Disney’s Bob Iger announced that the company will introduce two “Star Wars”-themed lands in Disneyland park in Anaheim, Calif., and Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Fla., during Disney’s D23 Expo on Saturday afternoon.
“We are creating a jaw-dropping new world that represents our largest single-themed land expansion ever,” Iger said. “These new lands at Disneyland and Walt Disney World will transport guests to a whole new ‘Star Wars’ planet.
Iger said the new areas will be “occupied by many inhabitants; humanoids, aliens and droids … the attractions, the entertainment, everything we create will be part of our storytelling. Nothing will be out of character or stray from the mythology.”
At both parks, there will be a cantina where fans can “run into all the droids and roaming beasts ‘Star Wars’ is known for,” including characters from the existing “Star Wars” saga and upcoming installment “The Force Awakens.”
Disney also released concept art of the new lands, which promise to immerse fans in a never-before-seen locale.
According to Iger, the expansion will have two signature attractions, including a ride where fans can take the controls of the Millennium Falcon “on a customized secret mission,” and an experience that drops attendees into “a climactic battle between the First Order and the resistance.”
Iger wryly noted that they are “currently casting for roles” to staff the new attractions. The partnership between Disney and Lucasfilm dates back to 1987, when the Star Tours attraction opened at Disneyland.
Another highlight of the “Star Wars” portion of the presentation saw director J.J. Abrams on hand with “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” cast members Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong’o and Harrison Ford, who received a standing ovation from the 7,500-strong crowd on Saturday afternoon.
“It’s a great thrill to be here with you, who made this whole thing happen. I couldn’t be happier, thank you so much,” Ford said with obvious emotion.
On picking Abrams to direct, Iger quipped: “We knew we needed someone who was great. We new we needed someone we could trust. We knew we needed someone who had great casting sense. Unfortunately, that director wasn’t available.”
The panel also handed out limited edition “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” posters featuring Ridley, Boyega and Ford’s characters.
Later in the day, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts Chairman Bob Chapek and a team of Disney Imagineers took the stage along with “Avatar” director James Cameron and producer Jon Landau to share new details about some of the other upcoming attractions at Disney’s theme parks.
In addition to the themed “Star Wars” land, other enhancements from the franchise are coming to Disney World in Florida and Disneyland in California, including Star Tours – The Adventures Continue, which will update the Star Tours experience with locations and characters from “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” giving guests a new adventure in a galaxy far, far away.
Additionally, a new interactive experience called Star Wars Launch Bay will take guests into “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” with special exhibits and a look behind-the-scenes, including opportunities to visit with new and favorite “Star Wars” characters, and purchase special merchandise and food offerings. Star Wars Launch Bay will be located in the Animation Courtyard at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and in Tomorrowland at Disneyland park. Star Wars Launch Bay will share the space with the reimagined Super Hero HQ at Disneyland, featuring opportunities to meet and take photos with superheroes like Captain America and Thor, as well as experience the returning Iron Man Tech presented by Stark Industries. Both experiences will be available for guests later this year.
The popular Jedi Training Academy will also get an update, including new characters and a villain to battle from the Disney XD series “Star Wars Rebels.” And a seasonal event called Season of the Force, beginning early 2016, will hit both parks next year. In Tomorrowland at Disneyland, guests will explore the “Star Wars” galaxy with special entertainment throughout the land, along with themed food locations. In conjunction with the event, Space Mountain will get a makeover to become Hyperspace Mountain, in which guests will join an X-wing Starfighter battle. And at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Orlando, guests will close out weekend nights with a new fireworks spectacular set to the iconic score of the “Star Wars” movies.
Florida’s Hollywood Studios is also getting an update, with a new 11-acre Toy Story Land which promises to transport guests into the adventurous outdoors of Andy’s backyard. Guests will think they’ve been shrunk to the size of Woody and Buzz while surrounded by oversized toys that Andy has assembled using his vivid imagination. The area will host two new attractions and one expanded existing ride: a family-friendly roller coaster which will plunge and coast as it takes guests on a fun, toy-filled adventure throughout the new land, all while riding on the back of Slinky Dog; an alien saucers attraction where the films’ iconic aliens will take guests around for a spin in their very own flying saucers while “The Claw” hovers overhead; and a new Toy Story Mania expansion which will add a third track.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom in Florida will also unveil Pandora from “Avatar” as part of a new expansion, and the entire park will transform after dark with new nighttime entertainment experiences. Among the new attractions are “Rivers of Light” (set to open spring 2016), described as an innovative experience combining live music, floating lanterns, water screens and swirling animal imagery on Discovery River; and an extended nighttime version of Kilimanjaro Safaris, where guests will travel through the African savanna amid the magically extended orange glow of the setting sun, discovering two species new to the attraction along the way: African wild dogs and hyenas. As part of the Pandora expansion (a land that includes floating mountains, a bioluminescent forest and the winged creatures known as Banshees), fans will be able to ride Avatar Flight of Passage, an E-ticket attraction that allows guests to soar on a Banshee over a vast alien world.
In Epcot at Florida and Disney’s California Adventure park, a Soarin’ Around the World attraction will take guests on a journey above some of the world’s most unique natural landscapes and man-made wonders.
And at Hong Kong Disneyland, the new Iron Man Experience will be the first Marvel attraction at any Disney park, taking guests on an epic adventure over the streets and in the sky above Hong Kong. The adventure will begin at the new Stark Expo, where guests board the Iron Wing to take flight and battle Hydra alongside Iron Man himself.