Disneyland to get STAR WARS design skin and speeder ride?
Lately, there has been a lot of opinion and rumor back-and-forth online about the future extent of the supposed Star Wars Land that may arise in Disney’s Hollywood Studios park in Orlando, as TSWS.com has previously reported here and here. Will it be the $200 million extravaganza reported or perhaps a much smaller scale overlay surrounding the Florida hub of Star Tours: The Adventure Continues? TSWS.com is still sticking with the larger plan until contradicting facts arise, but now some talk has appeared discussing how the Force may be felt in Anaheim within the next few years as well.
Micechat reports that a plan is underway to spiff up Tomorrowland in time for Disneyland’s 60th anniversary in 2015, possibly including an “aesthetic re-skinning” of the area that will, at the least, set up a larger scale STAR WARS-makeover for T-land. As part of this gradual (or is it piecemeal?) transformation of Tomorrowland, it’s possible that a design to turn the unused PeopleMover and ill-fated Rocket Rods track above the land into a TRON light cycle thrill ride might now be repurposed (again) to fit a STAR WARS theme.
There are plenty of hovering speeder-style vehicles in the six-so-far STAR WARS feature films that could fit this design bill, from the one-seat speeder craft used by Darth Maul or Count Dooku in Episodes I and II (not likely due to low recognition factor), Episode II’s hot rod speeders buzzing over Coruscant (a more logical fit for “in-town”), Luke’s battered land speeder sold and left on Tatooine (multi-passenger potential but large), Episode V’s snow speeder fighters (same problem of size), to the iconic speeder bikes from the Endor forest chase in Episode VI (a great visual design would have to be adapted for multiple riders to be practical). Of course, there’s always the chance Disney might fire up entirely new vehicles for a Tomorrowland speeder ride as seen in Episode VII by summer 2015. Imagineering designers will have full access to Lucasfilm artwork for the upcoming chapter before director J.J. Abrams even begins production in 2014, giving WDI plenty of lead time to use any new vehicles for the ride design without waiting for the film to open.
Regardless of the ride vehicle’s visual profile, the park demand upon any such designs will be capacity pure and simple: Disney won’t bother retrofitting this woebegone lost attraction that’s sat dormant in Tomorrowland for 13 years if it can’t pull its own weight in guest capacity, and the total real estate this forlorn track now occupies requires it be a much more efficient people-eater. Rocket Rods always suffered from low rider capacity and long lines — it was the first Disneyland attraction to need a Single Rider line just to shorten its unmerited wait times — and Disney park runners won’t repeat that mistake. While the original PeopleMover may not have been an E Ticket thrill ride, its constant motion and uninterrupted loading/unloading design made it incredibly efficient in guest capacity which any higher-speed ride will have a tough time equalling. The track layout was simply never designed for a high-speed attraction and even the addition of banked corners to prevent Rocket Rods’ start-and-stop sputtering ride will still limit such a STAR WARS speeder ride’s potential without significant re-engineering of the entire track design to give guests a true speeder experience. On top of those standalone demands for such a ride, Star Tours’ renewed popularity also begs for a competing attraction in T-land to draw some of its crowds away, making high-capacity of the possible speeder ride a deal breaker must-have while boosting the entire land’s on-ride guest capacity overall.
The burning question remains: where will guests queue up and load onto such a new speeder-style attraction in Anaheim’s crowded Tomorrowland? This is no small matter given how much foot traffic a busier version of the land will generate with an expanded STAR WARS theme built into it. Rocket Rods used to load in the once-emptied CircleVision theater space that’s now occupied by Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters. The PeopleMover’s old short queue switchbacks and up/down escalators simply would not handle the longer guest lines of any STAR WARS-based thrill ride taking over the track, and Disney park designers won’t want a long straggling line of riders waiting down the narrow middle stretch of Tomorrowland. Innoventions still occupies the old Carousel of Progress/America Sings show building, and the Mission to Mars building was downgraded into Pizza Port eatery in 1998. Simply put, this supposed retrofit of the abandoned Rocket Rods track is a ride without an entrance in Tomorrowland’s current configuration. This problem can be solved, certainly, but it may take some creative design and planning to pull it off without significant reconfiguration of T-land as we know it today — a construction project Disney execs have yet to endorse in decades as Tomorrowland as been left behind in park upgrades.
Another rumored upgrade to Anaheim’s future land, according to the Micechat article, is the supposed installation of the Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor show to replace the return of Captain Eo, which replaced Honey, I Shrunk the Kids in 2010. While the Monsters, Inc. show may be a technical fit for this “4-D” theater venue, I’m not convinced it would be a great fit for a potentially STAR WARS-skinned Tomorrowland since it introduces yet another “competing” film franchise into the supposed thematic overlay installed to align the area with George Lucas’ galaxy far, far away. Also, there is much more fervent discussion that a second Monsters, Inc. attraction is already slated for DCA’s Hollywoodland district, the never-installed Closet Door coaster ride originally designed for Orlando. As an expanding neighbor to the Mike & Sulley dark ride already running at DCA and replacing MuppetVision*3D, the Laugh Floor seems like a much more logical and less brand-confusing fit for Disneyland’s sister park to the south than it does in a rebranded Tomorrowland. But time will tell if this is talk or a plan more serious than that.
While an overall STAR WARS theme running through a revised Tomorrowland in Anaheim somewhat betrays Walt’s original intent for the area, that idealistic plan has been whittled away slowly for decades now so the visual and design translation to the STAR WARS brand (now fully owned by Disney) may be inevitable and a populist move — not to mention a smart return on Disney’s investment in buying Lucasfilm. Star Tours has certainly renewed its status as an E Ticket draw for Disneyland, and it’s certain to get new trilogy planet destinations from Episodes VII, VIII and IX beyond 2015. Disney’s acquisition deal certainly makes STAR WARS a current pop culture touchstone of space adventures with robots and starships, even if the whole saga takes place a long time ago. Such a design overlay might feel like it flows back rather naturally from into Tomorrowland from Star Tours at its entrance, and more thematically generic attractions like Innovations can certainly stand up to a STAR WARS skinning on the exterior. Such a design skin would obviously benefit the Jedi Training Academy show currently occupying the Tomorrowland Terrace show space.
A slow rollout of this makeover gives park designers the flexibility to create enough new features in time for Disneyland’s 60th birthday without major construction disrupting all of Tomorrowland right up to 2015. That year will also be a big one for the STAR WARS franchise as Episode VII debuts in theaters that summer, so a movie/park parallel narrative of unveilings certainly speaks to Disney’s penchant for synergy among its entertainment divisions. There is no doubt that a larger STAR WARS presence will be felt in Disney parks over the next few years, the only question is how much of the Force will Disney use and how will they implement it through rides, attractions and theme designs.
TSWS.com will keep scanning for further confirmations of these newer STAR WARS rumors and report back to you fans.