It's time to see if Disney's (NYSE:DIS) new ride can live up to the hype. The world's leading theme park operator will officially open Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance at Disney's Hollywood Studios on Thursday morning, but tonight it hosts a dedication ceremony and media event where journos, bloggers, and industry dignitaries will get their first taste of the signature attraction that will anchor Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge.
A lot of bar-raising tech has gone into the new attraction, and Disney World has cut it so close with its advertised Dec. 5 opening that it wasn't able to offer cast member and annual pass holder previews the way it typically does with new big-ticket rides to generate feedback and work the kinks out before the general public gets a crack. If this scenario sounds familiar, it could be because Comcast's (NASDAQ:CMCSA) Universal Orlando -- a few I-4 exits away -- found itself in a similar situation when it rushed Hagrid's Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure earlier this year. The Harry Potter-themed multi-launch family coaster has been a downtime disaster since opening nearly six months ago at Universal Orlando's Islands of Adventure.
When you wish upon a Star Wars
Reliability can be an issue when a theme park operator pushes the envelope, and Disney is hoping it can overcome the problems that rival Comcast has experienced with its new family coaster. Things should go smoother for the House of Mouse. Rise of the Resistance won't have to suffer the weather- and even bee-related outages that have plagued Hagrid's Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure this year, since Disney's debutante is an indoor attraction, but both rides are raising the bar with new elements that haven't been attempted before.
History can forgive initial reliability issues, and the reviews for Hagrid's ride are glowing when it's operating according to plan. The ride's lumpy availability isn't making financial headlines, because theme parks remain a small part of Comcast's overall business. It's a different story for Disney, for which the theme parks division is a needle mover, and even more so in this case given the franchise that the ride is based on.
This is a pretty important time for the Star Wars franchise that Disney acquired when it brokered a deal for Lucasfilm. The Mandalorian is the first big hit on Disney+ since last month's launch. The ninth and final installment in the original Star Wars saga hits theaters in two weeks. Then you have this week's debut of Rise of the Resistance, and it can't miss.
Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge hasn't delivered the expected surge in attendance, particularly in Disneyland, where crowds have actually declined in the first two quarters since the expansion's May debut. If Rise of the Resistance isn't a hit in Florida this week it's not likely to fare any better in California when it opens in mid-January.
Disney is doing a lot of things right these days, having hit new all-time highs last week. It's a red-hot blue chip stock, but things can cool off quickly if its two huge Star Wars bets stepping up to the plate in December strike out. We'll go to the movies in two weeks, but for now -- we ride.