When Will Disney Build a Star Wars Land?
In the end, despite much anticipation, Disney (DIS) didn't use much of the Force, Luke.
Disney hosted its biennial D23 fan club expo in Anaheim over the weekend, and while Star Wars promised to be a major part of the festivities, the family entertainment giant was surprisingly tight-lipped about the iconic sci-fi franchise.
There was little to say by Disney executives on the seventh installment of the movie series that J.J. Abrams will be bringing to a multiplex near you in two years. As for Star Wars-themed attractions, Disney was equally cryptic on any new rides, shows, and attractions that it may open to cash in on the global popularity of its Star Wars characters.
There was a Star Wars display hinting at potential attractions, but good luck deciphering the crates on display with lettering indicating that they contain everything from assorted lightsabers to bantha milk. One crate appeared to have housed R2-D2 until he carved his way out. Is the suggestion here that we'll be getting an interactive ride where guests can swing about virtual sabers for points, step into the Mos Eisley cantina or some other elaborate theme restaurant to order the creamy blue bantha beverage, and go on an R2-D2's Great Escape thrill ride? We just don't know, yet.
Clearly something is coming. The crates were addressed to Disney's imagineering department, where new attractions are developed. Fans will simply have to wait.
What an Amazing Synergy You've Discovered
When Disney stunned investors by revealing that it would be spending more than $4 billion to acquire George Lucas' Lucasfilm, the chatter immediately turned to what it could do with the potent Star Wars franchise that seemed to be languishing under its creator.
There were no rational fears that Disney would dumb down the defining science fiction property. Mickey Mouse and Pluto weren't going to be cast as Han Solo and Chewbacca, respectively. Minnie Mouse wasn't going to channel Princess Leia. Donald Duck wouldn't be voicing Darth Vader. Disney spent billions buying Pixar and Marvel before Lucasfilm, and it has been smart enough to stay out of the way of the creative process that made those companies tick.
But when "Star Wars: Episode 7" hits the silver screen in two years, it's a safe bet that Disney will back the release with Disney Store consumer products. It wouldn't be a shock to see ABC or Disney Channel broadcast the first six movies in anticipation or create spinoffs based on lesser characters. You just know that cool video games will be coming.
However, Disney's biggest starring role for the franchise and its familiar characters may very well reside in its theme parks.
I've Got a Good Feeling About This
Disney already has Star Wars attractions at a couple of its parks around the world.
Closer to home, Star Tours -- a motion simulator ride -- has been entertaining guests at Disneyland in California and Hollywood Studios in Florida for ages. However, even after a recent update it's not one of the most popular attractions at either park. At the end of the day, it's just a motion simulator ride.
Outside of R2-D2 and a pre-show cameo by C-3PO, the original Star Tours lacked a presence from the franchise's stars.
This is a problem that will likely be rectified in time for the 2015 debut of the new movie. The stars of the new movie themselves can even pitch in if it helps make any future additions more relevant.
The crates at D23 referred to a "Project Orange Harvest" and it wouldn't be a surprise to see Disneyland get the first crack at a new Star Wars attraction. Will it be a single ride or will Disney give Star Wars its own big chunk of real estate, as rival Comcast (CMCSA) did with Harry Potter two years ago at Islands of Adventure?
Comcast's theme park experienced a sharp spike in attendance after The Wizarding World of Harry Potter opened as a park within a park. Star Wars certainly has enough ammo to generate even greater buzz for Disney.
These Are the Droids You're Looking For
Popular chatter on Disney fan sites has been playing up the idea of a villains-themed park since the 1990s, which would giving the company a chance to break out wilder rides than the relatively tame fare at its existing parks. Florida certainly has more than enough land for it to happen, and now that Disney has acquired Pixar and Marvel, it can serve up fiercer baddies than Captain Hook and Cruella de Vil.
However, the next step will likely be an elaborately themed "land" in an existing park with a handful attractions that will aim to raise the bar from The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
What might Disney do when its abundant financial and technological resources meet a potent portfolio of characters? We haven't seen Disney do a lot with Marvel characters in terms of actual rides, but it's also limited with what it can do in Florida since Comcast's park owns certain Marvel character rights. There are no similar restrictions with Star Wars.
We don't know much, but we know that Disney doesn't cut a $4 billion check the way it did to Lucas without a vision for making its investment worth so much more.
Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz owns shares of Walt Disney, and he's been covering the Central Florida theme park scene since the 1990s with his IslandsOfAdventure.com and MyDisney websites. The Motley Fool recommends Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of Walt Disney. Try any of our newsletter services free for 30 days.