When Will Disney Build a Star Wars Land?

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Model of an X-wing starfighter outside the Star Tours ride at Eurodisney.
Alamy
In the end, despite much anticipation, Disney (DIS) didn't use much of the Force, Luke.

Disney hosted its biennial D23 fan club expo in Anaheim over the weekend, and while Star Wars promised to be a major part of the festivities, the family entertainment giant was surprisingly tight-lipped about the iconic sci-fi franchise.

There was little to say by Disney executives on the seventh installment of the movie series that J.J. Abrams will be bringing to a multiplex near you in two years. As for Star Wars-themed attractions, Disney was equally cryptic on any new rides, shows, and attractions that it may open to cash in on the global popularity of its Star Wars characters.

There was a Star Wars display hinting at potential attractions, but good luck deciphering the crates on display with lettering indicating that they contain everything from assorted lightsabers to bantha milk. One crate appeared to have housed R2-D2 until he carved his way out. Is the suggestion here that we'll be getting an interactive ride where guests can swing about virtual sabers for points, step into the Mos Eisley cantina or some other elaborate theme restaurant to order the creamy blue bantha beverage, and go on an R2-D2's Great Escape thrill ride? We just don't know, yet.

Clearly something is coming. The crates were addressed to Disney's imagineering department, where new attractions are developed. Fans will simply have to wait.

What an Amazing Synergy You've Discovered

When Disney stunned investors by revealing that it would be spending more than $4 billion to acquire George Lucas' Lucasfilm, the chatter immediately turned to what it could do with the potent Star Wars franchise that seemed to be languishing under its creator.

There were no rational fears that Disney would dumb down the defining science fiction property. Mickey Mouse and Pluto weren't going to be cast as Han Solo and Chewbacca, respectively. Minnie Mouse wasn't going to channel Princess Leia. Donald Duck wouldn't be voicing Darth Vader. Disney spent billions buying Pixar and Marvel before Lucasfilm, and it has been smart enough to stay out of the way of the creative process that made those companies tick.

But when "Star Wars: Episode 7" hits the silver screen in two years, it's a safe bet that Disney will back the release with Disney Store consumer products. It wouldn't be a shock to see ABC or Disney Channel broadcast the first six movies in anticipation or create spinoffs based on lesser characters. You just know that cool video games will be coming.

However, Disney's biggest starring role for the franchise and its familiar characters may very well reside in its theme parks.

I've Got a Good Feeling About This

Disney already has Star Wars attractions at a couple of its parks around the world.

Closer to home, Star Tours -- a motion simulator ride -- has been entertaining guests at Disneyland in California and Hollywood Studios in Florida for ages. However, even after a recent update it's not one of the most popular attractions at either park. At the end of the day, it's just a motion simulator ride.

Outside of R2-D2 and a pre-show cameo by C-3PO, the original Star Tours lacked a presence from the franchise's stars.

This is a problem that will likely be rectified in time for the 2015 debut of the new movie. The stars of the new movie themselves can even pitch in if it helps make any future additions more relevant.

The crates at D23 referred to a "Project Orange Harvest" and it wouldn't be a surprise to see Disneyland get the first crack at a new Star Wars attraction. Will it be a single ride or will Disney give Star Wars its own big chunk of real estate, as rival Comcast (CMCSA) did with Harry Potter two years ago at Islands of Adventure?

Comcast's theme park experienced a sharp spike in attendance after The Wizarding World of Harry Potter opened as a park within a park. Star Wars certainly has enough ammo to generate even greater buzz for Disney.

These Are the Droids You're Looking For

Popular chatter on Disney fan sites has been playing up the idea of a villains-themed park since the 1990s, which would giving the company a chance to break out wilder rides than the relatively tame fare at its existing parks. Florida certainly has more than enough land for it to happen, and now that Disney has acquired Pixar and Marvel, it can serve up fiercer baddies than Captain Hook and Cruella de Vil.

However, the next step will likely be an elaborately themed "land" in an existing park with a handful attractions that will aim to raise the bar from The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

What might Disney do when its abundant financial and technological resources meet a potent portfolio of characters? We haven't seen Disney do a lot with Marvel characters in terms of actual rides, but it's also limited with what it can do in Florida since Comcast's park owns certain Marvel character rights. There are no similar restrictions with Star Wars.

We don't know much, but we know that Disney doesn't cut a $4 billion check the way it did to Lucas without a vision for making its investment worth so much more.



Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz owns shares of Walt Disney, and he's been covering the Central Florida theme park scene since the 1990s with his IslandsOfAdventure.com and MyDisney websites. The Motley Fool recommends Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of Walt Disney. Try any of our newsletter services free for 30 days.

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9 Comments

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n329df

One possible ride, into the Sarlacc Pit, where the visitors get to play the part of Jabba the Hut who pushes Mickey Mouse into the Sarlacc Pit

August 14 2013 at 2:33 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
bootsnchaps60

How about developing something in the Detroit area? Lots of land available, and with real cold and snow there could be an accurate Hoth ice planet.

August 14 2013 at 1:16 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Mary

Hope they never do, Disney World was the ruins of Central Florida..Nothing but a Money hog....hate it

August 14 2013 at 1:07 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
jmc

WDW bought the rights to AVITAR and it'll be years beofre that opens in Animal Kingdom.

August 14 2013 at 12:14 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
jmc

3rd year we didn't renew yearly passes ar WDW. When you are retired and go there time after time, you really get "DISNEY'D OUT". They need to put many more new attractions in before we'll renew or even go there for that matter. At their prices they will lose alot of customers.

August 14 2013 at 12:13 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
raydelv

Sometimes Disney is slow on production. I like going to Disney with the family, but paying the high ticket prices and the long line at the parks is disappointing. One time over 90 minutes for the It’s a small world ride! Some people take their kids out of school for a week to do the parks on the off season. I don’t believe in that. I went on a Disney cruise, one of the best cruises I’ve been on. The service was Emasculate, got to take photos with all the character and had a really fun Disney time.

August 14 2013 at 12:06 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Chris

Oh they have plans they just arent telling. I have heard that they plan to clear out the staging area behind star tours at disney studios for an expansion. I'd rather have them focus on star wars than Avatar.

August 14 2013 at 11:32 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Eric

I think it would be a huge hit, and I would certainly pony up the dough to go see it. Love the idea of the Space Bar with all of the characters, including the band jazzing it up. And to take Star War's video games to new heights including 3D only makes sense. Think of what a working Lei hologram would do for the attraction. It's Back to the Future for Star Wars!

August 14 2013 at 9:46 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
alfredschrader

Land of the Jedi. I want one of those Yoda burgers.

August 14 2013 at 9:33 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
David

Hopefully never. The Harry Potter area is a dismal failure.

August 14 2013 at 7:24 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to David's comment
alfredschrader

You mean Hogwarts ? Harry Potter is amazing. And don't forget Kennedy Space center with an actual Space Shuttle that went into space dozens of times. And Playalinda Beach, and of course Port Canaveral and the Disney Cruise ships. And that is just the start of it.
You could spend a month and not even see 10% of it all. Ever seen a manatee ? A giant aligator ? Hooked a tarpon ? Seen the fountain of youth ? Dive for sunken treasure ?

August 14 2013 at 9:45 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply