Review: The Force reigns at Disneyland’s new ‘Star Wars’ event
What if Disneyland converted Tomorrowland to a “Star Wars"-themed area rather than building a 14-acre Star Wars Land?
Starting Friday, you can see what that would have looked like with Star Wars Season of the Force at the Anaheim theme park.
The “Star Wars” festival officially kicks off Monday, but you can check out all the new additions to Tomorrowland right now as Disneyland “soft opens” a series of new attractions, shows, exhibits, meet-and-greets, food and merchandise tied to the December opening of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”
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I attended Disneyland’s media preview Thursday night and recorded a dozen Periscope videos that I’ll include below, along with a review of each of the new Season of the Force additions to Tomorrowland. If you want a spoiler-free introduction to Season of the Force, check out my preview story. Otherwise, consider yourself warned.
Thursday night was my first time using Periscope, so you’ll have to forgive some of my beginner mistakes. I realize now I should have used landscape rather than portrait mode for the videos, but that’s the preferred format for Periscope. Follow me on Periscope at @latimesfunland if you want to see the videos in their original context.
Join me for a tour through a virtually empty Tomorrowland as I offer a preview of Season of the Force in the video below.
For the uninitiated, the Season of the Force event essentially serves as a placeholder to satisfy the insatiable appetites of visitors for everything “Star Wars” while Disneyland builds the new themed land in the Big Thunder Ranch area of the park. You can catch up on what we know and what we don’t know about Star Wars Land in my previous stories.
Disneyland has announced that construction of Star Wars Land will begin early next year, but the park has not set an opening date for the new themed land — most likely in 2017 or 2018. That’s a long time to wait — especially with Wizarding World of Harry Potter opening up the freeway at Universal Studios Hollywood in spring 2016.
Season of the Force is designed as a stopgap measure to battle the boy wizard and drum up excitement for Star Wars Land. The problem for Disneyland is that some visitors may think the temporary event is actually the new land. Be prepared for a lot of confusion over the coming few years: Is Tomorrowland now Star Wars Land? Where’s the Millennium Falcon that Disney promised? Is this it?
For now, Season of the Force does a good job of adding a “Star Wars” overlay to Tomorrowland — from conductor John Williams’ score playing throughout the land to the fun new adventure on Hyperspace Mountain to the clever keepsakes that come with food purchases.
But even Disney knows a few “Star Wars” touches here and there in Tomorrowland won’t compare to the Wizarding World when the West Coast version finally opens to what’s sure to be massive crowds. Disney believes an immersive, new Star Wars Land with at least two attractions is the answer to Potter-mania. We’ll have to wait and see whether the eventual reality matches the impressive concept art we’ve seen.
Virtually every corner of Tomorrowland is taken over by Season of the Force. Let’s take a look at each of the new additions individually.
The Space Mountain indoor roller coaster gets a “Star Wars” overlay much like Disneyland does with Ghost Galaxy during the Halloween season.
Scenes of X-Wings, Starfighters and even the Millennium Falcon flash on the interior walls of Space Mountain as riders race through the dark aboard the coaster. The highlight: a TIE fighter that heads right for the coaster train with an effect reminiscent of the boulder scene in the Indiana Jones Adventure.
Expect Hyperspace Mountain to have the longest lines in the park and for FastPasses to disappear early.
The video below shows on-ride footage of Sharlene Earnshaw and Kate Bodell from the Trekaroo family travel website, who were kind enough to let me film their ride.
Star Tours: The Force Awakens
Star Tours adds a new scene featuring characters, spaceships and locations from “The Force Awakens” to the flight simulator ride.
In the new scene, our Starspeeder 3000 soars around and through a crashed ship featured prominently in the movie trailers where scavengers are pouring over the remains. The highlight of the journey is an appearance by BB-8, the cute soccer ball-like rolling droid from the new movie.
While the scenes in Star Tours are typically randomized, riders are guaranteed to see the new scene during “The Force Awakens” overlay.
The overall ride time seemed a bit shorter to me, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Disney trimmed the trip a bit in anticipation of long lines.
Check out my review of the new scene from “The Force Awakens” on Star Tours in the video below.
Star Wars Launch Bay
The new exhibit transforms the lower floor of Innoventions into a museum-like display of props and models from all seven “Star Wars” movies.
Star Wars Launch Bay is full of display cases with ship models, costumes and lightsabers used in the making of the movies. This is the place to come if you want to geek out for hours on all the various iterations of stormtrooper and rebel fighter helmets along with tons of items from the film series archives. Join me as I take a tour through the exhibit in the video below.
There’s also a character meet-and-greet area inside Star Wars Launch Bay where visitors can talk with Darth Vader and pose for photos with a howling Chewbacca. Once again, expect the lines to be monumental if you want some personal one-on-one time with the Sith Lord or the Wookie. You can check out my interview with Darth in the video below.
Launch Bay is also home to a high-end merchandise shop where you can spend $9,000 on a life-size model of a stormtrooper, $1,200 on movie photo stills autographed by the stars or $500 on original paintings depicting the Star Wars universe. The cheapest item I found in the store was a $32 T-shirt. Bring your credit card. Or your paycheck. Join me for a tour through the shop in the video below.
What’s missing from Launch Bay is any hint of what’s to come with Star Wars Land. Hopefully in the near future, Disney will introduce scale models and concept art for the new land in the exhibition space.
The Marvel HQ remains upstairs in Innoventions with what appears to be a separate entrance from Star Wars Launch Bay.
Star Wars: Path of the Jedi
The biggest surprise of the night was the “Path of the Jedi” film montage inside the old Captain EO theater. Like most people, I expected the movie to be little more than an extended trailer for “The Force Awakens.”
The 10-minute movie does a great job of summarizing the first six movies for novices and hard-core fans alike. Obi-Wan Kenobi serves as the narrator as the film splices together clips from the series into a cohesive whole that concisely explains the entire saga.
I hadn’t seen about half the footage in the three-minute trailer for “The Force Awakens” at the end of the film, but die-hard fans will likely be familiar with most of the material. Check out my review of “Path of the Jedi” in the video below.
Tomorrowland Terrace becomes the Galactic Grill as part of the Season of the Force transformation of the futuristic themed land.
The media tried a sampling from the new Galactic Grill menu, which features typically inflated Disneyland prices. Much like a McDonald’s kids meal, many of the food offerings come with collectible toys that may be more interesting than the food for some visitors. That said, Disneyland has done a nice job of raising the bar on typical theme park food. A couple of Disneyland’s executive chefs walk me through all of the new food offerings in the video below.
I enjoyed the First Order burger with an Angus beef and chorizo patty and deep-fried cherry peppers on a black bun, which sells for $11.99. The sandwich actually had a spicy kick that might surprise some Disneyland visitors. For an extra $8, you can get a lunch box with your meal featuring Han Solo frozen in carbonite. Expect these things to fly off the shelves. And yes, if you’re doing the math, that’s $19.99 for a burger in a plastic box.
Galactic Grill also offers a pair of specialty beverages that play off the Dark Side-Light Side theme Disney is employing with its Star Wars food offerings. I preferred the zingy Light Side green-apple lemonade with boba that comes with a light-up Millennium Falcon ice cube for $7.59. It appears the drinks also will be available in Chewbacca and BB-8 drink cups, but they weren’t available Thursday night and I’m not sure on the upcharge prices.
And pardon my pun, but I can’t resist: The Darth by Chocolate parfait with chocolate ganache and red velvet cake for $5.99 was simply to die for. I’m a chocoholic, and I could eat this dessert for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Also available nearby at the newly themed popcorn cart in Tomorrowland will be a pair of collectible containers in the shape of a TIE fighter and Darth Vader’s head. Expect to see kids all over Disneyland walking around with these things. The line at this popcorn cart may stretch all the way to Astro Orbitor.
For those wondering about the Jedi Training Academy, the interactive show isn’t expected to return until December, when a new villain from the “Star Wars Rebels” television series on Disney XD joins the lineup.
Star Wars Season of the Force is set to debut in January at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, where the setup will be a little different because the Florida park does not have Space Mountain or Innoventions.
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