The stars are aligning just right for Disney (NYSE:DIS) this week. Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance opened at Disney World on Thursday, and the next-gen attraction is living up to the hype. There was a roughly one-hour outage during its first morning of operation -- and several shorter delays along the way -- but the important takeaway is that even jaded riders are walking away impressed from the bar-raising experience.
There's a lot riding on the new attraction's success, and not just because the 14-acre Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge expansion where the ride rests has failed to deliver a substantial uptick in crowd levels since the first phase opened at Disneyland in May and Disney World three months later. Rise of the Resistance will open in California next month, a resort that can use a boost after back-to-back quarters of year-over-year declines in turnstile clicks. A rousing reception to the new ride helps validate the bi-coastal expansion, but that's just the first of the many important benefits to a successful debut.
Riding the storm out
Rise of the Resistance is a hit, and the only challenge now is dealing with the capacity constraints. Disney's Hollywood Studios attracts an average of more than 30,000 guests a day, and naturally those levels spike during ride openings and peak holiday seasons. Rise of the Resistance can only accommodate less than half of the park's daily attendance under optimal conditions, and with the initial surge in visitors, that means the virtual queueing system that Disney has set up has filled to capacity shortly after 8 a.m. on its first two days of availability.
The silver lining for Disney shareholders is that guests have to arrive early and plan on sticking around -- or at least returning -- later in the day when their reservation window opens to experience Rise of the Resistance. Disney introduced queue reservation systems to keep folks out of long lines and busy shopping, eating, and drinking. Rise of the Resistance should excel on that front, but there's more to this than just pumping up in-park spending per capita.
Disney is also busy building out a Star Wars-themed hotel adjacent to Disney's Hollywood Studios, fashioned as a starship. We found out on Tuesday that Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser will begin taking guests on two-night immersive stays starting in 2021. A big part of this lodging experience is a unique transportation system whisking guests to Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge without interrupting the sci-fi storytelling experience. If Galaxy's Edge was a dud -- and some naysayers have argued that was the case until Thursday morning's head-turning rollout of Rise of the Resistance -- it would be hard to get folks to pay a Luke Skywalker arm and a leg to pay for the high-priced lodging adventure that seamlessly blends into the in-park expansion.
There's also the benefit of what the ride's successful initial reception does for the Star Wars franchise. The new attraction stars Rey and Kylo Ren -- the two key characters in the current trilogy that will come to an end at a multiplex near you later this month. A jaw-dropping ride doesn't guarantee that the movie will follow suit, but it should help drum up support for a storyline that has disappointed some franchise purists so far.
Disney's secret sauce has always been its ecosystem, making it one of the market's top stocks. If a product or franchise excels in one of its business segments it can quickly find ways to have it cash in throughout the media empire. Between last month's successful debut of The Mandalorian on Disney+ and now a critical ovation for Rise of the Resistance, the Star Wars franchise is heating up at a perfect time. Disney World is getting the ride that it wants this week, and come Jan. 17 Disneyland will get the ride it needs.