When it came to designing Disneyland’s “Star Wars”-themed attraction, the first order of business was coming up with something new, something beyond what fans have seen in the movies, books and cartoons over the past four decades, a panel of designers said Wednesday.
To get a unique feel for the fictional futuristic planet Batuu, an outpost for the “resistance,” the designers looked to the past for inspiration.
Disney’s Scott Trowbridge, who moderated a panel discussion during a media sneak peek of the attraction that opens Friday, said when the project was announced at a 2015 annual fan convention, the aim was “to build a new place … not a place from someone’s memory” of “Star Wars.”
The emphasis when conceptualizing it was on creating an interactive experience “so you can live your own `Star Wars’ story and be an active participant in it,” Trowbridge said, adding the new attraction was “probably the most ambitious we’ve ever done.”
Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is a universe unto itself, with restaurants and bars featuring food and cocktails not served anywhere else. It also features an interactive ride on the Millennium Falcon that has multiple storylines depending on how Disneyland guests “pilot” Han Solo’s “hunk of junk.”
Doug Chiang, who designed the land and worked with “Star Wars” creator George Lucas for seven years beginning in 1995, noted that movie sets “are false, make believe,” so the challenge was to create actual structures in the attraction that have been seen in the movies, but also new locations.
For “location scouting,” the team went to Istanbul and Marrakesh for inspiration because many of the original designs for the first film in 1977 echo that type of architecture, Chiang said. Chiang showed reporters classic paintings of Istanbul market scenes that provided some inspiration for the design.
“George always considered it not science fiction, but historical drama,” Chiang said of the films. “… Going on location there is so much you can mine, just smell the air. And it gives you a real distinct layer of history.”
Chiang noted, for example, how merchants adapted ancient structures for electricity and creature comforts like air conditioning.
“You don’t want to design out of thin air,” Chiang said.
For the planet Batuu itself, the team was inspired by the topography in Arizona, Chiang said.
Asa Kalama, who designed the Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run attraction, said the ride starts with Hondo Ohnaka, a character from the animated TV series, being loaned the ship by Chewbacca. From there, guests work as a team to pick up cargo needed by the resistance.
When Trowbridge asked if the ride has a “happy ending,” Kalama replied, “It’s really up to you how much fire the Millennium Falcon is on when you return.”
The new “Star Wars” land will also feature a variety of merchandise, including opportunities for visitors to create their own light sabers and droids.
When it came to food and drink, Michele Gendreau — Disney’s director of food and beverage product development — said that while everyone had seen blue milk in the movies, there was no real direction on how it tasts. She said the drink will come with a cookie and is something of a combination of rice and coconut milk with “tropical flavors.”
There’s also “green milk,” which is a “little citrus, a little floral,” she said.
Adults can buy cocktails at Oga’s Cantina, which has a droid spinning tunes, such as golden oldies from the first film. Coca-Cola also features a line of soft drinks, but the soda names are in an original “Star Wars” language.
Also contributing to the interactive nature of the attraction is a smartphone app. Visitors will be able to download an app that will “transform” their phones into a “Star Wars Data Pad,” Kalama said.
With the app, guests can “hack” into a droid, “overhear” conversations between Stormtroopers and translate alien languages, Kalama said.
“It’s a fun and engaging way to interact with the story,” Kalama said.
For instance, if your crew did a lot of damage to the Millennium Falcon, you might be told by a barkeep later that Hondo is upset with you and has “put a bounty on your head,” Kalama said.
The attraction opens to the general public Friday. A similar attraction will open Aug. 29 at the company’s theme park in Orlando.
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