New Star Wars Lands to Blast Off at Disneyland and Disney World

  • 01 of 09

    Disney Parks' Creative Force Awakens

    Star Wars Land coming to Disney Parks
    ••• Disney/Lucasfilm. Used with permission.

    February 2016 update: Disney presented a Disneyland 60th anniversary celebration TV special on ABC (the network that is part of its vast media empire) and included a segment about the Star Wars lands hosted by none other than Harrison Ford. The special didn't reveal too much that hadn't already been divulged. Although Disney is still referring to the projects as "Star Wars-themed lands," Han Solo, er Mr. Ford, called them "The Star Wars Experience." That may or may not be the official name.

    Previously written in 2015: After many months of vague promises from company honchos and speculation by rabid fans, Disney CEO Bob Iger finally made it official: Star Wars rides are on the way.


    Speaking at the 2015 D23 Expo, Mickey's boss said that Star Wars-themed lands -- and yes, that's "lands" with an "s," as in more than one -- will be built at both the original Disneyland Park and at Disney's Hollywood Studios , part of Walt Disney World in...MORE Florida. Big Thunder Ranch and nearby areas will be used at Disneyland. It's unclear exactly where the land will be located at Disney World, although it would make sense to place it near the existing Star Tours ride. 

    Each of the lands will span 14 acres, which is enormous for theme parks. As to the level of detail and immersion, Iger assured the D23 crowd that his merry band of Imagineers would build "jaw-dropping new worlds." Just look at Disney's lush rendering at the top of the page to get a sense of what's coming.

    When, you surely want to know, will all of this galactic goodness be good to go? Opening dates and nearly all other details about the Star Wars park projects are still unknown. Iger and others at the D23 Expo kept emphasizing that such a massive undertaking would take time to develop and build. Reportedly, construction will begin in 2017. I wouldn't anticipate that anything would open much before 2020, so you'll have to hang tight for awhile.

    Pilot the Millennium Falcon

    So, what details were revealed? Rather than re-create an existing world from the Star Wars canon, the lands will represent an entirely new world. According to Bob Chapek, chairman, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, guests will enter a "gateway planet on the outer rim." The way station, which Chapek also referred to as a "remote frontier town," will include established characters as well as new ones.

    There will be two major attractions, both of which sound like they will be media-based rides. One will invite rookie pilots to fly a mission aboard the Millennium Falcon, Han Solo's "bucket of bolts" from the original trilogy. With talk about "customized adventures," it appears that this could be some sort of an interactive ride with many variables.

    The other announced attraction will place visitors in the middle of a battle between the First Order and the Resistance. If that doesn't sound familiar, it's because the story will focus on the new movie, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which will open in December 2015.

    Care for Some Blue Milk?

    In addition to the blockbuster rides, expect the Star Wars lands to be encompassing and rich environments that will be feasts for the senses. At D23, Scott Trowbridge, portfolio creative executive and the Imagineer tapped to lead the Star Wars projects, hinted at what's to come.

    "Who ever wondered what Bantha fodder smelled like?" he teased. (The foul-smelling food is used as a pejorative term in the Star Wars universe.) Trowbridge also indicated that guests might be able to taste blue milk, a yummy treat. I don't know whether either of the items will be available for actual consumption, but there will be a Cantina restaurant with themed dishes.

    That kind of multi-sensory focus and attention to detail is indicative of the extreme level of themeing that the major park operators are now incorporating into their lands. Disney may have pioneered the concept of the theme park, but arch-rival Universal took themeing to new levels with the impeccable Wizarding World of Harry Potter Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade lands at its Orlando resort. Harry will head west into Disneyland's playground when Universal Studios Hollywood opens its Potter land in 2016.

    Disney responded with its over-the-top, single-intellectual-property project, Cars Land at Disney California Adventure. The new Star Wars lands will continue the high-stakes brinkmanship. Iger said that the intergalactic outpost will be filled with humanoids, aliens, and droids and that the shops and eateries will be "run by local inhabitants. Nothing will be out of character."

    Nothing but Star Wars

    All of the devotion to detail and wild-soudning attractions are enough to make a droid blow a gasket in anticipation. Star Wars and theme park fans may also melt down before the Force awakens on the as-yet-unannounced opening date in some year far, far away. Have no fear droids and fans. Disney's got you covered.

    To capitalize on the synergy from the new film's Christmas 2015 release (and steal some thunder from Universal's upcoming Potter and King Kong attractions to boot), Star Wars mania began in earnest in 2015. In fact, park guests may be belting out a hearty rendition of "Nothing but Star Wars" with all that's now open and on the way. Here's a rundown of what to expect in the months and years leading up to the completion of the new lands:

    • Star Wars Launch Bay - Visitors can now meet characters, buy some special merch (of course), chow down on some themed treats, and ogle artifacts related to the new film at a popup exhibit. At Disneyland, the Launch Bay joins forces with the Marvel-themed Super Hero HQ in Tomorrowland. The Animation Courtyard serves as the location at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
    • Star Tours – The Adventures Continue - The original Star Wars-themed attraction got a reboot in late 2015 with new stories culled from the movie trilogy. Speaking of Star Tours, what will become of the simulator attractions? Since Disneyland's new Star Wars project will be built away from Tomorrowland, the imperative to maintain continuity dictates that Star Tours should close. Perhaps Disney will move it to the new land and repurpose the existing attraction (maybe turn it into the Iron Man Experience, which is on tap at Shanghai Disneyland?). At Disney's Hollywood Studios, the new land will likely be built adjacent to Star Tours and will be able to encompass the ride.
    • Jedi Training Academy - At both parks, the popular experience has introduced new characters based on the animated TV show, “Star Wars Rebels.”
    • Season of the Force – Based on Disney World's successful Star Wars Weekends, both parks are hosting new limited-time seasonal events.
    • Hyperspace Mountain - As part of Season of the Force, Disneyland now features a Star Wars-themed overlay to Space Mountain.
    • Star Wars Fireworks - Starting in spring 2016, Disney's Hollywood Studios will cap its evenings with a themed pyrotechnics show.

    Next up: Check Out the Rockwork

    Continue to 2 of 9 below.
  • 02 of 09

    Check Out the Rockwork

    AMong the attractions at new Star Wars Lands will be a ride featuring the Millennium Falcon.
    ••• Disney/Lucasfilm. Used with permission.

    Based on the renderings, the 14-acre lands will include vast amounts of rockwork and other architectural flourishes. That's the Millennium Falcon in the foreground. The iconic starship will be featured in one of the lands' two major attractions.

    Disney has not revealed any costs. But the ambitious, elaborate-looking and -sounding Star Wars project will surely cost in the hundreds of millions dollars -- and possibly in the billion-dollar range. That's for each land. That's a lot of Galactic Credits. 

    ​Next up: Bustling Frontier Town

    Continue to 3 of 9 below.
  • 03 of 09

    Bustling Frontier Town

    Disney's new Star Wars Lands will be highly immersive.
    ••• Disney/Lucasfilm. Used with permission.

    Don't look now, but isn't that C3PO and R2D2 chatting with a certain princess? When they open, the lands will include alien creatures, humanoids, and other assorted Star Wars characters. Expect pervasive themeing throughout the new areas.

    ​Next up: Line Up

    Continue to 4 of 9 below.
  • 04 of 09

    Line Up

    Star Wars Land concept art 1
    ••• Disney

    Disney released this piece of concept art in February 2016. It appears to be one of the queues, perhaps for one of the major Star Wars attractions. Whatever it is, it sure looks sweet.

    Next up: Guarded by storm troopers

    Continue to 5 of 9 below.
  • 05 of 09

    Guarded by Storm Troopers

    Star Wars Land concept art 2
    ••• Disney.

    Another piece of concept art released in February 2016. Storm troopers will, apparently, be scattered throughout the lands.

    Next up:  Mouse Ears and Lightsabers

    Continue to 6 of 9 below.
  • 06 of 09

    Mouse Ears and Lightsabers

    Star Wars Land concept art 3
    ••• Disney

    In another piece of concept art released in February 2016, you can get a sense of the scale of the land. Note how the young visitor in Mouse ears is dwarfed by the ship. Is that the Millennium Falcon?

    Next up: New Star Wars Event

    Continue to 7 of 9 below.
  • 07 of 09

    New Star Wars Event

    Star Wars Launch Bay will promote the new film at the Disney parks.
    ••• Disney/Lucasfilm. Used with permission.

    The temporary Star Wars Launch Bay exhibits opened in California and Florida with the release of the new Star Wars movie in December 2015. They will likely remain open until the permanent Star Wars lands open.

    ​Next up: Take Off into Hyperspace

    Continue to 8 of 9 below.
  • 08 of 09

    Take Off into Hyperspace

    Disneyland will add Star Wars theme to Space Mountain and call it Hyperspace Mountain.
    ••• Disney/Lucasfilm. Used with permission.

    As part of Season of the Force, Space Mountain at Disneyland has been re-themed to Star Wars. For a limited time, the classic ride is featuring new digital projections, new effects, and enhanced onboard audio.

    ​Next up: But Wait, There's More!

    Continue to 9 of 9 below.
  • 09 of 09

    But Wait, There's More!

    Disney CEO Bob Iger announces new Star Wars Lands.
    ••• Disney. Used with permission.

    Disney CEO Bob Iger announced the new Star War lands at the 2015 D23 Expo. He and his team also made a bunch of other park announcements at the event, including:

    • New Toy Story Land at Disney’s Hollywood Studios - A Slinky Dog coaster, alien saucers ride, and an expanded Toy Story Mania! are coming.
    • Pandora – The World of Avatar - More info was released about the new land coming to Disney's Animal Kingdom.
    • Soarin’ Around the World - Instead of sticking with California, the fabulous Soarin' ride will take off to locations far and wide starting in 2016.