Former Walt Disney World Vice President Dan Cockerell recently revealed some behind the scenes details about Disney’s Star Wars attractions at Disney World and Disneyland.
Cockerell, who was Vice President of Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Magic Kingdom, and spent almost two decades with the company appeared on the WDW Radio podcast, where he discussed how Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge came about and how the original plans were to create a world based off George Lucas’ original trilogy.
As first reported by Pirates and Princesses, Cockerell detailed what the original plans for Galaxy’s Edge were.
Cockerell explains, “We had just purchased Lucasfilm, and it started to become the talk about okay if we are going to bring that to life, where are we going to do that?
“And [Hollywood] Studios ended up being the place ’cause that’s where A.) it seemed to fit the best and it was the park that needed an update the most and to replace some of the experiences,” Cockerell explained.
He continued, “So, we worked on that project for a couple of years. There were artists. We were looking at layouts of the park. You just get a big aerial view and you get a big magic marker and you start saying, ‘What if this was here?’ or ‘What if that was there?’
“And you start blocking off these big chunks of space and that kind of drills all the way down, and you keep going until you get to the attraction level and what the offerings are,” Cockerell elaborated.
He then details that the Epic Theater would have been the heart of Star Wars land.
“So we did it for a couple of years. And we had the Epic Theater, the Indiana Jones theater, that was going to be the heart of the Star Wars land. That was going to going away and we were going plug it right in there. The Mos Eisley Cantina was going to be right across from Star Tours. We had all kinds of great concepts for that.”
He continued, “We had gotten way down the path on art drawings and we hadn’t gone into architecture drawings or anything.”
He then details that they received a call that changed quite a bit of their years of planning, “And then we got a call one day. They said, ‘Well, we got some news for you all.’ And the Imagineering guys, they’ve heard this line many, many times during their careers. And I had never been through this.”
He then provides details on that call, “They said, ‘Well, yesterday Bob Iger met with Kathleen Kennedy, who as a lot people may know was sort of George Lucas’ protege and headed up Lucasfilm. And they had a conversation. They had a meeting. And Kathleen Kennedy, her point of view was, there are way more Disney Star Wars stories ahead of us than behind us.”
He continued, “So we really should think about do we want to build a Tatooine, and build what all the fifty-somethings remember Star Wars is or do we want to build something else which is going to appeal to all the upcoming generations who are going to know the new stories.”
Cockerell then stated, “And that day Tatooine was killed at the Studios. And all of those concepts were put on a shelf and I’m sure they are sitting in a vault, and I’m sure they’re going be shown someday about what that land looked like and what the attractions were going to be.”
He then detailed how he and his team reacted to the news, “The Imagineering team, we got off the phone, and I said, ‘Can you guys believe this?’ And they said, ‘This is terrible, we’ve been working on this!'”
Cockerell continued, “I said, “Well, what’s next?” They said, ‘Well, we are going to get on a call tomorrow and start over.’ I said, ‘That’s it?’ They said, ‘Look, go out tonight, go have a few beers, cry in your drink, come back tomorrow, and we’re starting again.'”
He added, “And they had been through this before. They know that until it’s signed and until you start breaking ground none of these projects are guaranteed. And they came back the next day just like they were as excited as they were two years earlier. I was really impressed by their optimism. And they dug into it. And that’s what you see today.”
Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge performed poorly when it first opened in Disneyland. Former Disney CEO and current Executive Chairman Bob Iger confirmed attendance at Disneyland was down when Galaxy’s Edge first opened.
He cited guests believing there could be overcrowding, only opening the land with one attraction, and increased prices being reasons for the decreased attendance.
The poor performance at the park even saw reports of employees getting their hours cut.
What Iger and other Disney executives will never mention when asked questions about the decline of the Star Wars franchise is their actual storytelling and handling of the franchise.
After spending years working on developing a Star Wars land based on the classic trilogy, Disney believed fans would embrace their new version of Star Wars. A new version of Star Wars that brought the once indomitable franchise to its knees on multiple fronts including its iconic characters like Luke Skywalker and Han Solo.
The Force Awakens turned Han Solo and Leia into neglectful parents who pretty much abandoned their son to the Dark Side.
The Last Jedi went out of its way to ruin the character of Luke Skywalker turning him into a person who premeditates murder, and then somehow cuts himself off from the Force.
The Rise of Skywalker completed the destruction of the franchise by resurrecting the Emperor and destroying the whole idea of The Force.
These story choices would destroy the franchise. Merchandise for the new Star Wars films is down according to Disney’s own financial reports. Even toy manufacturers are point out that the new Disney Star Wars doesn’t move product indicating people just aren’t interested in purchasing Disney Star Wars products.
But maybe what’s even more galling is that Disney executives ignored decades of success when it came to their theme parks. They ignored the success of their own attractions that are built on successful and beloved films. Attractions like Peter Pan’s flight, Toy Story Mania!, The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, and Seven Dwarfs Mine Train.
Instead of following their own pattern for success, they chose to risk it all on creating new stories, stories that fans just aren’t interested in.