Dear Coaster Friends,
I love Star Wars, I know not a bold statement. Star Wars has been an ever present staple in pop culture for decades. It is really the only cool science fiction, suck it Star Trek! When Disney took over the franchise there was a doubt by many that they would treat this beloved story well and continue to grow it in a way that the fan base would approve of. Star Wars fans can be a discriminating bunch, but they also show up with their wallets open when something new is introduced. That is where Disney was like, “Hold my beer”, and created plans for a Star Wars themed land, called Galaxy’s Edge, with attractions in their theme parks. They were building an immersive land with rides, characters, shops, and experiences that would make you feel as if you had stepped into a galaxy far far away. That was the expectation and from a business standpoint, it sounds like a surefire way to print money. Galaxy's Edge has been opened for several months at Disneyland and then at the end of August it opened in Disneyworld. However it did not create the mass hysteria and crowds that were expected, in fact I would call the opening underwhelming. What happened?
Disneyland opened up Galaxy's Edge first so the public knew what to expect later in Florida. The land opened with Smuggler’s Run a Millenium Falcon simulator ride. The introduction of the land was restrictive; advanced reservations only, restrictive time windows, a price increase, and a blackout for passholders. This attempt to control crowds may have had the opposite effect, and that was to create a land without a crowd that highlighted that there wasn’t much to do yet. The feature attractions are not open so after one ride, Smuggler’s Run, had been experienced the only thing left was to go shopping and meet the characters. So you want a Star Wars T-shirt? Sorry they don’t sell T-shirts in a galaxy far far away. You can go into stores you may see in the movies and buy personalized replicas but not the type of souvenirs you would expect at a theme park, and it is expensive enough that these items are not for everyone. You could take photos, just not with the beloved characters you may expect. There is no Darth Vader, Ewocks, Yoda, or Han Solo. Disney focused the land on the new generation of Star Wars movies so the classic characters aren’t represented. Combine the thin amount of entertainment with the promise that the best is yet to come, and people waited. The attendance boost that they were expecting was nonexistent and worse yet it had the opposite effect for people looking to avoid the crowds that never formed. There reality was that attendance declined.
These results must have hit Disney hard. They are restarting a campaign to spread the word that the Star Wars attractions are there, in case people who may plan a trip to either Disney property were unaware. They will be campaigning on TV hard with cooperation from Disney’s cable network, ABC, & ESPN. Neil Patrick Harris will host a celebrity packed two hour special on Freeform showing how much fun you can have in the 14 acres expansion drinking blue milk and building droids. Their initial approach was very light and this new promotional campaign will be in your face. There has also been shake ups in leadership following the Galaxy’s Edge expansion. Catherine Powell announced she would be leaving her role as president of Disney Parks West, and her position would be eliminated. Internally many executives changed leadership roles as a step in reorganization. This may have addressed leadership choices, but fundamentally ignores that Galaxy’s Edge did not live up to expectations. Tourists like accessible souvenirs, Disney needs to have a place where that can take place. Give fans a chance to buy a Star Wars or even better Smuggler’s Run T-shirt. At the very least make a Darth Vader costume and get someone to wear it so we can take selfies with the dark side. The only way the area is going to truly feel alive is if it is full of guests who are excited to be there, and their vision of what Galaxy's Edge is what will make that happen.