Since buying Lucasfilm in 2012, Walt Disney (DIS 0.72%) has not only restored the luster of the Star Wars franchise, but it has also grown the fan base.
The company has released two well-received films in the series. One, The Force Awakens, advanced the story lines from George Lucas' first six films. The other, Rogue One, was a standalone movie that told a story related to the original Star Wars using mostly new characters.
In addition to those two movies and the many more that are planned, the company has begun building Star Wars lands at its Florida and California theme parks. The biggest additions in the history of Disney World and Disneyland, the new lands have been mostly shrouded in secrecy.
Heading into the company's D23 Expo, which ran July 14-16 in Anaheim, near Disneyland, Star Wars and Disney fans had heard rumors, but little had been confirmed. That changed at the fan event, where, in addition to sharing details about other new theme-park attractions and upcoming movies, the company shared extensive details on its Star Wars lands, including revealing what they'll be called.
A galaxy far, far away
The two-new 14-acre lands will be called Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge, Walt Disney Parks & Resorts Chairman Bob Chapek revealed at D23. Instead of re-creating an existing planet from the film universe's existing canon, the company instead chose to create a new one. That allows the heavily themed lands to offer familiar experiences without being tied directly to what's already been seen on film.
Galaxy's Edge lets theme-park guests "visit a remote trading port on the edge of wild space, where Star Wars characters and their stories come to life," according to a company blog. An immersive experience, the park represent a first for the company, in that visitors will become part of the story as well.
The lands, which will be the same at Disneyland in California and at Disney Hollywood Studios in Florida, will feature two major rides, both which were previously announced, albeit with little detail offered.
One attraction will make visitors feel as if they're "on a Star Destroyer inside a hangar bay." Disney didn't share many details about this ride but did not that "it's an attraction built on a scale we've never done before."
The second ride lets theme-park visitors take the controls of Han Solo's iconic ship, the Millennium Falcon. This will be a unique experience for each rider, in that how you perform and the choices you make affect not only the ride but also your status in the immersive environment after you get off.
No specific dates have been given for the opening of each Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge. Both will open in 2019, with the Disneyland version taking off first, followed by the one at Disney's Hollywood Studios.
It's all about immersion
In addition to the two Star Wars lands, Disney plans to create a Star Wars-themed resort at Disney World. Chapek explained in a blog post that a new immersive resort would be part of a new concept called Disney 360:
It's unlike anything that exists today. From the second you arrive, you will become a part of a Star Wars story! You'll immediately become a citizen of the galaxy and experience all that entails, including dressing up in the proper attire. ... It is 100% immersive, and the story will touch every single minute of your day, and it will culminate in a unique journey for every person who visits.
It's all about Harry
It's fair to call the Star Wars lands Disney's answer to Comcast's (CMCSA -0.79%) Universal Studios and its wildly successful Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Lands based on the J.K. Rowling books have upped the ante for big-ticket theme parks.
Universal Studios previously had other rides that equaled or even surpassed Disney's best. The Potter lands, however, made Disney's parks seem a little outdated.
The Mouse House has fired back with the immersive Pandora based on Avatar at Animal Kingdom, but its big answer will be the Star Wars lands. There's no reason to believe the opening of these lands won't be the most successful in Disney history, stealing back some mojo -- and some customers -- from Universal Studios.
That's good for Disney, but it's even better for consumers, since Comcast isn't sitting idly by. Universal Studios Florida just opened the Volcano Bay water park along with a ride themed to Jimmy Fallon and The Tonight Show. Next year, the company plans to add a ride based on The Fast and the Furious, while longer-range plans call for a land based on Nintendo's characters.
Call it a theme-park arms race, where both companies must invest to keep up with the other. This ends a period for Disney in which it could just add character meeting spots or a minor new show and tout that to bring in customer. But, in the long run, these investments should increase attendance while enhancing the overall value of the company's parks.