There’s been a disturbance in the Force.
Former Walt Disney World VP Dan Cockerell is breaking his silence about what exactly went down with Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge behind the scenes, and it’s not going to make a lot of disgruntled Star Wars fans happy to know what could have been.
It seems as if Disney had initially planned for Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge to be based on the beloved original Star Wars trilogy… until Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy made a fateful call to Bob Iger.
Star Wars fans have been speculating since the Star Wars land’s announcement that Disney may have been planning the billion dollar expansion to be based on the well known original trilogy, and this was seemingly confirmed last year by former Disney Imagineer J. Daniel Jenkins who said that CEO Bob Iger asked for the concept to be switched to the Disney Sequel Trilogy era at the last minute.
To many (including myself), it made little sense for Disney to create an entirely new planet set in an era that has become increasingly unpopular when basing it George Lucas’ original three films would have been money in the bank.
This is the approach that Universal took with Harry Potter. Guests want to live the movies they know and love, not explore the periphery of the Potter universe. It made sense that Disney would have wanted to do something similar with Star Wars.
But that would have been all too easy.
Cockerell, who was Vice President of Walt Disney World for nearly two decades, oversaw projects at Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Magic Kingdom. He recently made an appearance on the WDW Radio podcast where he filled host Lou Mongello in on a lot of “Blue Sky” Disney concepts that never made it off the ground.
And he also dished about initial plans for the Star Wars expansion.
It turns out that, yes, Disney was originally designing Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge to be based upon the Mos Eisley spaceport on Tatooine, complete with Cantina (now Oga’s Cantina) and likely Docking Bay 94 (now Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run).
This has been something fans have been speculating about for awhile, given Batuu’s similarity Tatooine.
And yes, Bob Chapek did make that call to have Imagineering switch gears and focus on the Disney sequel era… at the urging of Kathleen Kennedy.
Cockerell talks about Galaxy’s Edge around the 16:30 minute mark.
We had just purchased Lucasfilm, and it started to become the talk about, okay, if you’re going to bring (Star Wars) to life, where are we going to do that?
And (Disney’s Hollywood) Studios ended up being the place. Because that’s where A, it seemed to fit the best and it was the park that needed the update the most, to replace some of the experiences.
So, we worked on that project for a couple of years. There were artists looking at layouts of the park. You just get a big aerial view and you get a big Magic Marker and you start saying “What if THIS was here?” or “What if THAT was there?”
So you start blocking off these big chunks of space, and that kinda drills all the way down, and you keep going until you get to the attraction level and what the offerings are.
And so we did it for a couple of years, and we had the Epic Theater, you know the Indiana Jones theater, that was going to be the heart of Star Wars Land. That was going to go away and we were going to plug it right in there.
The Mos Eisley Cantina was going to be right across from Star Tours. We had all kinds of great concepts with that.
We’d gotten WAY down the path on our drawings, but we hadn’t gotten into architectural drawings or anything.
And then we got a call one day.
They said “We got some news for you all.” And the Imagineering guys, they’ve heard this line many, many times during their careers. But I had never been through this.
They said “Well, yesterday Bob Iger met with Kathleen Kennedy, who a lot of people may know is sort of George Lucas’ protege, and headed up Lucasfilm, And they had a conversation, a meeting, and Kathleen Kennedy, her point of view was there are way more Disney Star Wars stories ahead of us than behind us. So we really should think about, do we want to build a Tatooine and build what all of the fifty-somethings remember Star Wars as, or do we want to build something else which is going to appeal to all the upcoming generations who are going to know the new stories.”
And that day Tatooine was killed at the Studios. And all those concepts were put on a shelf. I’m sure they’re sitting in a vault, and I’m sure they’re going to be shown someday about what that land would’ve looked like, and what the attractions were going to be.
The Imagineering team… we got off the phone and I was like “Can you guys believe this?” and they said “This is terrible, we’ve been working on this…”
I said “What’s next?” and they said “Well, we get on a call tomorrow and start over.”
I said “That’s it?” They said “Go out tonight, go have a few beers, cry in your drink, come back tomorrow, and we’re starting again.”
They had been through this before. They know that until it’s signed, and until you start breaking ground, that none of these projects are guaranteed.
They came back the next day and acted just as excited as they were two years earlier. I was really impressed by their optimism. And they dug into it, and that’s what you see today.
Sadly, many Star Wars fans haven’t shared Imagineering’s optimism.
With Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge initially getting a chilly reception in Disneyland, and Kathleen Kennedy’s handling of Star Wars coming under increasing fire from the fandom and the media, you have to wonder if there would have been a much warmer reception if people could, you know, explore the movies that withstood the test of time and were loved by young and old alike.
To say George Lucas’ Star Wars was just for “fifty-somethings” and that the kids will want Kennedy’s Disney-fied Star Wars in the decades to come is pure hubris.
There’s a reason Disney bases attractions and experiences on beloved films, and not their direct-to-DVD sequels.
People will still be riding the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train for decades to come, despite Snow White being the better part of a century old.
The original Star Wars trilogy is timeless.
For Lucasfilm’s president to not see that is appalling. For Disney to not understand what made Star Wars worth $4 billion in the first place is just flabbergasting.
With Disney’s theme park empire currently at a standstill, maybe they’ll take some time to reflect and make better choices going forward.
[Hat Tip: A. Friend]