Are you ready to live inside the Star Wars universe?
That's the promise of Star Wars Land, the newest addition to both U.S. Disney parks, being built now at Disneyland and Walt Disney World's Hollywood Studios. At Star Wars Celebration Orlando this past weekend, representatives from both Lucasfilm and Disney Imagineering, the team behind all the amusement park amazingness that millions experience every year, gave several new details about what fans can expect at the parks when they open sometime in 2019.
The location of the park won't be an existing place Star Wars fans already know, like Tatooine or Jakku or Hoth. Instead, it's a brand-new in-story outpost on a planet somewhere along the Unknown Regions that fans haven't seen before but, according to Story Group's Pablo Hidalgo, "has been there for thousands of years; you're just discovering it." The point of this is to help people "live their own Star Wars story," added Scott Trowbridge, Creative Executive of Disney Imagineering. "It has its own history, its own story, that you'll be able to discover," Hidalgo teased.
In an introduction video, featuring Trowbridge, Rian Johnson, Dave Filoni and other Star Wars creatives and executives, the in-progress building was shown, as well as some new concept art. Lucasfilm and Imagineering are working very closely together with the Story Group developing that history of this newly discovered planet. As for just where it is, well, Hidalgo anticipated the question.
"For the cartographers out there, we know exactly where in the galaxy this planet is, but we're not telling you just yet. We have examined what the ramifications of where it is on the map are," he promised. Trowbridge teased, "This used to be a vibrant trading post in the pre-hyperspace days, but now it’s a den for smugglers, adventures, people who don’t want to be found. All the interesting people!"
The key to building a Star Wars land that will make people feel like they live there is in designing of every aspect of the experience. That means visuals, audio and, yes, even smells. What does Star Wars smell like? "You'll have to wait and experience that," Hidalgo said with a laugh.
When designing the visual component, it was treated very much like the recent "Sequel trilogy" films. That means going back to the original Ralph McQuarrie design artwork from the 1970s and working with Lucasfilm designer Doug Chiang. They also went to far-flung locations across the world, where real-world vibrant marketplaces still exist, for on-location scouting. That all presented its own challenges, however.
"When we're designing movie sets, it's for a specific point in time. This is more challenging because you need everything to look good at any time of day and account for weather. The illusion is going to be completely immersive," Chiang said. Like a giddy child, he added, "I can't wait!"
The rides themselves will be not just rides but true interactive experiences that will extend beyond the ride itself. Asa Kalama, who is working on the Millennium Falcon ride, for example, promised the ride experience would be unique. It's not just a simulation!
"We’re not just going to let you ride in the Millennium Falcon; we're going to let you fly it. You and your flight crew will actually control it," Kalama said. That, however, also comes with ramifications. If, for example, you fly recklessly and bang the Falcon up, while you'll still get to the end of your journey, those moves might follow you out into the world. You could go to the Cantina or another location in Star Wars Land and have someone tell you that Chewbacca is looking for you because of what you did to the Falcon.
Additionally, the battle between the First Order and the Resistance (and even neutral folks like Bounty Hunters) will be fought not just in a simulation or ride experience but in the real world as well. As fans declare their allegiance for one side or the other, they'll notice the park experience changing along with it. While they didn't get into details, that could mean things like more First Order patrols or more clandestine meetings happening in side alleys and seedy corners.
All told, the new parks sound like truly incredible in-universe experiences for Star Wars fans. If Imagineering is calling this "the biggest single project in the history of Imagineering," fans should certainly be in for a treat in 2019.