Disney Brings Immersive ‘Star Wars’ Experience to its Parks

When Disney opens Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge (which will debut this summer at Disneyland in California and this fall at Disney World in Florida), visitors will discover a multi-faceted, immersive experience that lets them build a droid, learn how to construct a lightsaber, and use their phones to hack data ports. All the while, they will also engage in a struggle for control of the fictional town of Black Spire Outpost. Walt Disney Imagineering exec Scott Trowbridge noted that visitors now want to be more of a participant than a spectator in experiences.

The Los Angeles Times reports that if this latest experience can “meet the high-level ambitions of the Walt Disney Imagineers who designed it, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge just may be the boldest statement yet that play has become the defining narrative of our generation.”

LAT points to “escape rooms … so-called Instagram museums … and downtown L.A.’s Two Bit Circus” as examples of how “the arcades of yore have been replaced by group games.” “Then there are destinations such as Meow Wolf in New Mexico, Evermore in Utah or even the Old West area of Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park, where connecting with others matters as much as connecting with a space,” it adds.

The Galaxy’s Edge experience “represents a shift for a modern Disney park, utilizing the land not just as a home for shows and rides — and there are two massive attractions here — but as a locale for deep, interactive exploration.” Imagineering spent a decade creating “smaller, stealthier play tests throughout the Disney parks,” such as the “short-lived, live-action role-playing game that was 2014’s Legends of Frontierland.”

Trowbridge noted that park visitors “might want to explore a side and play the role of a character.” “It’s amazing how many people want to play as a Dark Side character,” he said.

Designing Galaxy’s Edge required how to “understand mechanisms to allow our guests to self-regulate to the point where if they just want to go take a nap or do something else, it doesn’t break anything for them or anyone else.” Imagineering creative director John Larena said that guests want “real tactile things in front of them … no glasses — period.”

Visitors’ phones play an important role via the Play Disney Parks app. The guest creates a profile, picks a faction and then goes on missions in the fight to control Black Spire Outpost. They can also use the app “to converse with Black Spire residents to learn more of the back story.” Even without a phone, however, the visitor will “still encounter a sense of play.”

Some of those experiences are “is part of Imagineering’s goal to turn shopping into an attraction.” When a visitor builds his own lightsaber, for example, it will take about 20 minutes and the finished result currently costs between $100 and $200. This kind of playful, immersive environment harkens back to Disneyland’s Tom Sawyer Island, that lets guests play instead of buckling in for a ride.

“When we started working on these, we believed we were getting back to the fundamentals of the way that we believed Walt intended the parks to be,” said Imagineering creative director Cory Rouse.

Related:
How Disney Built Star Wars, in Real Life, TechCrunch, 2/27/19
Here Are All the Lightsabers, Toys, and Clothes You’ll Be Able to Buy at Disney’s Upcoming ‘Star Wars’ Lands, Insider, 2/28/19