the prequel trilogy, and Star Wars Rebels. Once The Force Awakens Play Set launches Storm said this area will be updated to incorporate those characters.
“Not only do we have all of the characters and figures that you’ve seen before, but we have exclusive levels that have been designed just for Star Wars Launch Bay,” Strong said. “Even if you’ve played Disney Infinity before, you can come here and play new levels that you can’t play at home. And we’re going to be constantly updating what we have here in the game center.”
Avalanche Software designed a special Toy Box mode for the theme parks that Strong said offers a Star Wars sampler of Disney Infinity 3.0 that’s been designed for guests who’ve never played the game.
John Vignocchi, executive producer at Disney Interactive Studios, said guests to both Launch Bay attractions will be handed a web code card that unlocks Star Wars and Marvel themed Toy Boxes when they get home. (If you visit Disney World and stay at any Disney Resort, the free Magic Band you receive will unlock an exclusive Disney Partners Statue when you get home and scan your band.)
Guests exit through the gift shop, or Cargo Bay, on the way out of the building. While Disney Infinity isn’t for sale here, you can pick up exclusive items like a light saber umbrella ($65) or a life-sized First Order Stormtrooper Statue for $9,000.
The Launch Bay is just part of the Season of the Force. Both parks have updated Star Tours: The Adventure Continues to include a new closing scene set on the desert planet of Jakku that includes Finn (played by actor John Boyega from The Force Awakens). While the Dolby 3D motion ride still features random planet explorations each time (so no ride is identical), every journey will conclude with The Force Awakens content so that everyone can see the new sequence.
Both parks are also screening a 10-minute version of the seven films, Path of the Jedi, that focuses on the Jedis from the Star Wars saga. Jedi Training: Trials of the Temple has been updated to incorporate Star Wars Rebels villain the Seventh Sister Inquisitor from the popular computer-generated Disney XD series. First Order Stormtroopers patrol areas of the parks and interact with guests. And there are new Star Wars collectibles and edibles, including Darth Vader cupcakes, a Tie Fighter popcorn canister, and a Han Solo Kid’s Meal (all at Disney prices).
Exclusive to Disneyland, riders on HyperSpace Mountain will find a new Star Wars theme inside the rollercoaster. (It’s worth noting that Disney World refrains from changing iconic attractions, including Haunted Mansion during Halloween, because of its global fan base, versus the large local Californian population that visit Disneyland regularly.) The new Star Wars makeover has Admiral Ackbar briefing X-Wing pilots before taking off through a hyperspace chamber to attack an Imperial Star Destroyer.
Starting Dec. 18, Disney’s Hollywood Studio adds a new fireworks show called Symphony in the Stars: A Galactic Spectacular. The show incorporates John Williams’ music from all seven movies. It’s free for everyone to watch, but if you want to fork over $69 (in addition to your park ticket) there’s a dessert party with better viewing and all-you-can-eat Star Wars desserts and drinks (including alcohol).
Just as a new Star Wars movie will be hitting the big screen every year moving forward, these theme park offerings are just the beginning. Construction on the new 14-acre Star Wars lands at Disneyland and Disney World will begin in January. Not much has been revealed about this land, which will transport guests to a new planet from the universe. There will be two signature attractions, including one that puts visitors aboard the Millennium Falcon on a secret mission and one that sends guests on an adventure that puts guests in the middle of a climactic battle between the First Order and the Resistance.
“Technology is the foundation to everything that we do,” Strong said. “We’re always looking at how we can raise the bar in the guest experience. In our collaboration with Lucasfilm and everyone who has been working on Star Wars: The Force Awakens, technology is just a part of their pipeline as they make those films.”
Having seen the new movie, it’s been well worth the wait to see Abrams take the helm of this new franchise. And fans will be looking to relive that experience in any way possible. Of course, you can always just watch the movie again (IMAX 3D is the recommended format), but there are also Disney theme parks, and video games (Disney Infinity 3.0 just released an excellent The Force Awakens Play Set).