Disney's Star Wars: Wow or Woe? | Disney World

  • A poll by InterContinental Hotels Group found the obvious: Orlando is the theme park capital of the world. But more:

    The king of theme parks is Walt Disney World Resort.

    Once again, no surprise.

    Disney’s Magic Kingdom in the poll far outdistanced Universal Studios to take first place in visitor popularity.

    This brings us to more imaginative and even creative issues.

    “Star Wars” being No. 1, in this case…but you have to stay with us to see why the rating brings up a galaxy not so far away.

    Back to the vote, briefly.

    In the Disney poll, the results were not even close:

    Universal Studios Florida had 19% of the vote, while the Magic Kingdom got 43%.


    The poll said:

    “Iconic rides like Space Mountain and Splash Mountain, not to mention the characters roaming the park that are sure to delight children of all ages, or the incredible parades, or delectable dining options…

    “There’s no denying that Disney’s Magic Kingdom takes the throne for the favorite theme park in Orlando.

    That was taken just two years ago. But it helps provide some answers to why Disney’s popularity continues.”

    Even now. Today.

    Would anyone really disagree?

    At least, now now, would they?

    And just what do visitors want in the future so that they continue to buy Disney Orlando tickets?

    That is a question Imagineers are thinking about.

    Are worrying about, as well.

    There are some answers to that. If you look for them.

    Why Disney delivers

    The easiest answer might be a simple word:


    More thrilling roller coasters.

    More entertaining rides.

    In general, more entertainment.

    Or should we say more exciting entertainment.

    Sure, the word “exciting” is used so often you think it’s connected with entertainment.

    But it’s not.

    And when it comes to upcoming attractions…and the ongoing voter popularity of future Disney World ticket buyers…you have to take a look at “Star Wars.”

    Some may recall the thrill of seeing the film for the first time…whenever that was (could it really have been that many years ago?).

    But when Disney does it, that’s another story.

    Will it wow us…or not?

    So yes, expectations will be high.

    Disney can’t do just another movie.

    No matter how exciting or thrilling.

    The new Disney Star Wars will have to be more thrilling than the movies.

    Disney faces a high standard for Star Wars

    Are these impossibly high expectations?


    But that’s what real fans will want.

    Will Disney Imagineers be able to beat the movie…by going to another level?

    Far far away?

    Disney promises that visitors will be immersed in the Star Wars galaxy “as never before.”

    That remark is from Bob Chapek, chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts.

    He said that the land "will introduce you to a Star Wars planet you’ve never seen before — a gateway planet located on the outer rim, full of places and characters familiar and not so familiar."

    The land will immerse the guest into the Star Wars Universe.

    According to Iger:

    “It will be "occupied by many inhabitants; humanoids, aliens and droids … the attractions, the entertainment, everything we create will be part of our storytelling. Nothing will be out of character or stray from the mythology."

    Other Disney officials say the idea is to make visitors feel as if they just walked into one of the movies.

    Like walking into a movie

    This is not really new for Disney but this high level executive’s description makes you think it is different.

    “... Bringing Star Wars to life in the physical world gives us the opportunity to play with a whole bunch of things we've never done before... to really engage all of the senses. What does that street feel like? What does that animal smell like? What does blue milk taste like?"

    Those are intriguing promises.

    So naturally, let’s take a closer look.

    The upcoming “Star Wars” attractions will have two main attractions, as far as we can tell: a full-size Millennium Falcon situated among alien buildings built into tall cliffs.

    The second major event will place you into the middle of a battle between The First Order and the Resistance.

    There will also be a version of the cantina (a real chance to find out, perhaps, whether blue milk tastes like Cola-Cola or just hopped-up root beer or even you-know-what).

    One thing we know for sure is that Imagineers have joined up with Lucasfilm to bring their own galaxy to life.

    No one we know doubts this is a potent combination.

    Flying the Falcon on your own

    With the Millennium Falcon, Disney says that guests will be in “complete control” of the experience. That’s a tall order, you might way.

    That means shooting down the ships from the Dark Side. But what kind of perils will come up?

    We also know with the arrival of the First Order to the planet, visitors will be in the middle of a tense and uncertain battle between stormtroopers and resistance fighters.

    Let’s look first at the ship itself.

    The minor point is the size of the ship.

    Visually, the Millennium Falcon in the various films was represented by several models. External and internal sets as well.

    The primary model was only five feet long or clearly far too small to be any part of a park.

    The model seen often on the screen took a reported three months to build. It weighed 25 tons. It was 65 feet long.

    There was much more to the story, of course, because nothing was really simple about “Star Wars.” So we can expect a large Falcon that will reflect the details in the movies.

    The Disney model will have to be larger than 65 feet long, of course, and have multiple versions.

    We know from advanced previews there’s going to be a dramatic ride for visitors aboard the Falcon. Right in the most famous cockpit in the history of cinema, of course.

    And the chance to fly it.

    What will that be like?

    But an even more difficult question is just how fast that ship can travel.

    Sure, it was the fastest in the universe.

    How fast is fast?

    SeaWorld of Orlando’s new roller coaster getting ready to roll this summer will go 73 miles an hour.

    The fastest coaster anywhere in Orlando.

    Getting to the theme parks via I-4, vehicles go 65-70 miles an hour.

    If you arrived here by airplane, you might have averaged 400 miles an hour…though it certainly did not feel that fast.

    And the speed of the Falcon?

    Various accounts of the Falcon’s speed have been attempted.

    Believe us, this is not a simple issue.

    Its actual speed is rated in various ways (and some people have more time than others to calculate this).

    So by various calculations, the Millennium Falcon’s top speed is 25,000 light years per day or 2,714 lights years per hour….or is that figure 20,000 light years per day and 1,990 per hour? No one is sure.

    No matter. It’s fast.

    Why is it so fast?

    It has a class 0.5 hyperdrive, one of the fastest hyperdrives ever built at that time (for more explanation, you’ll have to do your own detailed research).

    But the real question for riders is how will you feel it while riding the Falcon? How will you know its tremendous speed?

    That will be a key issue for Imagineers…or maybe even the most important issue…to show fast movement.

    A challenge: how to show high speed

    The Disney ride here also hints at a secret mission.

    We can only guess…but might it have something to do with survival of the rebels?

    Then, there are the interactive areas that let you imagine you are a Jedi. In training perhaps.

    What can we expect?

    Themed restaurants, of course, that are convincing so that you think it’s really another planet. Live and perhaps really odd-looking musicians performing.

    Two-headed creatures are acceptable. Perhaps they can play two separate instruments, one for each head.

    Whatever they look like, they should get us to think “wow.”

    Perhaps the musicians could be Star Wars characters. Hello Chewbacca, perhaps?

    Characters may do more than sign autographs

    At the same time, meet and greet characters at Star Wars perhaps will go beyond the usual characters in costumes.

    Will they be more than costumed creatures that say “hello…how are you” and where you want to sign autographs?

    Might ways be found to have the Imperial Recruitment Officers try to get guests to sign up for the fight…or Bounty Hunters’ attempt to somehow capture you. Just for the money…or bounty on your head as a visitor who was perhaps also a threat?

    In other words, can Disney create even better characters than the current audio-animatronic types?

    As for the climatic battle that visitors will fight…who knows?

    There are a lot of dramatic battles in the movies.

    Which one will the Imaginers choose to focus…or will it all be an entirely new and equally imaginative one?

    We don’t know.

    It’s easy to imagine yourself being thrilled at what Disney comes up with…stepping aboard the Millennium Falcon.

    Flying the fastest ship in the universe

    Not just seeing it on a big 70-foot movie screen…with Dolby sound…and not just seeing it but piloting the fastest ship in the galaxy?

    You bank it right and left. Avoiding other ships trying to shoot you down with laser canons.

    My God! You’re right in the middle of a battle between the Resistance and the First Order. It’s a race against time.

    And you’re right there.

    This is all speculation.

    Which we’re happy to do.

    But we’re not….definitely not…Disney imagineers.

    So it’s up to them.

    But we can guess.

    We do think they will meet the test of “wow.”

    We base this on past performance. Disney has delivered.

    When a group of Imagineers got together a few years ago to discuss creativity, among other issues, the original “Star Wars” films came up. How imagineers do it

    Some said it was a “life changing” experience for them.


    But also a new motive for coming up with the promised product “far far away.”

    Many of them started as hourly employees (giving hope and/or inspiration to ambitious other workers in those jobs).

    Interestingly, they agreed that all designs almost always start on paper.

    “Star Wars” will probably be the same.

    Then computers or sculpturing models.

    Following that pattern, there will never be a single hand print on the project.

    Many individuals will be part of it.

    Another fact they agreed upon: the lifespan of ideas.

    They very rarely die.

    Ideas get molded and shaped and sometimes discarded. But in the end, they never entirely disappear.

    The same should happen with “Star Wars.”

    Ideas are even now being tossed around. Accepted. Rejected.

    Sometimes recycled.

    This is a familiar pattern with Disney.

    Going back to Walt himself.

    A model….but for failure

    A model for failure: another relevant principle.

    Learning from failures, is a better way to put it.

    Walt Disney was a high school dropout who was fired from his first job working at a newspaper. One reason: he lacked imagination.

    Over the next few years, he suffered several business disasters and bankruptcy.

    From that, the Disney concepts emerged.

    As has often been seen, Imagineering synthesizes three different strategies: the dreamer, realist, and the critic. A dreamer and realist can create things but find that a critic helps to evaluate and refine the final products.

    Disney himself, as well as some of his most famous artists, often shared a maverick quality. But at the same time, their work was augmented by others.

    Mavericks? They share qualities with the characters found in the movies, don’t they, such as the one we are talking about…

    So it may really be no surprise what we finally get when “Star Wars” comes to life.

    A big “wow.” ###