Also check out our gallery of photos from Disneyland’s Star Wars Launch Bay.
You’ve probably heard about Star Wars Land, the new themed area coming to Disneyland and Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Orlando. Like all things Star Wars, it’s gotten a ton of press over the last few months, including a heavily hyped prime-time sneak preview during the Disneyland 60th Anniversary special a couple of weeks ago. There’s no launch date yet, but it’s safe to assume it’s well over a year away—construction didn’t start on either location until this past January, and meticulously designed immersive environments don’t just spring up overnight. It took over a couple of years each for both halves of Universal’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter to be built, and if you don’t think Disney is going to try to outdo that state-of-the-art theme park, you underestimate how competitive this weird business is. We could already be talking about the next presidential election before we ever get to sit in that Millennium Falcon ride.
To fill the gap between now and then, and to make sure Disney’s parks offer some kind of tie-in thrills during this most recent outbreak of Star Wars hype, they’ve launched an event known as Season of the Force. It’s like a Star Wars pop-up shop that’s overtaken Disneyland’s Tomorrowland since November, smearing a veneer of Star Wars over Disney’s longtime sci-fi outpost. (A smaller version is also running at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Orlando.) It’s a bit of a band-aid, and diehard Disney traditionalists might resent the intrusion, but it wouldn’t make sense to not capitalize on the massive popularity of The Force Awakens, and squeezing it into Tomorrowland, which has long been the home of Star Tours in Disneyland, makes the most sense. It’ll get paying customers through the gates, but it might not offer enough of that familiar Star Wars atmosphere to placate anybody but the youngest or most devoted of Force fanatics.
Season of the Force brings a number of minor changes to Tomorrowland, and a handful of big ones. The vaguely futuristic ambient music that typically plays throughout the area has been replaced by John Williams’ score from the movies. New scenes based on The Force Awakens have been added to the long-running Star Tours ride, and more Star Wars merchandise than ever before has taken over the gift shops. The big draws, though, are a collection of Star Wars memorabilia in the Tomorrowland Expo Center (the building formerly known as Innoventions) called the Star Wars Launch Bay, and a thematic overlay of the iconic roller coaster Space Mountain known as Hyperspace Mountain.
I recently spent a day at Disneyland checking out Season of the Force. As a Star Wars fan, it’s a fun little diversion that offers something new and momentarily exciting. As a Disneyland fan, it feels a bit rushed and half-formed, and disrupts the inherent charm of Tomorrowland. Some vocal Disney devotees are concerned about Star Wars Land being squeezed into the tight confines of Disneyland, but if the only other practical alternative was making this Tomorrowland update a permanent overlay, nobody should be complaining about a shorter river or the loss of a petting zoo. A third park in Anaheim would’ve been the best plan, especially since both Anaheim parks can be painfully crowded during peak seasons, but that ship has sailed (unlike the ship that regularly sails in Disneyland’s Rivers of America, which is dry-docked during Star Wars Land’s construction).
The Star Wars Launch Bay is a glorified gift shop where you can get your photo taken with Kylo Ren or Chewbacca. There’s a small exhibit of models and movie props (here’s a photo gallery) that offers an up-close look at a number of iconic Star Wars spaceships, and you might notice some interesting little details that you can’t necessarily see on the movie screen. After looking at all these toy-sized models you have to exit through an actual gift shop filled with a variety of Star Wars toys. If you were looking for a hundred dollar oversized recreation of Kenner’s old Chief Chirpa figure, here’s your spot. If you miss the days where you could walk out of a Sharper Image at the mall with a multi-thousand-dollar life-size statue of a character you loved in elementary school, get on down to the Star Wars Launch Bay and snap up those man-sized Stormtroopers. Bring every dollar you ever even thought about making.
I wasn’t expecting much from the Launch Bay to begin with, based on all the preview material, and considering the questionable quality of the preexisting Marvel exhibit that still runs on the building’s second floor. I was still surprised at how little there is to do in the Launch Bay. Other than the character meet and greets, there’s little to interact with. Museums learned long ago that they need to put up various multimedia displays and interactive gewgaws to keep the youth of today interested. You’d think a Star Wars museum in the Happiest Place on Earth would be overloaded with screens and buttons and other things to push and play with. The models are actually pretty cool, and I’m sure kids love getting their photos taken with Chewie and, um, the guy who murdered Han Solo (uh, spoilers) but the whole thing still feels sparse. The Launch Bay underlines how rushed the entire Season of the Force project feels.