Hello once again NotClub33.com readers! I’m Bobby, probably best known in these circles as the Disney Cynic. You’ve seen my work here before, but after a little time off from the Disney blogging scene, I’m back and I’m ready to spit fire in this Spitting Match!
I’m the one who picked this fight, so it’s only fair that I explain myself. I think Star Wars Land is going to flop. Immediately I’m going to hedge because I said it to get attention and make you click. It worked didn’t it? There is a bit of nuance here that I should clarify. “Flop” is what I’m using as a single word version of “Not Live Up To Expectations”. I’m also not predisposed to love all things Star Wars like so many of you are, nor am I what one would call an optimistic person, so I’m already starting behind the 8 ball in this argument and I know it. That said, I love a good challenge, and much like Han Solo, I’m going to shoot first.
Unfortunately I have this gut feeling based on observations from recent Disney Park offerings, consumer trends, and personal experience that tells me we’re all being set up. To coin a phrase, it’s a trap! If you’re business minded, or especially if you’re a Disney stockholder, hear me out and when you finish you can angrily tweet me why I’m wrong @CynicalDisney! Go ahead and @ me bro, I can handle it.
1. When has anything in your life this hyped completely lived up to expectations?
Ok, this is obviously subjective and has nothing to do with facts. From personal experience, if I’ve ever been super excited with high hopes, I’ve always been let down in some way. Christmas usually leads to a letdown of some kind, birthdays and other life events usually don’t live up to the hype. Even using Disney parks as an example, everyone has had that trip where they got the shitty cast member, your kid got sick, or it didn’t feel like the DVD you got in the mail. That’s not to say that Christmas or Disney vacations suck, because quite frankly I wouldn’t continue to spend the money I have if I thought they did. After over 30 years of making the trek to Orlando, I’ve run into just about every situation from the movie Vacation aside from the whole park being closed. If you’ve had nothing but wonderful experiences, kudos to you, and if you would, please also send me a list of the drugs and/or prescriptions you’re currently taking.
2. When has anything completely new worked perfectly from the start?
Never is the answer. Hell, every time I buy an iPhone, video game, or anything with software, there’s never a time where I just open the box and there isn’t a patch or download necessary. And all of that shit went through months of design and weeks of beta-testing before it was put on a store shelf. Star Wars Land will feature possibly the greatest leap in theme park ride technology and the highest immersion factor since Walt was running the Disney Company. Even with my cynical reservations, I’m not blind to the fact that when everything is working perfectly, Star Wars Land will almost certainly be the greatest theme park experience possible. “When everything is working perfectly” is the key part of that last sentence. Let’s be real, nothing works perfectly at first. Even soft openings won’t prepare the cast members for the flood of shit that they’re about to deal with. There’s no way to test everything at full capacity ahead of time, and when shit gets rolled out at full capacity, it’s bound to malfunction.
3. How will it possible to maintain Star Wars Land when half of Disney World is in disrepair and the other half is under construction?
Have you been on Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin recently? Compared to the technology advertised in Star Wars Land Buzz is a fucking child’s play thing (see what I did there?). Half the guns on the cars don’t work right, the ride shuts down for lengthy periods (allowing me to max out the score, but still), and apparently Disney’s budget is such that they can’t afford some Mr. Clean Magic Erasers to clean the grime off of the ride vehicles and walls. That’s just one semi-popular ride! A decline in overall service and cleanliness at the parks has been a hot topic on the Dis Boards. Animatronics don’t function the way they should, there’s trash on the ground, and rides are constantly being refurbished. What the hell is going to happen when millions of seldom showered, jean shorts wearing, disrespectful jackasses descend upon Central Florida to sit in the Millennium Falcon? I give it two weeks before chairs are ripped, switches don’t flick, and the R2-D2 rumbas they release in the area swallow a popcorn seed.
4. Nothing from the Star Wars franchise has lived up to expectations since Return of the Jedi.
There honestly shouldn’t be very high expectations with Star Wars films, but every single time we fall for the same trick of thinking that whatever new thing they trot out will be on par with the mythical status of the original trilogy. Return of the Jedi was literally the last time Star Wars as a franchise lived up to the hype. The Phantom Menace was supposed to be such a big deal that theaters literally gave George Lucas all of the concession stand money for the first 8 weeks of its release. Everyone loved that movie, right? The prequel trilogy as a whole was always talking about shit that would have made a better movie while showing us Space C-Span. The newest trilogy and side stories are re-hashes of the original trilogy, attempts to fix plot holes from previous films or some SJW writers wet dream. Seriously, I’ve never seen an entire film dedicated to fixing a plot hole from a 40 year old movie that I didn’t even know existed, and yet we have Rogue One. I’ve also never understood the need to bend over backwards to create characters of various racial make-ups and genders. I knew damn well Lando wasn’t the only black person in the galaxy, and didn’t roll my eyes at Rey until she became some feminist icon. While you’re bending over backwards, why don’t you tell me where the fat heroes in the Star Wars universe? Should I be pissed that my representation is Jabba the Hut? #StayWoke
5. Because it has a dedicated fan base, Star Wars has high financial expectations.
I have a lot of problems with Star Wars from a story telling and creative standpoint. That said, from a financial standpoint, the expectations from Disney are about as high as Cheech & Chong in a weed-smoke infused spacesuit on the moon. Look to the two most recent Star Wars films, The Last Jedi and Solo, for evidence of this. The Last Jedi grossed $1.3 Billion (with a B), but was regarded as a failure compared to the financial success of The Force Awakens. Five-ish months later, Disney released Solo: A Star Wars Story to little critical acclaim and even smaller financial success, merely grossing $392 Million (with an M). In fact, since The Force Awakens was released and set box office records, each subsequent film has dropped off in gross profit. Disney spent approximately $4 Billion (with a B) on LucasFilm, and it will certainly make a return on investment (if it hasn’t already). That said, they didn’t buy it so they could make a “meager” $1 Billion.
6. Disney as a company has just as high, if not higher expectations for anything they do.
If one looks at all of the intellectual properties Disney holds, the company makes a shit ton of money off of those properties. From a financial perspective, sequels must equal or outperform their predecessor; otherwise it’s looked at as a failure. If the Avengers: End Game isn’t the biggest opening in history, it’s a failure. At the parks, if the two attractions in Pandora at Animal Kingdom didn’t cause 4-hour plus wait times and significant gains in attendance for the park, James Cameron and Joe Rohde would be considered a failure. Now bring in the alleged biggest juggernaut of all franchises, and not simply make a single attraction, but dedicate enormous resources that would fund a handful of third world governments. You don’t make that kind of investment with a tiny ROI in mind. You do that to basically monopolize an industry. I give credit to Disney, they go big or they don’t go anymore, but going all-in comes with major risks, one of them necessitating that they exceed projections.
7. Diversifying is the key to any successful business.
General Electric doesn’t just make lightbulbs. Even if they were a monopoly of lightbulb maker, there’s only so many lightbulbs to be made. They’ve had their hand in variety of industries, even owning NBC for a time. With Disney, from park design standpoint, there’s a reason why all of their parks are a diverse display of themes and attractions. Even Animal Kingdom, dedicated to the conservation cause like no other entity, doesn’t just have a couple of lions and giraffes. It also has a Dinosaur area and Pandora. Because of Star Wars, Hollywood Studios has turned into a one and a half trick pony. When guests walk into the park, they’re accosted by a parade of Stormtroopers and a crowd of families watching their children bang plastic swords with Cos-Playing adults on a stage. There’s even a projection show accompanied by fireworks set to the music of the franchise to close the night and the park. In poker terms, Disney went all-in with pocket Aces. For those poker players out there, you’ll agree that the River is an unforgiving bitch of a card, and trip-deuces beats a pair every time.
8. Star Wars Land, therefore, MUST be biggest financial return in Disney Parks history, or it is a flop.
Disney literally scrapped almost an entire theme park in Orlando for Star Wars Land. Hollywood Studios has been under construction for nearly five years since the announcement of the expansion. Star Wars Land got its own preview center, a treatment previously reserved for full theme parks or the whole of Disney World. Hell, the other major construction project that opened in 2018, Toy Story Land, didn’t get such a status, and it technically has more attractions than Star Wars Land will open with, but as I noted above in my last point, you can’t swivel your head without seeing a Stormtrooper. With hundreds of millions of dollars, years of construction and all of opportunity cost on the line, if Star Wars Land isn’t the biggest financial return in the company’s history it has to be considered a flop. I’m not just talking about gross dollars either, I’m talking percentages. By necessity, the park has to rake in 200% of its construction budget within a year or it won’t be solvent. All of the little immersive technologies and cast member interactions will be the first thing cut from the budget if not, and the whole point of the area will be moot.
So there, my argument basically boils down to it has to be a real-life version of Jurassic Park based on the way it’s been budgeted/designed and after all the internet hype. If it’s not, it’s by my definition a flop. Who knows? It could just as easily exceed all expectations and hype. At the same time, I’d temper those expectations a little if I were you, dear reader. By doing so, you’ll inevitably prove me wrong, because going into Star Wars Land with those tempered expectations will make it easier to exceed them. Take it from Vince Vaughn in Dodgeball:
“I’ve found that if you have a goal, you might not reach it, but if you don’t have one, then you’re never disappointed….”
Thanks for reading. Check back tomorrow when Steve Rhodes rebuts Bobby’s hot take on Galaxy’s Edge.