It's not difficult to sell me on a combination of Star Wars and Disney Parks. When Disney CEO Bob Iger announced Star Wars-themed attractions would be coming to both Disneyland and Walt Disney World Resorts, I was in. I can't pretend I had any chill about the concept. As they explained how the 14-acre space would be immersive and interactive, I became more intrigued.
We got our first look at what they could do with land-covering theming with the opening of Cars Land, but after visiting Pandora: The World of Avatar at Animal Kingdom? I am even more excited to see what Disney Parks can do with Star Wars.
Now, I don't have any strong connection to Avatar. Of course I walked into Pandora expecting beauty, because, hello, Disney Imagineering. But what I got was so much more. Located in the Valley of Mo'ara, the story in Pandora: The World of Avatar is set decades after the events of the continuing film series. The idea is that the Na'vi have partnered with Alpha Centauri Expeditions (ACE) to bring tourists to this area where the world is slowly recovering from the damage done by RDA (which we saw in the 2009 movie). The Pandora Conservation Institute (PCI) features heavily into the land as well.
You can read the story online, but you can also ask any cast member working in Pandora. They're all in character and in universe; they even speak a little of the Na'vi language. You'll find field guides who can tell you all about the plants and nature around you. They'll explain everything from the tiniest spores to the floating mountains. Cast members working in the gift shop might tell you about their work with PCI and how they hope to become avatar drivers. Speak with characters that look a little like adventurous hippies and maybe you'll hear a story about how they're descendants of RDA defectors and expats.
The storytelling is rich and present in every last detail. Pandora is more than immersive, it's thoughtful. This place isn't only about the stunning scenery--which it has in droves, with different looks for day and night--this is a fictional alien world brought to life. It feels real. Pandora has a narrative that has been considered from every angle. Sure, you could breeze in only for the attractions and a glance around, but you'd be missing out on an enriching experience.
Now, imagine all these concepts but set in the Star Wars universe. Disney worked closely with James Cameron and Lightstorm Entertainment to get Pandora just right, and they sort of have an in with Lucasfilm. Like with Pandora, the cast members in the Star Wars area will be operating as though they're part of the universe. We'll get to explore the yet unnamed planet and take it in as if we're actually visiting a galaxy far, far away. Based on the interactions I had in Mo'ara, my mind is spinning over the possibilities for Star Wars land. Talking to the aliens and people there could be like walking through a collection of short stories.
And let's take a moment to discuss the E ticket attraction in Pandora, Flight of Passage, during which you get to ride a banshee. PCI and ACE have made the important Na'vi rite of passage available to tourists--with the permission of the Na'vi--via a link to an avatar. The attraction combines a dome-style screen with ride vehicles that are sort of like stationary motorcycles. In a word, the experience is incredible. For a few minutes, I felt like I was truly flying over Pandora--they even move the leg restraints in such a way that you can feel your banshee breathing. Riding Flight of Passage is joyful. The exact concept of the attraction obviously won't translate to the Star Wars universe, but the leveling up on the technological and visual sides is encouraging.
I can't compare Pandora to other immersive lands such as Cars Land at Disney's California Adventure or the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal parks, because Pandora is light years beyond them. The technology and ideas developed in other such theme park areas were key to getting this far, but Pandora is the next step. And the Star Wars lands will likely push forward in other ways. I already had faith in the potential for the Star Wars themed lands, but now, I have a new hope.
I left Pandora reluctantly, with a curiosity and passion for the world I didn't have before I walked into the Valley of Mo'ara at Animal Kingdom. So, basically, I'm going to plan on pitching a tent in Disneyland's Star Wars-themed land in 2019.
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