So at this point, anyone who’s a fan of Disneyland has heard that most of the northwestern corner of the park closed January 11th, 2016 for the beginning phases of construction for the largest expansion Disneyland has ever seen since it’s opening in 1955…..Star Wars Land.
I’ve had some time to process the initial news, read the rumors, read the facts, and come to a personal conclusion. But I’m not going to let you off that easily…you’ll have to read on.
First off, I want to put it out there that I am a huge Star Wars fan. I am almost 41 and I grew up on these movies. Before the age of VCRs, we had a film projector and my favorite 10 minute reel we had was a Star Wars film that was one scene from the movie. It was the scene where Luke and Han Solo are in the Millennium Falcon in the blaster turrets taking out tie fighters…”Don’t get cocky kid”. To this day, I have fond memories of watching that real over and over again. There was no way to watch the full movie at home. It was all I had.
So let’s go back to where this started because some people may not know the history. Back on October 30th, 2012, Disney, CEO Bob
Iger and and George Lucas signed the estimated $4.1 billion (yes…billion ….with a “B”) deal to acquire LucasFilm. That purchase was Disney’s largest acquisition to date, topping the purchase of Marvel, which had a price tag of $3.96 billion. The purchase not only gave Disney LucasFilm but Lucas’ special effects company ILM (Industrial Light and Magic), Skywalker Sound and LucasArts, a video game company.
That same day, Disney announced it’s plans to expand on the original 3 part movie saga, and subsequent prequel trilogy nightmare with parts 7, 8 and 9. The Star Wars fans were mixed with emotions. Was Disney going to massacre the franchise with more cutesy “Disneyesque” abominations like Jar Jar Binks? Were they going to create washed out versions of Star Wars to appeal to a wider family audience? Some people we elated that the franchise was out of George Lucas’ hands.
Either way you looked at it, at least we were going to get more Star Wars. There were lots of sub plots and story lines to pull from in the expanded universe that authors had been working with for 30 years….then Disney announced that none of that exists. Anything outside of Episodes 1-6 and the animated Clone Wars never happened and is not part of the Star Wars cannon. Fans were shocked but it was an understandable move. Authors of books and comics and fans had been writing their own versions of what happened after (and in some cases during) the first 6 movies. It would have been impossible to wade through all of that and keep bits and pieces that fit into the direction Disney wanted to take the property. While a hard pill to swallow, it was an understandable move by Disney and it’s executives.
Everyone was in anticipation for Episode 7. We knew it had been filmed but there was a secrecy over this movie that fans had never experienced. Unlike other movies, no one could get any idea what it would be about, what the plot line would be or really even who was in it. Because of all the secrecy, the public became more and more obsessed with trying to figure something out. Every trailer that came out was dissected frame by frame. People were analyzing the background of the shots, the costumes and the people in it.
At this point, Disney took the bull by the horns and Bob Iger announced at the D23 convention in Anaheim on August 15th, 2015 that Disneyland would undergo a 14 acre addition for Star Wars Land (WDW was getting one too at Disney’s Hollywood Studios but this ins’t a WDW blog). It was announced that the new land would be completely immersive with cast members completely in character as humanoid aliens from far off worlds that have settled in this remote planet and set up “shop” as it were. On a side note, I haven’t been there yet, but this is very reminiscent of what Universal has done with their Harry Potter World attraction they’ve been installing in all their Universal Studios parks.
Iger announced at D23 that this new land would be a “whole new world” (pun intended) in the Star Wars universe. There are two planned attractions that have been announced. One drops you in the middle of an epic Star Wars battle between the First Order and the New Resistance and the other let’s you take the helm of the Millennium Falcon in a customized secret mission.
So there we are…Disney buys Star Wars, creates tons of hype over the property and then announces the largest expansion to Disneyland ever. Great for stockholders but what about diehard Disneyland fans? Since the announcement, Episode 7 has been released and smashed just about every US record for a movie in the first 4 weeks. It now holds the earnings titles for biggest opening weekend, biggest 2nd and 3rd weekends too. It beat Jurassic World’s 17 day record to reach $500 million by 7 days. It is officially the highest grossing movie of all time in the US. It probably will not beat Avatar as the biggest grossing movie worldwide. Avatar holds the record at $2.7 billion and as of this post, Episode 7 is $1 billion away from that mark and slowing down in international markets.
Now let’s talk about what this means for Disneyland. First, here’s a Google Earth image of the area this effects and the original idea of the area where Star Wars Land would fit:
Within the first couple of days after the announcement of Star Wars Land, we knew that the backside of Big Thunder Trail was going to go. That included the Big Thunder Barbecue, the Big Thunder Jamboree, and Big Thunder Ranch (horse, cow and goat petting area). That last one seemed to upset some people. Disney was also moving the livestock and horse stables off property as well as a couple other administrative buildings, including what appears to be the sorting area for the recycling (pull up Google Maps and really zoom in on the area).
So I sat back and thought about how I felt about the whole thing. My initial reaction for the first couple months was exactly what us true Disneyland megafans was supposed to be: “Disneyland will never be complete as long as there is imagination left in the world.”. It’s a Walt Disney quote that is thrown around by even the slightest of Disneyland fan. And I felt that way too.
Then, sometime in November, we started seeing the following:
The blue line represents an entirely new Disneyland Railroad path. a path that has not changed since the installation and opening of It’s a Small World in 1966. But really look closely at the above image. what you will also notice is that 30-40% of the Rivers of America are being removed for the addition of Star Wars Land. Everything north of the pirate treasure on Pirate Island is being removed. The Rivers of America has not changed since Walt walked the property in 1954 and decided it’s path. Even this revelation didn’t waver my confidence that Disneyland is an ever changing tapestry and meant to change over time.
So now with this information, we find that the closure list during the 1 1/2 year construction is going to be:
- The Mark Twain
- The Sailing Ship Columbia
- The Rafts to Tom Sawyer Island
- Pirate Island (formerly Tom Sawyer Island)
- Davy Crockett’s Explorer Canoes
- The Disneyland Railroad
And permanent closures include:
- Big Thunder Jamboree
- Big Thunder Barbecue
- Big Thunder Ranch
I did some reading and the capacity for these attractions and their historical numbers showed that a quarter of the park’s real estate was being used on about 5000 visitors per day….that’s it. Let’s figure that on an average day, Disneyland (not including California Adventure) sees 50k-60k people at any one time. That’s a lot of real estate for such a small number of people visiting that area of attractions. Yes, the Mark Twain ride is a nice relaxing journey through old America and Pirate Island has tons to offer kids that like to run around and explore. So, still I wasn’t too upset about the changes. Some of them were sad to see change but I held fast to Walt’s quote.
Then I really got to thinking. Star Wars Land…..Star Wars Land…. hmm. My brain ran through: Main Street America, Fantasy, Tomorrow, Adventure, the Frontier. These were the original lands created by Walt and his vision. They all had a theme that many things could fit into. Then they added New Orleans Square which led to ghosts, pirates and Mardi Gras. Still an open concept that new things could be fit into. Next was Bear Country and even that was considered too narrow of a concept and changed to Critter Country to allow for a more broad spectrum of characters when Splash Mountain was added to the park. Then Toon Town was given some real estate. If you couldn’t call the Fab 5 “toons”, then what the heck were they? So that fit too with plenty of room for the population of toons to grow.
Then I thought about Star Wars Land again. It’s 14 acres devoted to 1 franchise. There is no room for anything else. Now I know that Star Wars was a large investment for Disney and they absolutely are in the business of making money. But let’s really think about this. Every other land of Disneyland has room in it’s concept for at least 2 movie franchises, if not more. Star Wars Land does not. That is all that will ever occupy these 14 acres short of tearing it down in 20 years for something else.
Before the official announcement that Star Wars Land was going into Disneyland, there were rumors that Star Wars and Marvel were going to be the driving force for the creation of a third park in
Anaheim. The rumor was that the Toy Story Parking Lot and all the Disney Cast Member parking next to it was going to be turned into the next greatest park for Anaheim. I went to Google Earth, pulled up Disneyland, and then moved over (with the same amount of zoom on Google Earth) to the Toy Story parking lot. The area of all that parking is roughly the same as Disneyland. It was going to cost a bit of money to build…but come on. A third park in Anaheim? Annual passes are already $1050.00 a year with no block out dates for 2 parks. To put that in perspective, Walt Disney World’s annual passes are $830.00 for 4 parks, 2 water parks, the ESPN complex and access and green fees at one of their golf courses and no block out dates. For just three parks, I would have expected to pay $1400.00 for my annual pass. And I would have done it willingly because Star Wars and Marvel are entertaining enough to sustain their own property. Especially if you create entertaining attractions that do what Walt said always worked….tell a story.
So after lots of reading and thinking about Star Wars Land, my opinion has changed. It doesn’t fit in with the ideas and format of Disneyland. I am all for a Star Wars themed area but it should be in it’s own park. The best way I can describe it is if these changes to the Disneyland Railroad and Rivers of America and everything else that is changing was for a Fantasyland expansion to add a Frozen ride and a Tangled ride or whatever else and I would have been fine with it. We’ve had Frozen stuck down our throats for the last few years until we’re sick of it, but it fits the theming. The real estate could evolve within the ideas of Disneyland over the years. Star Wars Land does not fit inside Disneyland and can not evolve outside of Star Wars…but i’ll be right there in a year and a half to see it. Maybe that will change my mind.
Thanks for following along and check back in a couple weeks. I have a trip to Disneyland planned for this upcoming weekend and I plan to take pictures of the closures to post to a new and updated page.