Disney Now and Then: Star Wars Land

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I used to be a padawan at the Jedi Training Academy. And no, I don’t mean I was a little kid volunteering to be a part of the show and now I am grownup and blogging. I mean, I was a PADAWAN in the show. I got to play ‘Star Wars’ as my full-time job. Hello, best job ever. The minute Disneyland embraced the power of the Star Wars storyline as a way of bridging the gap between about 3 generations of Star Wars fans, I was all hands on deck…all hands on Millenium Falcon…you catch my drift?

The minute Star Wars Land was announced at D23 I responded accordingly. My instinct was to jump up and down fist pumping and wondering if I should re-hire at Disneyland in a few years because HELLO, STAR WARS CASTING CALLS. My next not-so-immediate response was still an important one. I realized the weight of what was being announced. Star Wars LAND. Not a star wars ride. Not a new exhibit. An entire new LAND. My blog on this site is dedicated to telling you guys what has changed at the parks from the time I was a Disney cast member in comparison to now. And I can’t think of a bigger way in which the parks are about to change, than the introduction of Star Wars Land.

I consider myself a ‘Walt Disney Purist’ (I have no frickin’ clue if this is even a thing, but here we go). I am a huge Disney fan, but even thought I love Disney, I’ll be the first one to tell you if something that is introduced seems to stray from Walt’s original vision of the parks (and YES, I know what his original vision of the parks were because the day he thought up the idea for Disneyland at the merry-go-round at Griffith Park, I was sitting on a neighboring bench and I looked over at him and asked, ‘Sir, what’s wrong?’ And this guy looks at me and says, ‘I have an idea that will forever change the world. And, hello…MICKEY MOUSE!!) Ok, maybe it didn’t go down that way. Maybe I didn’t even know Walt. But don’t we all feel like we know Walt Disney? Every single person who has ever walked through the gates of Disneyland feels like they know Walt Disney for one important reason: Walt’s vision is entrenched in EVERYTHING you can see, hear, touch and feel at the park. He left behind a legacy.

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Star Wars LAND. Disneyland has always consisted of Walt’s original lands. When I worked at Disneyland, these lands consisted of Adventureland, Fantasyland, Frontierland and Tomorrowland. There are of course other parts of the park such as Critter Country and New Orleans Square and even Mickey’s Toon Town, but the fact is, none of these other locations were titled ‘lands.’ Star Wars Land is creating a brand new LAND that isn’t related to Walt’s original characters or concepts. It is made completely to promote a brand that was previously owned by Lucas Films and purchased by Disney. I can’t make it clear enough how excited I am for this change, but if you take a look at the historical aspect surrounding this decision, it’s even bigger than we thought it was. When the Indiana Jones ride was created, it was based off of a non-Disney franchise and added into Adventureland and it was a HIT. When Star Tours was added, Disney partnered with Lucas Films, and while Disney didn’t yet own Star Wars, Star Tours was also a huge hit. Both of these were individual rides, not an entirely new land.

There are things that I will miss when it’s all said and done. For instance, Big Thunder Ranch is closing on January 10th. Some of you might’ve walked by it in a rush to snag prime spots for Fantasmic!, but if you ever popped in, you would know that it is home to a petting zoo, BBQ and during the holidays, you can walk into a cabin and hang out with Santa. I mean…C’MON HOW FANTASTIC IS THAT? When I was a cast member, I looked forward to that quiet part of the park. It felt so rooted in Disney history, and it never tried to be flashy. It was simply a part of the park where you could breathe. Also, when I was a kid, many of my childhood photos consisted of my brother and I hanging out there with the animals. My mom isn’t too sad to see the Rancho go. Afterall, a goat managed to eat one of my brother’s shirts during every visit. But all the same, it will be sad to see it go. While it’s a wide open space that would be perfect for a theme park expansion, I’ll miss those cute little goats and the picnic tables.

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And don’t get me started on Fantasmic! True, it’s not going anywhere, but it will shut down for an entire year due to construction on Rivers of America. I have a theory, and my theory is that Fantasmic! will be re-invented when it comes back. If they’re doing construction on the tracks in the water it’s going to effect the show in some capacity. Not saying the show is leaving, but I do think that if they’re going to take a year off, that some elements will get a face lift. And if that’s the case, I’d be really sad to see it happen.

The thing I worry most about, is the fact that Star Wars Land will bring in a different crowd to the parks. It happened with Universal Studios when Harry Potter World was introduced. People who hadn’t been to Universal since they were a kid were making it a point to visit the park again to experience Harry Potter World. When this happens, the people visiting are visiting because of Star Wars and not to enjoy the rest of the park. How sad would it be if people were racing to ride the Millennium Falcon, and suddenly riding Peter Pan is an after-thought or something that can be easily skipped? It’s going to change the dynamic of the park. The one thing I am excited about, is the idea of having Disneyland being a larger park due to expansion. And sure, certain parts of the park will be packed to the gills, but hopefully it lightens the traffic flow in other parts of the park.

At the end of the day, I’m excited to see the changes take place. It will add a new immersive level a part of the park, and I hope Disney continues to strive for that level of immersion in the rest of the park. I just really hope that as everyone races to hit their favorite attractions/shows one last time before January 11th that they don’t forget one important thing: It all started with a mouse.

Erika Jenko
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Posted on November 13, 2015, in Articles, Disney Now and Then and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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