Friday, January 15, 2016

Making Star Wars Land “Fit”

By Brittany Bell

Since its announcement at the 2015 D23 Expo, the highly anticipated Star Wars Land has created a buzz around Disney Parks. At Walt Disney World, the land will be a part of the complete overhaul of Hollywood Studios. This fitting environment of movies and movie magic makes for a seamless introduction of the land into the new story of Hollywood Studios. Over on the West Coast at the Disneyland Resort, though, Star Wars Land is replacing the area formerly known as Big Thunder Ranch. In a park inspired by timeless representations of worlds of adventure and fantasy, guests and fans are left wondering how Star Wars Land will fit into the overall theme of Disneyland. However, the area in which Star Wars Land will soon call home was actually supposed to be Discovery Bay—a land inspired by invention and discovery. In today's article, let's see how the original plans for Discovery Bay, the new plans for Star Wars Land, and how, in this context, Star Wars Land makes a little more sense…

Before Big Thunder Mountain Railroad was “the wildest ride in the wilderness,” Imagineers had planned it to be the entryway into an entirely new land. The story goes that the miners at Big Thunder continued to dig, and instead of spending their money in the saloon (like we assume at Walt Disney World and other various versions of the ride), they used their riches to create a new city on the West Coast—a Paris of the West. This new city, inspired by late 1800s San Francisco, would be a port for inventors and explorers, a city of golden zephyrs, glass towers, new technology and wonder. Welcome to Discovery Bay: the mechanical haven of the timeless age of discovery and invention.

Discovery Bay Concept Art

The concept for Discovery Bay was created by Imagineer Tony Baxter and was described as “a balance between reality and fantasy." Here is a short video Disney Avenue put together of Tony describing the plans for Discovery Bay back in 1984...

(For your viewing pleasure, please remember to pause the Disney Avenue Music Player in the top left-hand corner of the page prior to playing the video below if you are on a desktop computer.)

The land would be divided into smaller parts, the first being the Waterfront. Sitting along the Rivers of America, this area of Discovery Bay would have drawn guests in with a large lighthouse, the so-called “weenie” of the land. The Sailing Ship Columbia would be docked at the harbor, allowing for guests to explore the ship.

Waterfront Concept Art

Along the water would also be a Chinatown district. There, guests would find the Fireworks Factory, an attraction where they can shoot off fireworks (though some plans say it was slated to be like the Frontierland Shooting Gallery, others say it was to be more advanced than that being more along the lines of a dark ride). In addition, savory Asian-inspired dishes would be served in this location.

Chinatown Concept Art

The Nautilus Submarine would be docked in the harbor along the Rivers of America as well. Guests could climb aboard the sub, and also enjoy a table service restaurant in the Grand Salon. A simulator ride in the sub (much like Star Tours) would have followed Captain Nemo in his nautical quests in the seas.

Nautilus Submarine's Grand Salon Restaurant Concept Art

The inland area of Discovery Bay would have been inspired by high-society Victorian architecture and furnishings, complete with lavish displays of gold and bronze. The highlight of the inland would be a Carousel of Progress-like ride called “Professor Marvel’s Gallery of Wonders” in which Professor Marvel (no connection to the Marvel comics) would introduce technology, animals, findings, and discoveries from all of his magical and fantastical adventures. The centerpiece of the ride would be Marvel’s pet dragon which would be perched on his shoulder for the entirety of the show.

Lastly, the inland would feature a section dedicated to air balloons and the exploration of the sky. There would be a skyway-style attraction that would take guests to and from a planned Dumbo’s Circus Land (which would later be the inspiration for Storybook Circus at Magic Kingdom) via a hot air balloon. Docked in the area would also be the Hyperion Airship in a mechanical hangar along the water’s edge. This ship would serve as the entry to the attraction The Island at the Top of the World, described by Imagineers as “a trip aboard a fantastic flying machine to an Island of paradise located at the Top of the World.”

The Island at the Top of the World Concept Art

Though Discovery Bay would have been a wonderful new addition to Disneyland, competing factors resulted in the project not moving forward (even though it had been officially announced by Disney in the late 1970s). The focus shifted instead to EPCOT Center at Walt Disney World and Tokyo Disneyland. The general public’s taste in themes and movies also shifted from classic to sci-fi. Ironically, one of the factors that influenced this new trend was the release of Star Wars: Episode IV. Ultimately, Discovery Bay fell through the cracks and did not materialize in Disneyland (although in Disneyland Paris, a similar Discoveryland takes the place of Tomorrowland).

In 2015, almost 40 years after the introduction of the Discovery Bay project, comes the announcement of Star Wars Land, a new land to be set in an original planet within the Star Wars universe. With the closure of over 10 attractions and eateries in Disneyland as of recent, it looks as though this project won’t have the same fate as the originally planned inhabitant of the unused area behind Critter Country. Though the details are still scant for Disneyland’s Star Wars Land, news circulating suggests it will be home to flight simulator attraction, restaurants, and new ride and show technology. Disney also recently released beautiful concept art for the redesign of the Rivers of America and Disneyland Railroad after the project is completed:

Now the problem: how does Star Wars Land fit? In comparison to the likes of Fantasyland and Adventureland, it seems out of place. However, looking at it in the context of Discovery Bay makes this new land make a little more sense. Here are the facts that we already know about Star Wars Land and how, with Discovery Bay in mind, its addition to Disneyland seems more justified.

It is going to be set in an entirely new, original planet that is supposed to be a hub of space travel.

Discovery Bay was intended to be a timeless representation of San Francisco where inventors and discoverers converged to share ideas and findings. Similarly, this new planet, since it won’t be in any of the Star Wars films, will be timeless given that its importance will not be placed on a timeline by one of the movies. In addition, this new planet is supposed to be a hub of galactic activity, with different species and races of people and aliens all present. We can also expect that adventurers like Han Solo and Chewbacca will also find their way to this new planet. Though Star Wars Land won’t be centered around the Age of Discovery, it will be centered around some sort of discovery within the Star Wars universe. 

The landscape and architecture will be big, fantastical, and timeless. 

Based on the concept art, the landscape of this area will be over the top and will draw upon not only similar structures from the movies, but from the fantasies and imaginations of Imagineers as well. Just like Tony Baxter's Discovery Bay, the entire area will be relevant now or fifty years from now, given that its style will fit an exaggerated version of reality. Take a look at some of the concept art for Star Wars Land:

It will transport guests into a time and place that is completely new to them.

Since Discovery Bay was set in an idealized San Francisco-like city during the Age of Discovery, guests would have experienced something completely new to them. Although the architecture, theme, and environment draws upon ideas that are familiar, Discovery Bay itself would be entirely new, not a replica of something already around. Star Wars Land will be doing the same thing by bringing guests to a new planet that draws upon the style of planets found in the Star Wars films and franchise. And lastly;

It will be big…and it will be awesome.

Star Wars Land, like its sister project in Florida, is set to be 14 acres, meaning they will be the biggest expansions that Disney has ever created. Discovery Bay was supposed to be an addition along this size as well. Just the sheer volume and size of the expansion is bound to be impressive. And, as far as its awesomeness goes, Disney Imagineers have been on a roll lately. Between Cars Land and New Fantasyland, plus Shanghai Disneyland and Avatarland, WDI has been producing some great work. Star Wars Land will be no different. An addition into Walt’s original park will always be a daunting task. Is that what Walt would have wanted? Are we following his ideas? What would Walt do? But, given that Walt was dedicated to creating new experiences and always moving forward, Star Wars Land fits the mold. Though it may not be a classic Disneyland “land”, it will bring magic to the park in a new, different, and exciting way.

For those who were excited about Star Wars Land, I hope this article has only confirmed your high expectations. And for those who were unsure about its addition, I hope that I have presented the project in a new light that makes it more justifiable for Disneyland. It will always be the happy place that Walt intended it to be, just now with a visit from a galaxy far, far away.


Brittany Bell grew up in Lewiston, Maine, about 45 minutes away from Portland. She is currently studying Public Relations and Journalism at Boston University, and hopes to one day work for the Mouse himself. She grew up in a Disney-loving home, and would watch Sleeping Beauty on repeat as a little girl. Her first trip to Walt Disney World was in the summer of 2000, at four years old. Ever since then, Brittany and her family take annual trips to the World, and have no intention of vacationing anywhere else. Her favorite places in Walt Disney World are the Animal Kingdom Lodge, the Grand Floridian, and the Magic Kingdom. She can’t go without seeing Fantasmic! at least once each vacation, even though she chokes up a little at the final scene. Brittany is fascinated by how one man’s dream became an empire—one that makes dreams come true every day.

Before she became obsessed with Frozen and Queen Elsa, her favorite Disney characters were Princess Aurora and Mulan. She loves everything and anything Disney, from the parks, to the movies, to the Broadway musicals. In the near future she hopes to participate in the Disney College Program and work as a “friend of a princess”.

You can find all of Brittany's articles here

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