May the Force be With You!

It’s Confirmed: Star Wars expansion is coming to Walt Disney World and big changes are on the way.

We all knew it was coming. We have all heard the many, many rumors and now we have word that the big announcement is imminent and should be made official at a huge press gala in a couple of short weeks: Star Wars Land is coming to Walt Disney World!

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J.J. Abrams and his Bad Robot production company have signed on as creative consultants for the new “Universe of Star Wars” project.

Many details are still unknown and the full line up of attractions is not yet clear but we do know a few rather interesting facts, some of which may turn some heads. We also have early concept art and it looks fantastic.

Phase One features many elements of the original trilogy.

Phase One features many elements of the original trilogy.

First of all the plans are multi-year and encompass several phases, each with major attractions and shows. Many of the previous rumors have proven to be true; there will indeed be a Cantina themed restaurant and the Jedi Academy will be greatly expanded located in a permanent structure filled with special effects and state of the art audio video equipment.

The scope however is much larger than previously expected. All the many worlds of Star Wars will be explored, not just Tatooine but also Hoth, Bespin (Cloud City), Degobah, Geonosis, Coruscant, Kashyyk, Naboo and many others. These will be actual three-dimensional practical environments with unique attractions, not simply mentions or video in some larger scale more general attraction.

The first phase will focus mainly on the original trilogy, additional phases rolling out each year after the initial opening will venture into the locales of the prequels as well as the locations of the yet to be produced sequels.

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The ride will last 12 parsecs.

All of this is very exciting and already has both park fans and Star Wars fans (often one in the same) in a frothy mouthed fury, however there are some concerns, most notably the location.

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Space was left for Star Tours at Hong Kong Disneyland but now that Disney owns the franchise they are fighting Shanghai for a whole Star Wars themed park.

Clearly Disney has huge plans for the Star Wars franchise; in both Hong Kong and Shanghai they have plenty of available space to build entire parks devoted to Star Wars. In fact Disney is currently in negotiations with both Shanghai and Hong Kong (whose local governments are partners and co-owners of the parks with Disney) to see which of these resorts gets a full Star Wars park.

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Disneyland Paris will get only a modest Star Wars upgrade keeping much of the Star Wars area it currently has.

Disneyland Paris also has the land but they simply are not in a strong enough financial position to build a third park there. The Parisian Star Wars additions will need to be limited to a modest addition to the existing Star Tours area.

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Tokyo Disneyland is very hemmed in. Star Wars expansions are limited to a new park built on landfill or possibly the parking lot seen behind Tomorrowland.
(Photo courtesy of themeparkguy.com)

Tokyo Disneyland owner Oriental Land Company has made it clear that they are willing to pay for the full park as well… they will need to expand further into Tokyo Bay with landfill, it is possible to do so, however that is years away.

This leaves the U.S. parks and each has it’s own challenges:

Disneyland is very tight on space and has no real way to expand easily. In addition Disneyland is the only U.S. park able to incorporate Disney’s Marvel franchise into the parks due to a complex licensing agreement Universal had in place prior to Disney’s acquisition of Marvel. This means that Star Wars is in essence fighting Marvel for space at Disneyland. There are currently two independent teams at Walt Disney Imagineering developing separate plans; a Star Wars area and a Marvel area… both hoping to get a small expansion space in Tomorrowland (with the removal of the moribund Inoventions attraction). There is the possibility of a third park addition to Disneyland in the nearby area commonly referred to as “The strawberry field” but this is a logistical nightmare and many years away.

Walt Disney World on the other hand still has plenty of space, lots of open land and an all new, all Star Wars park could easily be added here… however the resorts drawing power is pretty much maxed out and Disney cannot justify building a fifth park at this time. Doing so would cannibalize attendance from existing parks, not add to it. Disney is also very jealous of the success Universal has had by adding Harry Potter attractions to the otherwise lackluster Islands of Adventure and soon the Universal Studios parks. This is the path Disney wants to emulate, they want to add Star Wars to one of the current Florida parks and they want to do it NOW!

When we look at the four parks we can rule out Animal Kingdom right away. Not only does it not fit or make any sense thematically but Disney is already adding a sci-fi movie themed area with Avatar (which is still being planned and apparently built). They would never have both Avatar and Star Wars in the same park and in fact the addition of Star Wars could cause further problems for Avatar land anyway… but that is another story.

The Magic Kingdom is also not a good fit… they want a large scale Star Wars presence and unlike Disneyland the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World does not have Star Tours or any other Star Wars themed attractions; it’s out.

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Star Wars weekends are already very popular at Disney Hollywood Studios.

So the clear and obvious choice is Disney’s Hollywood Studios Park. It is based on movies, it has Star Tours and a small Star Wars themed area already and it is the home of the very popular Star Wars weekends every year. Yet there are problems here too… SIZE. Simply put they do not have the room they really need or want within the tight confines of the existing park. Even if they would remove the Indiana Jones Stunt Theater and take that entire area of the park near Star Tours it is still too small for Disney’s grand plans. There has been talk about removing the back lot tour and the Lights Motor Action stunt show and expanding in that area but it is not directly connected to the existing Star Tours area and is still not large enough. Some have suggested building out of the park, into the existing parking area and surrounding undeveloped land. While this looks totally feasible on a map the reality is different. Disney has recently conducted land studies and surveys and it is clear that the high water table will not allow this type of development. In essence much of the land immediately surrounding the studios park is swamp. This waterlogged terrain cannot support an expansion.

That leaves one park… yes, Star Wars is coming to Epcot!

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Phase one fits nicely between China and Germany and is huge. Phase two will hold part of the large mega coaster as well as the Jedi Training space. Phase three slots in between Germany and Italy. Phase four wraps behind Italy and phase 5 will hug the current backstage boat docks. The docks will be relocated and the waterways themed as the swamps of Degobah. Future expansion may continue across the full breadth of what is currently known as World Showcase.

When the Disney executives looked at the Walt Disney World parks Epcot not only had the most land to expand on but they also felt it best fit the theme that Star Wars offers. You may expect Star Wars to be placed within the Future World area but in reality it is coming to World Showcase.

World Showcase not only has an abundance of open space but the many diverse worlds of Star Wars fits the travelogue theme of this area. Now instead of only traveling around the globe guests will enjoy visits across the worlds represented in the Star Wars films. Accordingly World Showcase will be renamed Galactic Showcase in an effort to better describe its new expanded theme.

World Showcase is currently home to 11 international countries represented in separate pavilions. The addition of Star Wars will add at least 5 more themed areas expected to cover everything from the dunes of the desert planet Tatooine to the wintery slops of the ice planet Hoth. In fact as the Star Wars franchise expands there could be as many as 10 unique Star Wars themed pavilions added along the current World Showcase lagoon. These pavilions will be inersperced with the existing country pavilions but may also be connected in the rear area behind the current country pavilions. This would form one huge Star Wars park within a park wrapped around and connected to World Showcase.

This impressive new addition will be known as “The Universe of Star Wars at Epcot”.

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Disney plans on rolling out a wide range of new snacks and concessions including R2D2 popcorn buckets and “Droid Drinks”…

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…Princess Leia and Jabba the Hutt cupcakes…

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…and a very unique “Dark Side” burger. The plan is to have as much Star Wars themed food as possible so that the new “Galactic” pavilions can participate in the annual Food and Wine Festival held At Epcot.

Also of note is the plan to have walk around characters, a Star Wars themed night time lagoon spectacular and lots of shops as well.

What we know so far:

• The proposed name of this expansion is The Universe of Star Wars at Epcot. I am sure we will all simply call is “USW”

• World Showcase will become Galactic Showcase

• Attractions based on all the Star Wars movies including the not yet produced new movies.

• J.J. Abrams will serve as creative consultant

• A new “mega coaster” will be part of phase one. This coaster is designed to “Put the Universal coasters to shame” and will wrap around, behind and through not only the Star Wars pavilion but also the neighboring World Showcase pavilions.

• The new coaster will be named “The Kessel Run” It is a multi looping coaster that will be the largest in Florida and one of the largest in the world.

• Phase one will fill the doublewide expansion zone located between the China and the Germany pavilions.

• Construction is to begin fall of 2013 and the first phase will be completed by 2015. Additional phases will open annually and be rolled out in stages, similar to how New Fantasyland has debuted.

• A “High end fine dining” restaurant will be part of phase one. It is housed high above Epcot in a recreation of the Cloud City seen in The Empire Strike Back. It will be a rotating venue affording 360-degree views.

• A major press event is expected later this month.

We know the names of some of the other attractions, shops and dining venues but don’t have specific details. Some of them are:

• At At Attack

• Something simply called “The Force”

• Mon Calamari Seafood and Snacks

• The Dark Side

• Coruscant Customs and Curios

• Chewy’s Churros

• Red Leisure

• Speeder Bikes of Endor

• Dex’s Diner

• Wickets Ewok Village

• Porkins Big and Tall

• Jabba’s Juice Hut

• Greedo’s Big Shot

One of the most interesting points of Phase One is how the “Kessel Run” coaster will be clearly visible from virtaually all locations in Epcot and will rise above not only the Universe of Star Wars area but also some of the old fashioned World Showcase pavilions. In the concept art we can see a little of China to the left behind the people and Germany to the right. This gives a good sense of the massive scale of this project. While some will surely complain that this somehow hurts the authenticity of the World Showcase pavilions we at Parkeology applaud it. After all, that is one big mofo coaster baby!

May The Force Be With You!

A Day Long Remembered

There’s a part of me that is afraid to write about Lucasfilm and Disney. If there are two obsessions I have shared since childhood, it is theme parks and Star Wars. And not always in that order. There’s a good reason why I created parkeology.com and not bloggathehutt.com. For one thing — in spite of making up that name on the spot, off the cuff, just now – I did a google for that title and found out there is already somebody writing as Blogga the Hutt. Also, I’m trying to coin a new phrase, “did a google.” T-shirts coming soon. But probably the main reason I don’t write a Star Wars blog is that I live in Orlando, FL and not Marin County, CA. I love both topics so much, I basically turned the whole decision over to geography.

The most appropriate Halloween image I could come up with.

Growing up, I would go to Disney once a year if I was lucky. But we had Star Wars on VHS all year long. If someone put a gun to my head and said “Pick between Disney theme parks or Star Wars movies,” my first reaction would be “That is a really weird thing for you to be basing your homicidal tendencies on,” but my second reaction would be “If I choose the parks, do I get to keep Star Tours?”

So yeah, I’m afraid to write about this, because I have a sneaking suspicion everyone will be writing about it. It’s all we’ll talk about for the next 5 years or however long it takes for them to finally decide which piece of Hollywood Studios they’re going to rip out to put in that Cantina restaurant, which everybody and their cousin knows has to be coming, because it has popped up at least 16 times in my Facebook feed.

And I’m not sure I want to hear everybody talking about it, you know? Because I feel like it’s sorta my thing. Like I’m the only one in the world who truly understands just how awesome this is. How could anyone out there truly have the same grasp and appreciation for both of these subjects that I have? They don’t deserve to get to talk about Star Wars and Disney together! I’m the one who built a scale model of Epcot in the same room where I filmed my shot-for-shot remake of Empire. I’m the one who took all my Star Wars action figures on Disney vacations with me. I’m the one who first drew up some Cantina restaurant concept art, lightyears before anybody thought of that idea. And I’m the one who suffered the shame when my mom said “You are a college graduate! Stop bringing your action figures into the parks.” In so many ways, this is culmination of a lifelong childhood dream. I’m the only one whose opinion matters!

This is absolutely wrong, of course. When you think of crazy fan bases, it’s hard to find two more rabid than Disney and Star Wars. You can’t walk 10 feet in Orlando without tripping over a Disney fan. And I really wish the city would do something about that, because I’m sick of all these passed out people cluttering our walkways. And you can’t go anywhere in America without bumping into a Star Wars geek. We’re everywhere. Young, old, black, white, male, female, it doesn’t matter. Disney and Star Wars are all-consuming, and the overlap is inevitable.

I suppose it comes down to jealousy on my part. It’s like it’s my wedding day, and all my friends suddenly are getting married too. This is supposed to be my special day! And now I have to share it with every Disney fan on the internet.

It would be silly to for me to try to communicate what this means. Every fan knows what this means. Harry Potter? Ha! It was cute while it lasted, Universal. Hollywood Studios resurrected from the dead. A 1-2-3 knockout punch at the box office (Pixar-Marvel-Star Wars). And I am desperately fighting the urge to tell you all my ideas for Star Wars rides. Oh, I’ve got them. Have no doubt about that. So do you. So does everyone.

So what can I contribute to the discussion? Is it possible for a little blog like this one to add anything to the crush of expert analysis that has already hit the interwebs? I think the one perspective I can offer is that I have no perspective. When it comes to this deal, I am all-in. Blindly faithful. No downside to be found. To me, this is Christmas Day, and I’m the Nintendo 64 Kid (just do a google). My thoughts did not immediately jump to whether this is a Potter killer, or what will happen to Avatarland, or jokes about Jar Jar (okay, maybe one joke), or that motherlovin’ Cantina Restaurant. That will probably all come later. Today, I’m just going to enjoy it.

Disney now owns Star Wars. How cool is that?

The bad Photoshop image I have been waiting a lifetime to create.

 

Hot Haute Cuisine

One of the great things – possibly the best thing – about living in Walt Disney World is that you can look sneeringly at random vacation photos and haughtily announce that you know exactly where that picture was taken.
For instance, a close-up of a duck’s head with a smidgen of white rock visible in the background:  “Yes, that’s just to the left of the water fountains over by the baby station on Main Street, facing North, at about 2:00 in the afternoon.”
And when they say, no, it’s near the rose bushes to the left of the Imagination pavilion, you can just scoff and remind them that you are attending Star Wars Weekends and can’t be bothered to care about their stupid vacation pictures.
Happy 30th Birthday, Greatest Movie of All Time!
One of the side effects of this is that sometimes you can be leafing through old Disney World books, perhaps while researching a park history article for some self-important website, and suddenly come across an image that you don’t recognize.  Or rather, you do recognize it at first glance, but something is wrong about it, and you just can’t put your finger on it.
Or something is wrong about it and you don’t want your fingers anywhere near it.
Take a look at this little beauty.  It’s from Abrams’ giant tome Walt Disney’s Epcot Center, and is most obviously from the France Pavilion.  You can tell by how rude everyone is (I toyed with writing this article in a really bad French accent, but it kept coming out as Swedish/Italian, so I just went for cliché French jokes.  Get it?  “Cliché” is a French word!)
But anybody who has strolled through Epcot recently will know that there is no outdoor café anymore.  Bingo!  Instant parkeology post!
Where was this little restaurant, known as the Au Petit Café (literally, “Aw, What A Dainty Restaurant”)?  At first I wondered if it was somewhere over on the side that now faces International Gateway, but it didn’t seem to match up.  The building wasn’t right.  In fact, the only match is on the left side of the pavilion, the Chefs de France restaurant, but there’s no room over there for outdoor seating, right?  It’s a congested area as is; I can’t imagine adding a couple rows of tables.
But Disney has seen many changes over the years, and this picture is deceptive.  Back in the old days, these tables may have been outside for some fresh air, but thanks to additional building structures, the tables now spend all their time indoors playing video games and eating cupcakes.
Here are some pictures snapped a few months ago during a visit to Chefs de France to see the Remy animatronic.  It’s indoors, but take notice of the wall.  Look familiar?  That’s the same wall as shown in the picture.  You can spot the distinctive shapes of the doors, the lopped off corner of the building, and the stone trim work.  It’s not hard to imagine reasons for enclosing this area of the restaurant.  Who wants to eat heavy French food in the middle of a 95-degree Florida summer?
And as to that other French article I was researching, I guess it will just have to wait until next week.  See you at Star Wars Weekends!