ANAHEIM – Are you itching to be Han Solo’s shipmate and hop aboard the Millennium Falcon? Or take part in a battle between the First Order and the Resistance?
The Walt Disney Co. lifted up the curtain Thursday night of the much-anticipated “Star Wars” land, unveiling a 50-foot-wide model showing the land and its attractions to the media and special guests on the eve of Friday’s kickoff of the D23 Expo, Disney’s three-day biennial fan convention at the Anaheim Convention Center.
The model shows what is under construction at Disneyland in Anaheim and at Hollywood Studios in Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla. Construction began in 2016 and should wrap up in 2019.
“This is the most ambitious land we’ve built to date,” said Bob Chapek, chairman of Walt Disney Co. Parks and Resorts, who introduced the model.
At Disneyland, the “Star Wars” land will be the largest themed expansion in the park’s history and take up 14 acres on the northern edge. Disney officials describe the new land as on a planet “somewhere on the Outer Rim – on the edge of the Unknown Regions.”
Visitors will walk through a rocky terrain with lush vegetation and exotic buildings with earthen walls and domes and rock formations that look similar to the landscape and architecture in the “Star Wars” films.
Through the land, special lighting on a painted background changes the look from daylight to evening.
Two major rides will anchor the land – a Millennium Falcon simulator ride, which guests can pilot, and a second that pits the First Order against the Resistance. Chapek described the First Order ride as an immersive experience and “defies categorization.”
“It’s so intense, it’s historic,” Chapek told the Register about that second ride. “It’s really about living in a story.”
Droids and alien will inhabit the land, which Disney has yet to announce the official name.
The land’s story will pull you in, said Scott Mallwitz, #x200e;executive creative director at Walt Disney Imagineering. Depending on where you enter the land from one of three entrances, the visitor’s story will vary. One entrance will be full of First Order troops. Another will feature members of the Resistance.
And just like in the “Star Wars” franchise, there’s an eatery similar to the famed Mos Eisley Cantina.
Mallwitz said roleplaying and engagement will be in play.
“As you move through the areas, you might be recruited to join one side or the other,” he said. “Are you a spy? Are you part of the Resistance or willing to join the First Order? It’s up to you. And your role inside of that will be defined by how you choose. .
“As (with) any thriving spaceport, you’re going to feel, smell, taste, touch what it feels like in a ‘Star Wars’ environment,” Mallwitz said. “When you walk through the spaceport, what do you see? Bounty hunters, traders, merchants, scoundrels, thieves, politicians – all of these people will be part of this environment.”
“Your actions will matter,” Mallwitz said.
The unveiling of the model comes as Disney prepares to host more than 65,000 fans during the convention, with many expected to take long looks at the land’s future. Oprah, Mark Hamill, and Whoopi Goldberg are scheduled to show up. Disney’s top brass will give fans sneak peaks of upcoming TV shows, movies, animated films and what’s in store for the company’s theme parks around the world.
It was at this convention, two years ago, that Disney CEO Bob Iger announced the creation of the “Star Wars” lands, just a month after the company pledged to spend $1 billion-plus to improve its two Anaheim parks and their surrounding area.
In return, the Anaheim City Council voted to not tax Disneyland and Disney California Adventure admission tickets for up to 45 years.
Last year, according to Visit Anaheim, the city’s tourism and marketing arm, more than 48 million people visited Orange County, 23 million in Anaheim alone.
“Star Wars” land will likely boost those numbers.
“The tourism industry is as strong as its ever been,” said Jay Burress, president and CEO of Visit Anaheim, the marketing arm for the city. “Disneyland’s importance only grows with time. We anticipate ‘Star Wars’ land to drive continued growth and development for Anaheim in the coming years.”
IF YOU GO
When: Friday, July 14, to Sunday, July 16
Where: Anaheim Convention Center, 800 W. Katella Ave.
Time: Panels begin each day at 10 a.m.
Tickets: Friday and Sunday, $53 to $81; Saturday sold out