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Official D23 Details on STAR WARS Lands Opening in Anaheim and Orlando

The official news came blasting out of the D23 Expo on Saturday like the Millennium Falcon itself: within a few years, new Star Wars Lands will be arising at both Disneyland in Anaheim, California and at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Orlando, Florida. Meanwhile some new Star Wars-themed additions and enhancements will arrive in both parks later this year and in 2016 to coincide with the December 18, 2015 theatrical release of STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS.

Disney Chairman and CEO Bog Iger confirmed the news, and also attending the announcement were THE FORCE AWAKENS stars Harrison Ford, Lupita Nyong’o, John Boyega, Daisy Ridley and Oscar Issac.

STAR WARS LAND HEADLINES

These are the highlights of what we’ll see in the new Star Wars Lands coming to Disneyland and Walt Disney World sometime in the next few years, with groundbreaking to begin in 2017 for an undisclosed opening date:

  • Completely new, immersive environment based on an undisclosed planet in the STAR WARS universe, likely a new planet featured in STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS
  • New attraction based on piloting the Millennium Falcon on a covert mission perhaps based on events in THE FORCE AWAKENS
  • New attraction rumored to be based on an X-wing fighter experience that puts guests into a battle between the Resistance and the First Order as seen in THE FORCE AWAKENS
  • New Cantina experience likely including food, refreshments, live entertainment and character experiences from across the STAR WARS galaxy
  • Complete STAR WARS themed storytelling experience spanning attractions, environment, character interaction and cast members throughout Star Wars Land
  • Additional new Star Tours destination including locations and characters from THE FORCE AWAKENS coming in late 2015
  • New Star Wars Launch Bay exhibits from THE FORCE AWAKENS including character greeting, exhibits and special merchandise offerings coming in 2015
  • Seasons of the Force seasonal event coming to both parks in early 2016, expanding upon the popularity of Star Wars Weekends in Orlando, including:
    Hyperspace Mountain overlay of Disneyland’s Space Mountain in Tomorrowland featuring the thrills of an X-wing starfighter battle
    New fireworks spectacular set to STAR WARS movie scores on weekend nights at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Walt Disney World
  • New characters and villain from the STAR WARS REBELS television series will update the Jedi Training Academy experience for young padawans

Here’s Disney’s official press release statement:

Today at the D23 EXPO 2015, The Walt Disney Company Chairman and CEO Bob Iger announced to an audience of more than 7,500 fans that Star Wars-themed lands will be coming to Disneyland park in Anaheim, California and Disney’s Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida, allowing Star Wars fans to step into the stories from a galaxy far, far away.

Ambitious plans to bring Star Wars to life in the two parks include creating Disney’s largest single-themed land expansions ever at 14-acres each, transporting guests to a never-before-seen planet, a remote trading port and one of the last stops before wild space where Star Wars characters and their stories come to life.

“I am thrilled to announce the next chapter in the long and exciting history between Disney Parks and Star Wars,” said Iger. “Through each new attraction and new land we create, we push the boundaries of what is possible. And as you can imagine, with Star Wars, we are taking that to a whole new level, with a whole galaxy to explore.”

These authentic lands will have two signature attractions, including the ability to take the controls of one of the most recognizable ships in the galaxy, the Millennium Falcon, on a customized secret mission, and an epic Star Wars adventure that puts guests in the middle of a climactic battle.

SETTING THE COURSE FOR STAR WARS LANDS

Released at Disney’s D23 Expo in Anaheim, CA: concept art for a new, unnamed planet environment that will host all-new Star Wars Land expansions in both Disneyland in Anaheim, CA and Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Orlando, FL. This bustling, interactive spaceport will host favorite and new alien characters from across the galaxy. ©2015 Disney Enterprises, Inc./Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved. For editorial news use only.

©2015 Disney Enterprises, Inc./Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

One of the reasons why these new Star Wars Lands have been rumored for so long is now illustrated by the concept artwork released at D23: these new Star Wars adventures and environments will be inspired by and based on the timeline, events and worlds seen in the new STAR WARS films, beginning with THE FORCE AWAKENS opening this December. Walt Disney Imagineers have developed these attraction and land concepts in coordination with production of the new STAR WARS Episode VII story (and beyond) during the film’s pre-production and filming stages to include design and storytelling elements. Presumably this will yield a very cohesive overall experience of allowing Disney park guests to see, hear, feel and walk through this new era of STAR WARS entertainment. At right is another piece of concept art from D23, showing something like a market plaza of this spaceport, teeming with guests intermingling with alien travelers and denizens.
Released at Disney’s D23 Expo in Anaheim, CA: concept art for a new, unnamed planet environment that will host all-new Star Wars Land expansions in both Disneyland in Anaheim, CA and Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Orlando, FL. A squad of First Order stormtroopers straight out of THE FORCE AWAKENS search this scene for Resistance fighters in the D23 slideshow. ©2015 Disney Enterprises, Inc./Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved. For editorial news use only.

©2015 Disney Enterprises, Inc./Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Upon entering these new Star Wars Lands, you walk onto the surface of a new, yet-to-be-named planet located in the Outer Rim — presumably a planet we’ll see in THE FORCE AWAKENS — and its bustling spaceport environment which will host a new Cantina setting filled with human and alien characters from across the Star Wars galaxy. The word “immersive” gets thrown around too much in the themed entertainment biz, but Disney appears to be going the extra mile if these pieces of concept art are accurate to the final results.

Fully costumed characters, aliens, droids and maybe even some patrolling Stormtroopers will further enhance such themed storytelling adventures. Gone will be Disneyland employees wearing ride-themed uniforms with their Earthly nametags displayed as you tour these new Star Wars rides, shops and eateries. As Iger promised D23 fans:

“Nothing in land will be out of character. You’ve never seen a cantina like this before.”

Two more examples of concept art illustrate how the proposed Cantina environments will further entice park guests into a detailed, interactive Star Wars experience:

THE MAIN ATTRACTIONS

Two new attractions promise to put you in the middle of the Star Wars action as you board the iconic Millennium Falcon “on a customized secret mission,” along with what appears to be an X-wing based ride that drops guests into the hot zone of “a climactic battle between the First Order and the Resistance.”
Released at Disney’s D23 Expo in Anaheim, CA: concept art for a new, unnamed planet environment that will host all-new Star Wars Land expansions in both Disneyland in Anaheim, CA and Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Orlando, FL. She may not look like much, but she’s got it where it counts, Disney park fans. Soon guests will board the Millennium Falcon for a customized secret mission across the Star Wars galaxy. ©2015 Disney Enterprises, Inc./Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved. For editorial news use only.

©2015 Disney Enterprises, Inc./Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Featured in both the Original Trilogy of STAR WARS films and in the new episode THE FORCE AWAKENS, the Millennium Falcon is one of those Saga icons that instantly evokes the Star Wars storytelling experience.

Actually boarding the Falcon to fly some daring secret mission will make many fans’ dreams come true when these Star Wars Lands open sometime in the new few years. At left is another piece of concept art from the D23 presentation, focusing on the Falcon experience park guests will enjoy in both Anaheim and Orlando. One would expect the lines for this attraction will be a bit longer than shown here, but standing next to a full-scale Millennium Falcon starship in these new Star Wars Lands will be an unprecedented up-close experience that should easily make both lands must-see destinations on either coast.

Almost nothing has been disclosed about the second attraction mentioned by Iger, and only this USA Today video interview with THE FORCE AWAKENS star Oscar Issac at D23 even hints that the ride might be based on an X-wing fighter battle in space, likely inspired by the upcoming film. This specific ride detail remains unconfirmed and has no accompanying concept art to support or contradict such rumors.

PATIENCE YOU MUST HAVE

Released at Disney’s D23 Expo in Anaheim, CA: concept art for Star Wars Launch Bay, a new interactive fan experience with character greetings and exhibits promoting the release of STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS this December. This new experience debuts at both Disneyland in Anaheim, CA and Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Orlando, FL later this year. ©2015 Disney Enterprises, Inc./Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved. For editorial news use only.

©2015 Disney Enterprises, Inc./Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

These new Star Wars Lands won’t be built anytime soon, especially with construction reportedly scheduled to being in 2017. Not only is this massive park expansion scheduled to coincide with the release of new STAR WARS films including THE FORCE AWAKENS and yet-untitled EPISODE VIII after that, but no such dismantling of 14 acres on the edge of Disneyland can or would take place during the 60th anniversary of Walt’s flagship park in Anaheim. The Diamond Celebration only just kicked off this May and likely will continue for a year up to Summer 2016, so the Anaheim park will be spared the upheaval and crowd flow re-distribution of this major construction job until the 60th party concludes.

But Disney park fans won’t have to wait years for some new Star Wars park projects to speed into Anaheim and Orlando! Work is already underway to open the new Star Wars Launch Bay experience in the hollow shell of the Innoventions building in Disneyland’s Tomorrowland, which our sources say is now gutted inside and ready for rehab. The new blend of Star Wars character greeting opportunities, exhibits and promotions for THE FORCE AWAKENS will occupy the ground floor of Tomorrowland’s iconic round building at the East end, with a return of Marvel meet-and-greet experiences in the Iron Man Tech Presented by Stark Industries, reported to occupy the top floor of the former Innoventions space. In Orlando, the Star Wars Launch Bay experience will soon occupy the Animation Courtyard area of DHS, but without the Marvel-themed superhero neighbors.

Released at Disney’s D23 Expo in Anaheim, CA: poster art for Hyperspace Mountain, the Star Wars-themed overlay of Disneyland’s Space Mountain roller coaster, scheduled to open in early 2016. ©2015 Disney Enterprises, Inc./Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved. For editorial news use only.

Both parks will receive their FORCE AWAKENS show upgrades for Star Tours: The Adventure Continues, with new destinations, battles and characters added to the galactic tour company itineraries by the end of 2015 to parallel the new STAR WARS film’s highly anticipated release.

Disneyland’s Space Mountain will close temporarily for refits to become Hyperspace Mountain by early 2016. This should prove to be a short shutdown for as the overlay will incorporate digital projections and customer audio tracks which can be fitted to the existing indoor roller coaster ride rather quickly.

This popular ride retrofit will be timed for the 2016 launch of Disney’s Star Wars: Season of the Force special event in both parks, with Disney’s Hollywood Studios park gaining a new fireworks spectacular on weekend nights, an explosive show set to the rousing STAR WARS movie score music originally composed by John Williams.

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION

Enhanced map graphic showing DIsneyland current in-park footprint in Anaheim plus the approximate location and size of the new Star Wars Land announced at Disney’s D23 Expo on August 15, 2015. Map graphic created by TheStarWarsSaga.com.At Disneyland park, Star Wars Land will take over a large portion of the North side of the Anaheim park, with is entrance presumed to occupy the current location of Big Thunder Ranch, with the new land expanding northward up to and beyond the berm for its total 14-acre footprint.

The backstage utility, storage and functional buildings like Circle D Ranch outside the berm will be relocated to new areas off-stage locations likely to include the recently announced land purchases across Harbor Blvd. to Disneyland’s southeast border.

The map to the right approximates the new park acreage slated to host a new Star Wars Land in Disneyland, with the park’s current onstage footprint in green and the new Star Wars expansion in blue. This enhanced map graphic also highlights existing areas of Tomorrowland that will get Star Wars content installations and overlays by the end of 2015, including Hyperspace Mountain and the Star Wars Launch Bay exhibit. Currently there is no indication that Star Wars Land will replace Toon Town, as supported by this Tweet from Disneyland Today, the official in-park Twitter feed which appears to limit the new land construction to the west of Toon Town.

Updated enhanced map of Disney’s Hollywood Studios showing possible expansion area for proposed Star Wars Land attractions and shows. Enhanced image by TheStarWarsSaga.com.Currently there is no official information on where the new Star Wars Land will be built at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Orlando, but speculation leads to the possibility that it will be added on behind the currently Star Tours location, as TSWS.com has been speculating for a couple years now.

This location makes logical, if not logistical, sense since DHS’s iconic giant Imperial Walker already stands tall there, beckoning Star Wars fans to return to that galaxy far, far away on Star Tours: The Adventure Continues. With attractions including the American Idol Experience, Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular and possibly even Muppet*Vision 3D tagged to make way for a future Star Wars Land, this would provide plenty of in-park real estate to host a new land with Star Tours as an existing anchor. Also there’s plenty of expansion space for construction beyond the berm at this southeast end of DHS to build the bulk of Star Wars Land behind the scenes until its ready to open. Note that this location remains entirely speculative until official confirmation from Disney pinpoints where the new Star Wars Land will reside at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
OUR REACTION

We’ve been speculating about a Star Wars Land for a couple years by now, and this D23 initial announcement lines up with our expectations in content and perhaps exceeding them in terms of how large an addition this will be to Disneyland — Walt’s original theme park that, unlike Orlando’s DHS, lives landlocked by hotels and freeways in Anaheim. The recently announced property purchases to Disneyland’s southeast, a move harder to predict in the past, easily paved the way for a complete Star Wars Land to land inside Disneyland as backstage buildings and utilities are shuffled around the park’s borders. It’s pleasing to know now that Disneyland can enjoy a full-scale Star Wars Land and not some miniaturized version of a larger Orlando version, where expansion space really isn’t a construction inhibitor.

Much like how Cars Land turned the tide of ticket sales dominance to Disney California Adventure’s favor at the Anaheim resort, we fully expect this new Star Wars environment and its signature attractions to keep Walt’s flagship park competitive — and likely crowded! — for decades to come, as it richly deserves. This is a preferable scenario to shoehorning separate Star Wars rides into Tomorrowland piecemeal over future years while never gaining an actual fulfilling and immersive Star Wars environment to bring the movies to palpable, sense-thrilling life as only Disney can accomplish.

TSWS.com has been lobbying for and proposing a complete Star Wars template land in Anaheim for years already, supposing that this could only happen as a theme overlay of Tomorrowland where Star Tours has imprinted the Lucasfilm brand since 1987. Now perhaps the best of both worlds will be achieved: a preservation of the original Tomorrowland park region (even if it’s in name only by now) while gaining a complete Star Wars Land across the park. Of course, with the addition of Star Wars Launch Bay and the Hyperspace Mountain overlay, Tomorrowland will remain a thematic and brand hodgepodge of Lucasfilm, Pixar and Disney ride themes with assorted eateries and shops that have absolutely nothing to do with Walt’s original vision for Tomorrowland.

Then again, Walt himself found it nearly impossible to keep up with Tomorrow as future events, technologies and theme park interests among guests constantly shifted faster than Tomorrowland could keep pace. I certainly miss classic attractions like Adventure Thru Inner Space and the Carousel of Progress, but even by the 1970s and ’80s such Disneyland classics no longer commanded the attention and crowd traffic they once boasted in my youth. Sadly, their time passed and with them so did the last remnants of Walt’s original futuristic visions for Tomorrowland.

The thematic challenges of Tomorrowland in Anaheim will remain largely unaddressed now, albeit enjoying a good deal more guest traffic when these first Star Wars touches arrive on the scene. Perhaps more importantly, Tomorrowland now avoids disappearing behind wall barriers as construction a Star Wars reconfiguring of the region tears up the space for a couple years. Instead, Anaheim’s Star Wars Land will arise behind Disney-camouflaged walls in an underused corner of the park beginning sometime in 2017, disrupting little in Disneyland but offering much when it finally opens a few years hence as the STAR WARS Sequel Trilogy and Anthology films dominate movie theaters over the next five years.

We have no doubt the Force will be with Disneyland and Disney’s Hollywood Studios parks for a long time.

That’s our recap of the headlines blasting out of D23 this weekend. Stay tuned to TheStarWarsSaga.com for the many future updates we’ll be reporting as news and eventual construction develops in the coming months and years!