Disney World got another one of its Limited Time Magic events correct this past weekend. On the surface of things, much of the celebration of May 4th — the so-called Star Wars day — was crassly commercial and opportunistic. But there was also some clever thinking finally about how to properly do a Limited Time Magic event. And was that a trial balloon I detected for a potential Star Wars land?

So far this year, Disney World has been eager to isolate the minor holidays and build an “event” around each one, usually something pretty small and minor. The celebration for Cinco de Mayo is typical of what Disney usually does: a few characters out for photo opportunities and that’s about it. The stink of it is that these are characters we used to see all the time. A few years ago this would have been Regular Time Magic. Disney has managed to turn what was once a standard offering into something the paying public feels grateful for even when they only get to see it once instead of on a daily basis. The Ministry of Truth has nothing on Disney.

May the Fourth Be With You is a pun on the famous phrase from Star Wars, and of course takes place on May 4. This was no mere addition of two characters for photos. Disney must have known that the event would be highly popular, and they planned accordingly. There were characters, but easily more than a dozen rather than just two. There was a special dance party hosted by another character, and there were special fireworks. But the part they got the most right, I decided by the end, was something I was a little skeptical about when I first heard of the concept.

The Jedi Training Academy is normally just for little kids. The cuteness of the experience stems from the fact that all the little kids are on stage together trying to do something grown up. Over time, I’ve become somewhat immune to the Jedi Training Academy and have regarded it as background noise. But it remains popular with visitors, and it made sense that they would offer a show almost every half-hour on Star Wars day. But the real twist was that this time one adult could accompany every child on stage and perform the experience. This was a neat idea that became neater still when I saw it happening in front of me. It was mostly boys on stage, and the parent they brought along was mostly the father. So what you had was a lot of father-son bonding over the Star Wars mythology, which I found sentimental and fitting until I realized that relationship was also the subject matter of the films, and then it became all but prophetic.

The longer I thought about it, the more fitting this promotion became. It does all sorts of things that one normally associates with the Disney brand, chief among them the chance for parents and children to have fun doing the same thing together. It also allowed adults to live out something of a fantasy that normally is reserved only for children — this really was Limited Time Magic. This led to the question in my mind why they couldn’t do this all the time. Certainly it was popular enough to justify. And it wasn’t hugely expensive from the company perspective.

I think Disney must have received a signal loud and clear that Star Wars is popular. This event was almost like a miniature Star Wars Weekend, but without special guest stars or the parade. Both would’ve been nice, but the event drew crowds even without them, although some of that may have been due to the unusual fireworks display.

It’s a no-brainer that Disney is investigating a Star Wars Land for this park. It’s a fit thematically, and the public already associates Star Wars with this theme park because of Star Wars Weekends. It’s also obvious that Disney would seek to leverage its new Lucasfilm acquisition. It furthermore is logical that Disney would keep its options on the table while the Avatar project chugs along slower and slower. And finally, Disney has new Star Wars movies coming out. It is not a left-field prediction to claim that a Renaissance is coming to the series, and a grand scale theme park land designed around it would finally be Disney’s effective answer to Harry Potter.

Cars Land is coming to the area now home to the Backlot Tour and the LMA theater. Any Star Wars expansion would need to go closer to the side of the park where Star Tours is now. They could take out the Echo Lake area and even the Indiana Jones theater to create some space, but if they wanted to go big they would need to change the park’s boundaries.

It would be a costly undertaking, but they could change the entire road into the parking lot and move it a lot closer to Osceola Drive. Depending on how they did it, this could yield enough space to build a Star Wars Lland 2 or 3 times larger than Cars Land.

That’s a lot of space, especially if they created attractions that used up less real estate than the Radiator Springs racers. What if they built an X-wing simulator? Perhaps it will come as no shock that recently Disney patented a new ride system called Twister. The diagrams look like airplanes, so it’s possible Disney is considering an attraction based on the upcoming Pixar movie Planes. But that would be a pretty big gamble since the movie is not finished yet, so no one knows what reception will be like. Star Wars, on the other hand, is a known quantity. Might we see a Twister simulation at the heart of the Star Wars expansion? Will we finally get to attack the Death Star?

The swarms of people who turned out for a single day Star Wars celebration give testament to the enduring popularity of the series. I think it’s a foregone conclusion Disney will get around to a Star Wars Land. And then the Force will be with it indeed.

More information and updates

Kevin Yee is the author of numerous independent Disney books, including the popular Walt Disney World Earbook series and Walt Disney World Hidden History. Readers are invited to connect with him online and face to face at the following locations:

  • Terrytiger

    We made the drive from Cocoa JUST to be there for the Star Wars-themed fireworks show. The park was packed but it was definitely worth it. John Williams score is a perfect complement to the fireworks experience (it reminds me of the LA Philharmonic and the Star Wars Spectacular at the Hollywood Bowl). Of course, they really need to address the parking situation at that park. It took us almost an hour to get out of the parking lot after the show…

  • Skippy

    Correction – the movie Planes is being done by DisneyToons, not Pixar.

  • chesirecat

    I don’t think Carsland is coming to the area where Backlot and LMA is, that is purely fan speculation, and pretty far-fetched fan speculation at this point. WDW has ride capacity issues, there aren’t plans to build Carsland in Orlando on previously developed attractions, especially since there is so much open space.

    Wait for D23.

    • WookieCookie

      I really hope they go for Star Wars Land and not Cars Land too. Personally, I’d rather have Cars Land exist as a unique place in California and not as a second, half-assed version in Florida. Star Wars is the only IP out there in the galaxy (sans Marvel) capable of competing and most likely surpassing Harry Potter.

  • bhb007

    The capital investment in Star Wars is actually quite risky… the enthusiasm for the property hinges on the next movie being good. If it stinks (and it certainly could), it will be prequels hate on a factor of ten and the goodwill Star Wars currently enjoys will evaporate. I don’t expect movement until 2015… if Episode VII is a critical and commercial hit, I expect the greenlight comes then.

    • chesirecat

      The Star Wars intellectual IP is a big purchase, but even the disastrous Episode I (I was certainly scratching my head when I came out of the theater), made Lucas a lot of money. A lot of young kids seems to like Episode II and III more than the originals. Fans have complained about Lucas’s inability to write good scripts, admittedly, the prequels had pretty awful scripts. Even so, Star Wars is kinda critic-proof, and the fans will line up to see the first movie in droves.

      And given that Disney owns ILM, which makes money doing special effects for different movies, they’ll have all the in-house talent they need to do the new Star Wars movies special effects, which will reduce costs.

      I don’t think the question is whether Disney will get their money back on Star Wars, but how much money they’ll make. Doubtlessly, the first couple movies will be profitable, if only for the merchandising.

  • chesirecat

    There is also tons of demographic research to be done given that FLE will be completed soon, and that Harry Potterland 2 has yet to open. The top brass will pour over tons of power points detailing the expected increased in revenue, the actual increase in revenue, and tons of info about who the guests are these days, their current needs and expectations and what WDW can do better, and if it even makes sense for a massive expansion at WDW.

    Obvious, Disney as a whole looks for growth opportunities, and they’ve focused on other countries, witness the $3.8 billion dollar Shanghai Disneyland resort and Hong Kong and Paris additions. They want to guarantee that Hong Kong and Shanghai make money, period. DCA was kinda losing money, so they had to come in and make an investment. MK’s Fantasyland was always on the back burner, for decades since Disneyland got a new Fantasyland, so in a way, FLE was just housekeeping that needed to be done. Overall, Disney, faced with slow attendance growth in Orlando have kinda put WDW on autopilot, letting it generate continuing income while putting the investment where they can catch the most future dollars, which is foreign markets.

    Overall, surprisingly, the parks aren’t the biggest slide of the pie when it comes to income for the company, after you factor in upkeep, though they represent reliable continuing income year end and year out. I say this because the Star Wars movies have the potential to become a major source of cash for company, and more importantly income as opposed to a theme park which needs maintenance. But given the success of Potterland, I think that the executives could potentially look at a Star Wars land/fifth gate at WDW given the synergy opportunities, i.e. if the parks make $500 million, and they are looking to make a similar amount over a couple years/per year on Star Wars when you consider merchandizing, then it kinda makes sense to advertise Star Wars and keep up interest in WDW.

    The lukewarm response to FLE might—just might—push out plans for Star Wars/Carsland to a fifth park at WDW for the simple reason that a fifth gate, no matter how small, will generate tons of free publicity. FLE was just a land expansion, valued at about 1/4 the cost of DCA 2.0. Also, a fifth gate with a Star Wars would allow for the construction of what some are calling a Star Wars Mecca, a theme park/convention center for Star Wars related events and special high priced boutique park experiences with actors and special food offerings.

    You can see why Disney lets maintenance slide at WDW given the difference between revenue and income at the parks. Even if Disney pulls the trigger on the fifth gate, maintenance wouldn’t increase that much at WDW because you’ve still got the revenue/income issue at the parks. You can also see why Disney wants a boutique park, they could finally get the straight up high amounts of revenue that would make such a park a gold goose, versus just relatively meager incomes that are what is left over after revenue has been eaten up by maintenance and other costs.

    • Mondo Mouse

      Really appreciate all your thoughts and insight Cheshire Cat (my favorite character by the way). I certainly hope a 5th gate does come to WDW, and hope the 3rd gate at DLR comes sooner rather than later.

  • Disneykin Kid

    Star Wars is the ultimate no-brainer to beat Potter, it just has to be done right, meaning they have to invest enough dollars into it. I read on another web site that Star Wars may be a boutique park, but this is NOT the way to do it. Boutique parks are best left to things like dolphin experiences, NOT Star Wars, which should be available to the masses.

    And I don’t think the popularity of Star Wars hinges on the next movie, even the awful prequels couldn’t kill it. If Disney handles Star Wars like it has handled Marvel, we shouldn’t have to worry. I read J.J Abrams say that they’re analyzing what worked in the Star Wars movies and what didn’t. I think J.J did well with the Star Trek reboot, so he should do ok with Star Wars.

    If Mickey is Luke and Minnie is Leia – it’s obvious that they’re brother and sister – lol!

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  • fnord

    Am I the only one that thinks these new franchises should continue their original branding,
    making Marvel movies under that banner, and likewise for the Lucasfilms, as when you
    label them Disney films, you risk losing revenue from younger fans that grew up considering Disney no longer relevant.
    Although Star Tours has been popular for years, I think a separate park for both franchises would be appropriate on both coasts.
    Neither seem like potter busters to me, but combine the two, and maybe.
    I’ve seen both lucas and potter created as an adult, and in my mind, potter blows the other
    away, particularly as theme park places you wanna go.
    Please forget about the Avatar thing, but if they insist, it should go in the new sci fi parks.
    Please keep them all out of magic kingdom parks!

  • Disneykin Kid

    Maybe you should ask Micechat readers the question – Do you think Star Wars Land can beat Harry Potter? And ask for comments on what it will take to do so.

  • ttintagel

    So, Stormtrooper Donald is comfortable running around starkers from the waist down, but Darth Goofy needs giant underpants to protect his modesty? Lighten up, dog!

    Wait, is that Carsland thing official?