Beginning Monday, November 16th, visitors to Disneyland in Anaheim, CA, will find a huge new Star Wars presence at the park. That’s the day Disneyland kicks off their new Season of the Force event, with the debut of several new Star Wars-themed areas and elements.
I attended a preview night for Season of the Force and found it to be, ahem, most impressive. Essentially, Tomorrowland has become absolutely dominated by Star Wars during Season of the Force, leaving only a handful of attractions like Autopia, Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage and Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters not looking like they come from a galaxy far, far away.
Even the walls bordering the entrance of Tomorrowland immediately set the scene, as you can see...
Let’s go over what there is to see and do…
In 2011, there was a huge overhaul to Star Tours (which was first introduced in 1987), so that you now can go you to multiple planets from Star Wars, with the experience varying each time you go on the ride. With The Force Awakens about to open, a brand new destination has been added – Jakku, the planet we’ve seen a lot of in the trailers, where Rey lives. In this scenario, the Star Speeder finds itself racing behind the Millennium Falcon, as it battles TIE Fighters above an old, destroyed Star Destroyer – just as we’ve seen in the trailers. It’s a very fun sequence, which includes a very cool cameo by one of the main actors/characters from The Force Awakens, along with a look at some other Jakku locals.
The Jekku sequence is not the only new addition to Star Tours. The mid-way point of the ride now adds BB-8 as one of the possible characters who gives you mission instructions, joining the other possibilities of Admiral Ackbar, Yoda and Leia. On top of that, other new tweaks have been made to pre-existing moments in the ride. One of the possible opening sequences, where Darth Vader tries to stop you from leaving the hanger, now has another fan favorite character by his side. And friends of mine informed me (from firsthand experience) that when you end the ride on Coruscant, you sometimes see the Millennium Falcon, and a familiar face in the cockpit, fly by, as you hurtle towards the planet. Based on this, I’m guessing there are probably other new additions as well.
Similar to how Space Mountain becomes Space Mountain: Ghost Galaxy in the lead up to Halloween, Disneyland has given Space Mountain a temporary Star Wars-themed overlay. And it is awesome!
I must note that Space Mountain is probably my all-time favorite Disneyland ride, so when you combine it with Star Wars, well… Its hard not to geek out. Now, as you race along the track of Space Mountain, you are in the midst of a full X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter battle, with video screens depicting the ships hurtling by you, amongst the outer space backgrounds of the ride. Naturally, this is all backed by John Williams’ iconic Star Wars music, making for a thrilling, immersive experience and a crowd-pleasing, suitably triumphant conclusion.
Check out a glimpse of Admiral Ackbar’s introduction video for Hyperspace Mountain:
The old Innoventions building has been completely taken over by Star Wars and Marvel – the second floor is now the “Super Hero HQ”, which wasn’t ready yet for this preview. However, the first floor is ready and it’s a really well done area called Star Wars Launch Bay. The area is filled with props, costumes and models from the Star Wars films – when you first walk in, you see a ton from The Force Awakens, from Flame Trooper armor to Rey’s costume and blaster. But there are also plenty of items from the other six films, and even some models and specially made props to represent Star Wars in animation as well, including a model of the Ghost ship from Star Wars Rebels and lightsabers belonging to Ahsoka Tano, Asajj Ventress and the Grand Inquisitor.
Check out a ton of photos from what's inside the Launch Bay in the gallery below.
The Launch Bay also includes a really well made video about the impact and ongoing relevance of Star Wars, which includes interviews with a ton of people making modern Star Wars content, including Kathleen Kennedy, Simon Kinberg, Dave Filoni and J.J. Abrams. Other interview participants include Rogue One, Episode VII and Episode VIII directors Gareth Edwards, Rian Johnson and Colin Trevorrow, with the Edwards segments giving us a tiny glimpse at the set of Rogue One, as seen in the video below.
This area is where you can also meet none other than Darth Vader and Chewbacca, who each have their own, individualized areas. And both of them will talk to you!
Look, it's no surprise that Disney and Star Wars aren’t missing out on new things to sell you! And for Season of the Force, there’s a ton of new items fans will be eager to have. While there was already plenty of Star Wars merchandise available in Tomorrowland, more is now at the Star Wars Launch Bay store, including some very high-end items (as in huge, life size statues that will cost you a few thousand bucks), along with character costumes, t-shirts and more widely available Star Wars toys.
On the food front, all of Tomorrowland has turned Star Wars, with nearly every menu item at the different main food vendors themed to Star Wars. My dinner consisted of a First Order Burger (it's good and spicy, though I could have done with a bit less sauce) and fries, a Light Side drink (obviously, there’s a Dark Side too) and a BB-8 rice krispie treat, which was particularly tasty – complete with M&M’s inside! But there’s so much more you can get, including various food items and collector’s cups – the BB-8 sipper cup seems like it’ll be hugely popular, as will the Chewie cup. Check out more in the gallery below, including some of the different menu food items.
In the past couple of years, Disneyland has used the Tomorrowland Theater to showcase special previews of new Disney-owned films, including Guardians of the Galaxy and Tomorrowland. The newest movie to get this treatment is The Force Awakens, via a special new presentation that takes a look back at the story of Anakin and Luke Skywalker, via clips from the Star Wars films, with some effects in the theater (flashing lights for lightsabers, some motion in the seats) to enhance the action.
Let’s be clear: this is really just an extended trailer for The Force Awakens, with the long montage from the previous six movies leading into what is basically the most recent US trailer for Force Awakens at the end, with little editing (no, Disneyland doesn’t have any actual exclusive clips from this oh-so secretive movie). But if you love Star Wars, this presentation is really effective and even emotional, with some great moments juxtaposing some of the most iconic visuals from the films – using, say, Obi-Wan’s quotes about The Clone Wars and Anakin from the original trilogy over footage of Anakin and Obi-Wan himself as a young man.
Don’t have much to say about this one, because it’s not ready yet! But the special experience for kids, who are mentored in the ways of the Force, is getting a big overhaul with new characters and interactions and will re-open in December.
Overall, I loved Season of the Force. While we still have many years to go before we get the true full Star Wars land at Disneyland, this is a great way to bring this world into the park in a big way for the time being. Some of these additions, like the Star Tours enhancements and the Launch Bay, will continue past the Season of the Force event itself, though for the time being, Disneyland isn't saying how long Season of the Force will last. Given the popularity of Star Wars, and the mania that is about to surround The Force Awakens opening, I'm going to guess it's going to be there at least a few months though...
Season of the Force begins at Disneyland on Monday, November 16th. A similar Season of the Force experience is coming to Walt Disney World's Hollywood Studios in Orlando, FL on December 1st.