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Disney World and Disneyland Need "Star Wars" Land

By Rick Munarriz - Feb 26, 2016 at 6:05AM

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The leading theme-park operator offers up new details of its richly themed expansion.

We're getting some -- but unfortunately not enough -- new details on Disney's (DIS 0.56%) potentially transformative Star Wars Land expansion at its theme parks. The media giant offered new concept art of the ambitious 14-acre expansion that will take place at both Disneyland in California, and Disney's Hollywood Studios in Florida.

Wonderful World of Disney: Disneyland 60 -- a look back at 60 years of history at Disney's original theme park -- aired on Disney's ABC on Sunday night. Harrison Ford led a brief segment that offered a brief overview of the planned addition that will cash in on the record-setting movie franchise.

Source: Disney.

Outside of new concept art, we didn't really learn a lot. There were details of boarding the Millennium Falcon, firing laser cannons, and banking left and right. "You're in complete control," the pitch promised, but we've known since this past summer that one of the two flagship attractions will involve piloting Han Solo's classic light freighter. There were references to a cantina and meeting droids, but those elements are no-brainers in any expansion. 

More importantly, once again Disney refused to offer an opening date for Star Wars Land. It's true that Disney's been burned before by offering up promised debut dates that it wasn't able to honor. Shanghai Disneyland and Animal Kingdom's Avatar-themed expansion are just a couple of the big projects that have seen their rollout dates get bumped out later. However, theme-park fans and Disney shareholders alike deserve to know more. 

Disney's Hollywood Studios in Florida has closed, or is in the process of closing, several of its attractions to clear the way for the buildout of Star Wars Land. The park is highly unlikely to lower its ticket prices to offset the fewer attractions that will be available for the next few years until Toy Story Land and Star Wars Land will entertain guests. Folks planning their trips a couple of years out may want to know.

We know it will take a long time for patrons to engage in simulated Millennium Falcon piloting experiences. We can use The World of Avatar as a model. Disney announced Animal Kingdom's project in 2011, claiming that these hefty endeavors take five years to see the light of day. Construction would begin in 2013, implying an opening in 2016. The project didn't break ground until 2014, resulting in an announced debut of 2017.

This is the kind of timeline that would make it seem as if we won't see Star Wars Land until 2020, but construction will likely begin a lot sooner than 2017. Disney's already shutting down -- and even demolishing -- former attractions. It's been dismantling Disney's Hollywood Studios for two years.

This also isn't a licensing deal that just happened to come together shortly before it was announced. Disney has owned Lucasfilm since 2012. It has known that Star Wars Land would happen long before it was officially unveiled last summer.

The reluctance to announce a projected opening date until construction actually begins may seem to be the prudent thing to do, but silence makes it seem as if it will take several years before Disney's theme parks benefit from Star Wars Land. It will pay off in the long run, of course, but guarding internal opening forecasts could weigh on the stock's prospects in the near term.

Rick Munarriz owns shares of Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Walt Disney. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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