Disney knows what it takes to woo its fans. And the yardstick that the company follows almost always ensures that the fans are left asking for more. So when Disney finally gave a first glimpse into its highly anticipated ‘Star Wars’ lands, it was met with much applause. The theme park is currently being built in California and Florida. You can’t blame Walt Disney who had the vision to create massive, fantastical expos that showed off the possibilities of human innovation. In doing so, he didn’t just illustrate princess castles—he built them. He did it first in Disneyland in Anaheim in the 1950s, then in Orlando’s Walt Disney World in the 1970s. He came up with the concept of Disneyland after visiting various amusement parks with his daughters in the 1930s and 1940s. He initially envisioned building a tourist attraction adjacent to his studios in Burbank to entertain fans who wished to visit him, but soon he realised that the proposed site was too small. After hiring a consultant to help him determine an appropriate site for his project, Disney bought a 160-acre site near Anaheim in 1953. Construction began in 1954 and the park was unveiled during a special televised press event on the ABC Television Network on July 17, 1955. Disneyland in California is the only theme park designed and built under the direct supervision of Walt Disney. But decades later, Disney (the company) has a lot more worlds to build.
A series of 21st-century acquisitions have given it the rights to the massive comic book world of Marvel, the far away galaxy of Lucasfilm and also the animated lands of Pixar. It literally owns so much fictional property that it could never translate all of it into theme parks in the next millennium. Now that all of the studio’s movies are on a blockbuster autopilot, the company is fully invested in bringing its cinematic universes to its theme parks. The first of its kind and also the most hotly anticipated is the Star Wars land known as Galaxy’s Edge. This theme park is a pair of 14-acre complexes slated to open in 2019 at Disneyland and Walt Disney World. Recently, at Disney’s D23 fan event in Anaheim, the company unveiled a large model of the theme park environment and revealed that it will be a place that’s known in the Star Wars universe but has never been on film before. The model details the two attractions that will anchor the 14-acre lands—the largest single-themed land expansion in Disney history. One of the attractions will offer guests a chance to pilot the Millennium Falcon on a customised secret mission. The other will put guests right in the middle of a battle between the First Order and the Resistance. Visitors will find places for rebels to hide, stormtroopers and maybe even blue milkshakes at every concession stand. How magical or realistic these spaces end up being—and how immersive it can feel when stormtroopers are walking alongside tourists in flip-flops and tank tops—won’t be known until 2019, but what seems more certain is that this is just the beginning. There are also plans of a hotel that will allow guests to go on their own adventures on a self-contained spaceship.
If you want to keep your Star Wars story going, Disney has also revealed plans for a themed resort in Florida that will immediately make you a character upon check-in—starting with what you wear. The new hotel will allow guests to live out a Star Wars fantasy. The emphasis is on total immersion—guests will interact with characters, go on adventures and explore the galaxy. Moving those franchises into other storytelling formats is going to become the next frontier in monetising them. Universal’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter was only the beginning, Pandora: The World of Avatar opened at Walt Disney World in June, and the D23 Expo last week featured a model of “Mission: Breakout!”—the new Guardians of the Galaxy twist on the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror ride. And as virtual reality and augmented reality become more of a, well, reality, parks like Disney’s will be able to merge their cinematic and in-real-life offerings even further. Even if Walt Disney couldn’t have predicted Star Wars, let alone that his company would one day own it, immersing visitors in his company’s stories and ideas couldn’t be more on-brand. Disney didn’t live to see Walt Disney World completed, but before he died, he was deeply involved in building it, as well as its “Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow” (EPCOT). In other words, he wanted to build a science-fiction world without the fiction. And now, as D23 visitors are learning, even the fiction is becoming fact.