I love Star Wars. I was born in 1977, and my earliest cinematic memory is of being scared out of my tiny mind in the theater when Luke was battling the hungry Rancor in Jabba’s dungeon. The excitement I felt when the remastered collection was announced in the ’90’s was paralleled only by the minutes leading up to my initial viewing of Episode One. Ok so both of those ended poorly, but you get my drift: I’m a Star Wars kid, 100%.
Last week at D23, the folks at Disney announced their plans to cut a massive 14-acre swath across the backlot of Disneyland and build a land dedicated to the mind of George Lucas. This has been a rumor for some time now, and one that we have reported on the show a few times – first settling nerves that it would not take the place of Tomorrowland, and then that it would not be the undoing of Toontown – and it’s interesting to see this rumor become fully-formed.
Needless to say, this announcement brought cheers of joy across D23, and Disney fandom world-wide, but all I could think was, “Ugh”. I’ve talked about this feeling on the show before, but after the announcement became real, I felt I owed a few people an explination as to why I was not one of the ones scampering around in glee at the thought of being immersed into the Star Wars Universe.
This is Disney
What makes Disneyland special (in my humble opinion), is that it was built on the hard work and imagination of a team of people dedicated to bringing a great mix of stories to life. One flowed into the other effortlessly, and this land transitioned into the next as fluidly as you could hope for. Tomorrowland and Fantasyland – there is no jarring exit/entry there. Or Adventureland to New Orleans Square: they sort of blend together and perhaps even enhance one another.
Enter: Star Wars. Imagine going from Big Thunder up and around the back of it to SWL. No amount of imagineering in the world will make that an easy thing to encounter. SWL does not fit within the patchwork that is Disneyland. Maybe DCA – and that’s a hard “maybe”.
Perhaps more to the point is this: Imagineering have been working for years, trying to find a way to crowbar SWL into their parks – that alone should have been a sign that it’s a bad move. To me, this new expansion says that Disney is fresh out of new ideas for Disneyland. They are aware that fans have been clamoring for more space, but they clearly had no inspiration to draw from. Is there anyone left in staff who can create something magical without having to cut a check to acquire pre-made magic? Doing so makes Disneyland somehow feel less special to me now. Like just another Six Flags – now with the new super duper Spider-Man ride, placed next to Kong. SWL will extract some very important cohesiveness from Disneyland, and I think that’s a shame.
The SW Universe Is Fine, But Not What The Legacy Was Built On
If you have any taste, when you hear “Star Wars” you think of the original trilogy, Episodes 4, 5, and 6. These are the films that built the foundation for the rest of the books, fan art, cosplay, and anything else. Watching these movies for the first time gave us all a sense of wonder and imagination – that anything was possible if we just had our friends by our side and trusted our instincts. And that’s where the Star Wars Universe should have ended. Ok, maybe some books thrown in, because I did like reading about some of Bobba Fett’s antics catching bounties, but otherwise, much of what was added to the SWU is … not very interesting to me. I don’t care about back story, or motivation for things, or what future generations of Star Wars heroes are up to. Sometimes a good story needs to just end. To simply exist and allow us to carry on that vision in our minds.
Episodes 1, 2, and 3 are a perfect example of how delving too far into an existing universe can be damaging to itself. It will never be what the fans want it to be, because we have our own version of Anakin before he becomes Vader (spoiler alert?), and it will almost certainly fall short of what we have lived with for the past 20 years. And it did. While those films made a lot of money, they failed to live up to the excitement and wonder of the original films by a wide margin. Personally, I had a feeling they were going to be terrible, but I saw them simply because they were Star Wars films. There is a certain car-crash mentality with Star Wars – any new film must been seen and you cannot look away from it. But is making money the only motivation? Isn’t the legacy of Star Wars at risk? The more you peel back that onion the more you risk tearing the thing. Or some sort of analogy like that, I’m still working that one out.
Storytelling is an art, and the good artists will throw everything at the wall, and then start culling the non-essential stuff out of the way in order to get at the heart of the thing. To go back and add complex motivators to actions that we have known and loved for years (Han vs. Greedo, anyone?) is a dangerous game for a legacy.
Reconciling Old vs. New
Imagineers have promised a never-before-seen experience with SWL, setting the scene for a Cars Land-type experience that takes you out of Disneyland and plops you right in to the Star Wars universe. To do this right, we’ll be seeing tech that probably hasn’t even been fully baked yet. The rides will be more thrilling, and the imagineering will be more detailed than ever, which could potentially leave people with a SWL hangover. Imagine leaving The Millennium Falcon, having just successfully completed your mission. Exiting the spaceport, you hang a left and run right in … to Dumbo. Ride mechanics aside, nothing in Disneyland will live up to the (hopefully) exquisite themeing that must happen with SWL, save for maybe Cars Land. Leaving the spaceport could create a bizarre mix of tech that will be more jarring than anything the park has now.
When I go to Disneyland I am leaving the world behind. The addition of SWL will serve only to fracture the ecosystem that has been built over the years, and will stick out like a sore thumb.
More Crowds, Higher Prices
Look, if you think Disneyland is crowded now, wait until Star Wars lands behind Big Thunder. The addition of 14 acres of land increases the potential population of the park at any one time. To put that in perspective, Cars Land added 12 acres to DCA, and look how packed that park has become. Disney, never one to leave money on the table, will undoubtedly send ticket prices higher to both help pay for the new land, and to keep the stock prices moving forward. What this will mean for convenience things like Annual Passports remains to be seen, but if they can raise prices and not add anything new to the parks, imagine what’s waiting for us behind those spaceport doors.
Keep Star Wars Land in Walt Disney World – they have the room! Our little corner of Anaheim should remain the way it is, with Star Tours, Jedi Training, and that’s it. I mean, with BTR gone, where can we go for a Santa Selfie?
Do We Really Need This?
Sure, we have three new Star Wars films to look forward to in the coming years, and that’s all well and good, but shouldn’t that be enough to let the Rebels and the Empire live on? Is a land dedicated to a franchise that Disney did not create really what the Anaheim parks need? SWL is better suited for Walt Disney World, or even DCA. To place something this non-Disney inside of Walt’s theme park just feels … dirty. Like a money grab. Disney has been messing with the core of what makes Disneyland special – like when they gutted Club 33, or demolished the coffee shop on Main Street and replaced it with a Starbucks, or had Marvel invade Tomorrowland (someone still needs to explain that one to me). In the build up for SWL, there will be an overlay on Space Mountain. Why? Why are we messing with rides that built Disneyland? Yes, I know that Disneyland was popular before Space Mountain, that’s not what I’m saying. Space Mountain is a ride that is sacred. Classic. It needs no improvements and deserves no subtractions. Sure, it’s a bit dated, but that frozen-in-time technology is what makes that ride so good. We line up for over an hour to do the same thing we’ve done for years – not because it’s this amazing bit of tech, but because it’s just the right amount of it. Tech and set dressing. Cheesey and effective. There is no doubt that the effects will look great, it’s just that we don’t need cross-marketing, especially on a classic like Space Mountain. It feels dirty. Again.
The setting of Star Wars Land will be a space port on the edge of the galaxy, in the time of the coming three new films – a remote frontier town that will be a gateway for future missions. But is that what people really want? No, it’s not. We want Hoth. We want Bespin. We want the settings we grew up with. Mainly because that’s what we know. That’s what made these films have the impact they do, and that’s what we want to see (whether we know it or not). We have entrusted this universe to other people before and have been let down. Not to mention that we don’t even know if we like the next three films! What if they are stinkers, like 1-3 were?
Star Wars Land will be a huge success, nobody doubts that. But much like Episodes 1, 2, and 3, people will be drawn to it because of their love for the original trilogy, not because it makes sense to have. And as much as I dislike the idea of it, I’ll be right there, sitting on the Millennium Falcon with the rest of you, ready to take on the Empire. Because at the heart of it, I’m a Star Wars fan.
A self-hating, Star Wars fan.