This is going to be a big year for Walt Disney's (NYSE:DIS) Star Wars franchise. The ninth and final installment in the series of trilogies will hit theaters on Dec. 20. The launch of the Disney+ streaming video service later this year should have at least one original series spun off from the Star Wars universe. However, the more immediate impact will be felt at the media giant's domestic theme parks, where construction crews and bar-raising imagineers are months away from rolling out Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge on both coasts.
Disney CEO Bob Iger said last month that the 14-acre expansion could debut at the original Disneyland in California as early as June. Florida's version is slated to open in late 2019. Most of the chatter seemed to point to a debut at Disney's Hollywood Studios in Florida taking place in October, if not November, just ahead of the highly anticipated film's theatrical release. However, comments made during this week's earnings call suggest that Disney World's expansion could be open by September.
A galaxy far, far away
Addressing an analyst question on operating and marketing expenses ramping up ahead of Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge's debut during Tuesday's fiscal first-quarter earnings call, Disney CFO Christine McCarthy mentioned that Florida's expansion should open "later in the fiscal year." Disney's fiscal year ends at the end of September, so instead of a late fall rollout we could be looking at early fall, and possibly even late summer for the resort's most ambitious addition in more than 20 years.
This is a pretty big deal. Theme park watchers figured that Disney was conceding that fiscal 2019 would be a wash in Florida, especially once the House of Mouse began offering free dining plans for folks booking on-site resort and ticket packages for trips this summer from July 5 through the end of September. This is typically a busy time of year at Disney World, and the heightened promotional activity during peak season suggested that Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge wouldn't open until well after the last of the comped diners checked out.
The earlier-than-expected debut could naturally result in a pop in attendance and revenue during the fiscal fourth quarter, and having the new land open for all of next fiscal year's first quarter -- during the potent holiday season -- would also jack up the segment's fortunes.
Disney knows it has a golden ticket here, and that's before guests chime in on what they think about the two new high-tech rides and the richly themed environment. Iger doesn't expect to spend a lot on marketing, realizing that diehard fans will come anyway. Creating a feeding frenzy will only drum up more negative travel experiences than necessary as Disney deals with the logistics of long lines to get in and out of the park and parking lot, as well as ride queues that should eat up hours of a visitor's vacation.
Disney shareholders and Star Wars fans want the new expansion to open sooner rather than later, and it seems as if they will get their wish. Then it will be on to speculation about when the immersive Star Wars-themed resort hotel at Disney World will open. Snapping up Lucasfilm is the intergalactic gift for Disney that keeps on giving.