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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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”.
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!