Friday, May 31st, was a BIG day for Disneyland. After four years of planning and preparing; four years of clearing and construction, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge finally opened. Other than opening day itself, the park has never been braced for a bigger premiere.
Announced during D23 in August 2015, the new area, at fourteen acres, is the park’s biggest land to date. As a comparison, New Orleans Square—which opened in 1966 as Disneyland’s first new land—is only three acres. Like New Orleans Square, Star Wars Land will eventually be home to two “E-ticket” type attractions—Disneyland’s first new E-ticket ride(s) since Indiana Jones opened nearly twenty-five years ago (March 1995). In Disney’s defense, they have built (and rebuilt) an entirely new park since then.
Clearing the land for Galaxy’s Edge, 2016
But California Adventure isn’t Disneyland.
And nothing is more popular than Star Wars.
I remember the world before Star Wars premiered on May 25, 1977 (two days before Space Mountain opened at Disneyland). I was in the final days of 8th grade and a friend invited me to go with him to the movies. I had no idea what we were going to see. I had never heard of this thing called Star Wars.
Even if I had known, nothing could have prepared me for what Star Wars would become. During the Summer of 1977, it was all Star Wars all the time. For months, movie goers stood in mile long lines. Songs from the soundtrack filled the airwaves. Movie merchandise flew off store shelves.
One of my life’s greatest achievements came the following Fall. My mother, who laid out our school clothes every night and who only ever allowed us to wear jeans on Fridays (she called them “dungarees”), lived for School Picture Day. Each year’s photo was an official “proof” of her parenting proficiencies. Mom’s self-worth was dependent on having four kids who dressed nice, children who wore clothes that were color-coordinated, and yearly pictures that provided static snapshots of her accomplishments.
What was my great achievement? On 9th Grade Picture Day I snuck out of the house wearing jeans (it wasn’t a Friday) and my already well-worn Star Wars T-shirt. When the pictures arrived a few weeks later, and mom opened them, well—let’s just say there was a disturbance in the force.
For me, the opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is just that—a disturbance. While a few are hoping that it will fail, I fear that it will be a smashing success. I’ve spent the past thirty years perfecting how I tour the park. The inevitable success of Star Wars changes everything. And I don’t like change.
Change? It’s a trap!
When the new land was first announced, some resisted the subsequent changes fearing that they would destroy Walt’s original park. Of special concern was the requisite re-routing of the Disneyland Railroad. Today, the railroad is better because of the necessary changes.
Others have a bad feeling about this because Star Wars isn’t “Disney.” I find this lack of faith disturbing.
In truth, this isn’t really a change. Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, etc. all come from a mixture of Medieval fairy tales. For the record, Walt Disney didn’t dream up Winnie the Pooh, either—Disney purchased the rights in the 1960s. The same is true for the Muppets in the 1990s. Captain EO, Star Tours, and Indiana Jones are all attractions that brought positive changes to the parks via partnerships with other intellectual properties.
Like it or not, theme parks have changed dramatically over the past decade. Universal led the way with The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and then Diagon Alley. Disney was forced to respond with its most immersive experiences to date—Cars Land and Pandora World. All of these are only bite size samples of what Star Wars Land serves up. I am prepared to be blown away.
I am also prepared to wait a long, long time before getting there.
Years ago, Walt Disney prepared us for the eventual opening of new attractions and new lands. Long before George Lucas dreamed of a story that he would one day call Star Wars, Walt Disney dreamed of a Magic Kingdom…not a Static Kingdom. The park was never meant to be a museum. The opening of Galaxy’s Edge is further fulfillment of Walt’s wish that “Disneyland will never be completed, it will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world.”
Walt Disney’s greatest achievement wasn’t Disneyland. Nor was it Snow White or even Mickey Mouse. Walt’s greatest achievement was being a lifelong agent of change. He never stood still. He never wanted to do sequels. He was always investing in imagination, innovation, and moving forward to find what the future holds.
May the Force be with you. Celebrate the success of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. Most importantly, resist the temptation to rebel against change.
Change? It’s our only hope.
“Always in motion is the future.”