Saturday, April 15, 2017

Star Wars and Disneyland

Today, we attended the panel at Star Wars Celebration, Orlando called "Star Wars and Disney Parks".  First up was discussion about Star Tours.  The guests were Disney Imagineer Tom Fitzgerald and actor Anthony Daniels.  Tom talked a bit about how the ride was developed, that he and fellow Imagineer Tony Baxter were asked to visit a company that made flight simulators who were interested in entering the entertainment industry.  When Imagineering was then subsequently in discussions with George Lucas about working on something together, George saw some information while at Imagineering about the flight simulator and asked what it was.  He then said it was the perfect tool to help create a Star Wars ride, and Imagineering and ILM starting working together on what would eventually be Star Tours.  Paul Reubens was chosen to voice Rex, the hapless robot who finds that his first flight ends up being more complicated than he'd imagined.  Tom said that George had wanted to make sure there was plenty of humour in the ride.

Anthony Daniels was asked to be part of the project because they wanted the iconic characters of R2-D2 and C-3PO to be involved in the pre-show in the queue.  Anthony came in to do the movements of 3PO, which he says were duplicated perfectly, so much so that when he stood in the queue watching the animatronic 3PO, he couldn't believe he wasn't inside the suit controlling the movements.  I laughed at the story, because it's one of my favorites, that Tom told that George had wanted more droids in the pre-show but they were so close to opening the ride, so they went to a nearby attraction, "America Sings" at the time, and stole two of the singing geese and turned them into droids for Star Tours, which is why they're referred to as the goose droids.

Discussion then turned into the changed, current version of Star Tours, billed as "The Adventures Continue".  In connection with the then-upcoming release of "The Force Awakens", a new scene on Jakku was added to the ride.  They purposely subtitled it "the Adventures Continue" so that it gave them a lot of leeway to do other things.  They announced that in connection with "The Last Jedi", a new scene would be added featuring Crait, the new planet revealed in the teaser trailer for "The Last Jedi".

And then, discussion turned to the new Star Wars lands being built in Disneyland in Anaheim and in Disney Hollywood Studios in Orlando.  Several people from Imagineering and from Lucasfilm who are collaborating on the project came out to discuss the new land, which had previously been announced as opening in 2019.  Not much information has been released about the new land.  They did say that it's a remote frontier outpost on a planet with which we are not currently familiar.  The vision is to create not a set with facades but something real.  They said it wasn't a place that was being created for 2019 but rather, a place that already exists which we won't get to visit until 2019.  It will be a real town, with real characters, including an underworld, and real smells.

Both the Resistance and the First Order will have a presence in the outpost, but it will also be a place for bounty hunters and smugglers and those who don't wish to be found.  In designing the town, they looked at a lot of Star Wars concept drawings from famed artist Ralph McQuarrie.  Star Wars fans know how revered he is in being instrumental in helping to design the look and feel of Star Wars worlds.  They said that when they consider an element in the land, if it was something that Ralph McQuarrie wouldn't approve of, then maybe it would be best to leave it off.  Having the new town elements and look be influenced by Ralph McQuarrie's designs is indeed an encouraging thing for Star Wars fans to hear.

In designing the new town, it's not the same as designing a set because a set would be contained and controlled.  The new town they're designing has to look good in the daytime and the nighttime, and it has to be able to accommodate the weather elements in each locale.

The town will include many droids, some already familiar and some not.  Each will have their own story and their own personality.

There will also be various characters who inhabit the town, and guests will find themselves with the ability to help the Resistance, or support the First Order, or maybe even accept a side job from a smuggler or bounty hunter.  Guests will also be able to fly the Millenium Falcon to complete a mission with their chosen flight crew (spouse, sibling, third cousin twice removed, friend, etc).  It was stated that most guests would most likely accomplish their mission, but what kind of damage the Falcon or anything else might sustain in the process will be up to the guest and their crew.  However, if things go awry, there could be consequences and the guest might find themselves being paid a visit even after their mission is over or down the line.  Guests will in effect build a reputation based on their actions in this new town.

It was great to hear how excited everyone was in talking about this project.  All of the people working on the project are huge Star Wars fans, and they themselves are looking forward to fulfilling their own childhood dreams of being able to actually visit and spend time in a Star Wars world.  They said that they didn't just want guests to remember past adventures of other people, like having them visit Tatooine or Hoth.  They want guests to experience their own Star Wars stories in this town.

I was intrigued to hear that your history in the town could be maintained and used as an on-going story.  And I thought about how that could work.  Obviously, guests could be asked to scan their annual passes when they entered the town or flew the Falcon or visited the cantina, and that information could be tracked for future reference.  But, not everyone has an annual pass.  Some people might visit regularly but not by having an annual pass.  However, given that it's a town, I'm thinking visitors could be asked to have some kind of ID that would be issued to them.  As they interact with characters in the town, those interactions could be tracked by scanning the ID and the cumulative effect could result in more story variations, depending on what each guest in involved in.  And for those guests who don't visit as often or who would prefer to remain more anonymous during their visits, they wouldn't have to have their IDs scanned.

There is still one major concern that I have, a concern I've had since the project was first announced, heck, since the project was first rumoured.  From the very beginning, it had been indicated that the plan was to have it be a real place, a real town, with real citizens you can interact with.  That sounds great.  But a real town is going to be suffocating when 40 million people want to visit this town at the same time.  How are they going to control the guest population in this town?  Sure, they could restrict entry into the town, to control how many people enter at any given time.  However, unless they sweep the town of guests every two hours or so, which would be weird for a real town, they're going to end up having too many people staying and therefore limiting how many new guests could enter.  I can tell you right now that when I'm allowed to visit, as long as they have restrooms and refreshments, I could enter first thing in the morning and not leave until the town closes for the evening.  Heck, maybe I'll even sit at the base of an AT-AT and just people watch for a while.  I'm definitely going to explore every little detail, and I know I'm not the only one.  I'm sure they'll figure out a way to handle this.  I just can't think of what it could be.

I was excited to hear what the panelists had to say today.  I cannot even tell you how exciting I think it is, and two years is a long time away, but patience is definitely going to pay off.

Oh, and by the way, just an FYI to Imagineering and ILM, if you need people to test out visits to the new town, interactions with guests, taste tests of the local food, I'm totally available and happy to help!  I love traveling to new places!

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