Disney’s Hollywood Studios gets green light to develop Star Wars Land

Disney's Hollywood Studios could be the future home of Star Wars LandFollowing up with confirmation on some breaking Disney park news: our sister website TheStarWarsSaga.com has independently verified the news from two sites that park planners for Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Orlando are moving ahead on large scale expansion project that is likely to include a Star Wars Land.

Robert Niles at Theme Park Insider published his story Thursday afternoon that George Kalogridis, newly minted President of Walt Disney World as of January 2013, has gotten the go-ahead on a two-part expansion plan for the movie-based Disney theme park in Florida.  Those two parts to increase the attraction value at DHS are: driving a duplicate of the wildly successful Cars Land — a huge hit for Kalogridis at Disney’s California Adventure park — across country to Orlando, and installing a brand-new Star Wars Land around DHS’s existing Star Tours attraction. Niles cites “multiple sources” within the company as confirming this latest green light phase to be approved, though of course he’s not attributing such confirmation to any on-the-record names just yet.  Fair enough, that’s often how these things work.

Eric at the STAR WARS-based website TheForce.net picked up on that story and added their own anonymous-but-knowledgeable source who confirms the expansion project for DHS, but also adds discussions by “Disney supervisors” that discussions are already in the works about adding a Mos Eisley-stype Cantina restaurant to the proposed Star Wars Land — a design concept originally proposed for Disneyland Paris in the past. Given how Disney regularly saves and recycles uncompleted project designs and attractions for their parks, this idea of a new Star Wars Land featuring a Cantina-look-alike restaurant is both consistent in practice and a no-brainer idea in execution if the new land actually gets built.

Niles speculates a bit about where both the Cars Land and Star Wars Land might land on the Disney’s Hollywood Studios map, supplanting existing areas and/or attractions in both locations, and surmises that this expansion project might have a target completion date in 2018 unless The Mouse pushes work onto the fast track.

Meanwhile TheForce.net adds that their source also expressed the possibility of “new levels added to Star Tours and some more interactive attractions, possibly an additional ride” to the existing Star Tours: The Adventure Continues ride, which was just enhanced with 3D video and new motion effects at both Orlando and Anaheim parks in 2011, and updated at Tokyo Disneyland this May. I have to question this idea a little — without better hard info to back it up — since it doesn’t seem too logical to beef up DHS’s Star Tours ride with new “levels” and “interactive attractions” if Disney’s going to build an entire Star Wars Land around it, unless this new “Land” is actually going to be a very small addition to the map which seems unlikely.

Instead, a genuine new, park-expanding Star Wars Land at DHS should feature at least a couple new STAR WARS-themed attractions in addition to Star Tours, not piled on top of one that already exists. Simply making an uber-Star Tours would only increase the lines for that one attraction while not actually improving parkwide ride capacity at all. When Cars Land opened at DCA last year, its 12-acres boasted three new attractions: the blockbuster hit Radiator Springs Racers plus Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree for the littlest drivers and Luigi’s Flying Tires. If a Star Wars Land is truly built to expand DHS, then it logically must include at least one new attraction, likely two or more, in addition to the crowd pleaser that is Star Tours already in place — certainly adding a STAR WARS galaxy restaurant alone won’t do the trick, either. That’s no way to fill in, let’s say conservatively, 6 to 8 acres of new land given the STAR WARS brand and expect it to enthrall Rebellion heroes and heroines (young and old) who have awaited a Disney-made STAR WARS environment for a decade or two.

Darth Vader tries to stop your ship in Star Tours: The Adventure ContinuesNaturally Star Tours: The Adventure Continues was redesigned to be a modular-programmed attraction in 2011 with multiple destinations available in a randomly selected presentatino to riders. The effect is a stunner, making lines for this attraction grow not quite 12 parsecs long but close, and FastPasses sell out quickly each day in Florida and California. It’s not stretching logic much that this hit ride could use some new planet destinations and character appearances by 2018 to keep Star Tours fresh and exciting, though such an upgrade would still require a significant portion of downtime to reprogram the ride vehicles for the new show elements. That means shutting down Star Tours again before this new Star Wars Land opens. That’s not a huge problem but it’s something to consider, although if this new Star Wars Land were built adjacent to the existing Star Tours attraction, such downtime and area closures might be required anyway during construction. Star Tours could shut down for a while and get reprogrammed while construction of nearby Star Tours Land wraps up, and then it all gets a new grand opening ceremony in 2018. I can see that happening.

Given what a huge payoff Disney received for their reported $1 billion investment into Cars Land at Disney’s California Adventure, resulting in an estimated 23% bump in that park’s attendance after slacking behind Disneyland’s figures since its opening day, it’s little wonder that Kalogridis has been transported to Orlando to work the same magic at the WDW and Disney’s Hollywood Studios specifically. Adding a duplicate, though probably bigger, Cars Land would boost DHS’s park profile alone among East Coast guests and globe-hopping tourists; but adding the first ever Disney-decidated Star Wars Land to the same park would be a one-two punch felt around the theme park galaxy in terms of ride geek excitement!

This news, if it indeed pans out as reported, does potentially eclipse the light of another rumored and tantalizing prospect: the highly-speculative idea that Disney would build an entirely new Star Wars-based theme park in Orlando. It seems consistent that Disney, planning ahead for at least a decade of park concepts, would have to choose between expanding DHS with a Star Wars Land or building a Star Wars park in Florida, not both. I’ve speculated for a while that Disney, now owning both Marvel and STAR WARS mega-franchises, would eventually plan on creating stand-alone parks to exploit both properties, and that Orlando — given that WDW has become the home base for Star Wars Weekends in the U.S. — would be the logical venue of a Star Wars theme park that would inherit this yearly event in its own separate-admission galaxy. There would be little logic in building a Star Wars-only park that didn’t include Star Tours, so that attraction might have to jump ship from DHS should such a park get built one day. Moving one attraction would be relatively easy compared to dismantling and entire Star Wars Land, on the other hand; so if DHS gets its rumored Star Wars Land, the project seems to imply that no Star Wars stand-alone park is slated for Florida any time soon. That would leave California as the only other Disney resort in America to host a potential Star Wars theme park, though such a giant build would then either compete with Orlando as the host of Star Wars Weekends for fans, or steal the event away from Florida all together as Disney’s way to help launch their new park in Anaheim. We’ll leave such speculation for another day, but the ramifications of a new Star Wars Land expanding Disney’s Hollywood Studios park aren’t to be overlooked as Disney eventually makes its themed entertainment mark with George Lucas’ film franchise somewhere, someday. As Vader might say, it is their destiny.

More on this story as we get confirmed news.

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