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Commentary: What works, what’s missing and what needs fixing at Disney’s…

by Ace Damon
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At the end of May, about 10 days before Disneyland opened Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge, I booked a weekend near the resort, believing it would be smarter than everyone and find an almost empty park before the wave. of visitors expected to check out the new 14 acres. Earth.

Instead, I found claustrophobia-inducing crowds flooding the Disneyland and Disney California Adventure paths, and I'm waiting for people-eating attractions like Pirates of the Caribbean to reach 60 minutes.

In hindsight, I should have waited until Disney opened the Galaxy's Edge for the crowd to evaporate. Little did I know that soon after their opening on May 31, the parks would be a dead zone, with each attraction a sidewalk and cheerfully bare sidewalks.

Images of an empty Disneyland flooded social media, shaping public perception over the summer. Headlines appeared over the few crowds, some even using the word "flop" to describe the largest land expansion in theme park history – also the most technologically advanced and story-based. Then came the executive shuffle in Disney's parks and resorts department, with speculation that people were losing their jobs due to the performance of the Galaxy's Edge. Disney leaders immediately backed down on such a plot and called the Galaxy's Edge "successful."

But the perception that there is a problem – or rather, lower than expected demand for Galaxy's Edge – has been fueled by Disney CEO Bob Iger himself, as well as in any media account. Disney in August saw a 3% drop in visitor numbers at its domestic theme parks, despite the opening of its busiest resort addition since the launch of Cars Land in 2012.

Among the reasons cited by Iger were the fear of overcrowding and a price increase in Disneyland parks and neighboring hotels.

"All of these factors contributed to the share below what we expected it to be," said Iger.

The Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run tour is plot-based.

(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Evolutionary design

Theme parks, of course, are living and breathing art forms that evolve daily, weekly, and monthly and are subject to constant change, additions, or subtractions based on guest behavior. Today's Disney California Adventure is a completely different park from Disney California Adventure, which opened in 2001. And so, four months after the most ambitious addition to Disneyland, a park that remains not only a sculptor but a cornerstone of the American pop art, it is safe to ask what is working, what is missing, and what has been promised too much for the Galaxy's Edge.

First, let's get out of the way: Galaxy's Edge isn't finished.

A recent two-hour Freeform special devoted much of its airtime to the Rise of the Resistance development tour, and early indications are that the trailless attraction, which opens in Florida on December 5 and next month in Anaheim, should be the nice showstopping crowd the earth needs – an exciting, over 15-minute escape from a gigantic spaceship. Obviously, it's fair to ask if Disney should have waited until Rise of the Resistance finished before opening the earth to begin. (To avoid an uncomfortable public relations narrative, the answer, in retrospect, is yes.)

Rey leads a group of guests to repel Stormtroopers in Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge.

Rey leads a group of guests to repel Stormtroopers in Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge.

(Todd Martens / Los Angeles Times)

Disney has also taken design risks with Galaxy's Edge, a land that moves away from passive theme park entertainment and aims to put visitors into an evolving narrative. When the earth was opened, I wrote that the main achievement of the Galaxy's Edge is that it looks like a real place. That's true. I have spent up to eight hours at Galaxy's Edge alone, and I enjoy the feeling of being a tourist exploring the market and tents on earth, where a gift shop is cleverly disguised as a busy street.

But the design choices that put Galaxy's Edge specifically between 2017's "The Last Jedi" and this year's "The Rise of Skywalker" also make it difficult. The only open ride on earth, Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run, is a technical marvel that gives players control of the ship made famous by Harrison Ford's Han Solo, and inherited by Daisy Ridley's Rey, but they're not. involved. Once we get past the thrill of controlling the boat, we realize that the elaborate history of the tour is essentially a task, which is overshadowed by the elaborate line of the tour.

Smugglers The race at the moment looks less like a Disney attraction and more an infrastructure built primarily to fit into a broader Lucasfilm narrative. It's an engineering feat, not an emotional one.

If Galaxy's Edge really wants guests to lean and actively participate, as Walt Disney Imagineering keeps telling us that today's theme park participants often do, some things will probably have to change sooner or later.

Inside Oga's Canteen in Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge.

Inside Oga's Canteen in Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge.

(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Character failed

To begin with, Disney will have to admit the failure in the current incarnation of one of Earth's key concepts – the idea that every employee, or cast member, in park language, is capable of being an actor who can improvise and sell guests. about the idea. that the fictional planet of Batuu is a real place.

"I like to say that we have more characters in this land than any we have ever done, because each of our cast members has a backstory," park boss Bob Chapek said in a recent interview.

But I made sure to ask the cast for their background story on each of my more than two visits to the Galaxy's Edge, and often the answer I get is an expression of dread. Now, suddenly, I'm the guest who wants to talk about the "Star Wars" story in a crowded marketplace of people who want to buy plush.

The few interactions I saw with the appropriate actors on the Galaxy's Edge were, to use an exaggerated Disney word, magic. I was brought to tears one Saturday night when I saw a stellar Rey lead a band of guests on a mission to rid Black Spire Tour, the city in the heart of Batuu, from the Stormtroopers. She stealthily crouched down and hid behind barriers while her growing team of Force-sensitive recruits, all strangers just seconds before, were ready to ward off evil. Watching a dozen people quote Rey in unison, and then witnessing the Stormtroopers turn around and leave the area, was the kind of play that can only happen in a big scenario like Disneyland. I loved it, I want more and never saw it happen again.

Disney should know that these are moments that create fans for theme parks for a lifetime. It reminded me of my visits as a child to the great adventure club in Florida, the former Walt Disney World nightclub bar full of actors and puppeteers, and piqued my interest not only in the imagination of the arts but also in the thrill of the arts. World travels. It is estimated that about nineteen million people go to Disneyland each year, and I bet the reason most people always come back is a personal connection that happened during one of their visits. Rebellious scenes with Rey must be almost regular occurrences, not infrequently.

Admittedly, these are elements that cannot be easily fixed without hiring expensive actors. At the opening night press event, the land seemed activated in a way that did not occur on subsequent visits; he even aired an impressive special effects show featuring rebel favorite Vi Moradi and Chewbacca, fan favorite, driving away First Order troops. With decent gymnastics choreography, unexpected blaster fire and light pyrotechnics, this show was not only ready for prime time but also did a better job of selling the land as a place of conflict between the Good Resistance and the First Order of Evil Evil. than anything that currently exists. on the Galaxy's Edge.

Having been privileged to catch a glimpse of it, I can report that the land looks empty without it, especially since Imagineering executives were so keen to point out the many not-so-hidden stages that dot the Galaxy's Edge and often fall apart. naked except for an occasional patrol Stormtrooper. Instead, the earth looks like an elaborate game board where key pieces are missing.

I can't help but think that one of the reasons they visited Galaxy's Edge during its first month – when the park used a fully booked reservation system to keep the crowds manageable – is not turning back is the difference. between what was sold to guests and what it actually is.

There is, for example, a sitting restaurant. It's easy to judge omission without having access to Disney's budgets and finances. But the fact that a canteen remains the most sought after attraction of the Galaxy's Edge shows that the promised "dinner club" It was a serious oversight.

It makes sense that the canteen is so popular. The neighborhood bar is full of otherworldly wonders that anyone who has watched the 1977 movie "A New Hope" wants to visit – a safe haven for freaks and outcasts.

But even the canteen, lively as it may be, has not fully met its bill. Disney was eager before the Galaxy's Edge opened to talk about the interactive elements of the earth – to note that the cast would be able to access how well someone did or didn't pilot the Millennium Falcon in the earth simulator. Crash it, and a bounty hunter can pat you on the shoulder and even scold you while you're in the canteen, Disney said more than once. There are just no Black Spire Outpost bounty hunters who succeed or fail the Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run has no real consequences other than depositing some imaginary credits in the Play Disney Parks mobile app – credits that currently have no value in the country.

The elaborate line of the Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run makes for an enjoyable game.

The elaborate line of the Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run makes for an enjoyable game.

(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

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