Ever since the model of Star Wars Land was revealed at D23, my excitement for the coming expansion has been building. What entices me most is their choice to build not only a visual immersive land, but also create a story that involves the guest. If it is implemented then this sounds like it might be the next iteration of theme park entertainment. Despite all of my enthusiasm though, I still feel that with the current plans they are missing out on a golden opportunity.
When Disney chose to set the land in the time period of the First Order, I understood the business decisions behind it. The sequel trilogy is in the minds of the general and international public and not just a subset of fans. They have access to the film talent and the majority of them are likely under contract. This means it is much easier to get them to record dialogue or scenes to include within the land. Yet, even with these benefits Disney may have underestimated the draw and power of the original trilogy. Especially since it was that draw that caused Bob Iger to purchase Lucas Films in the first place.
What Imagineering has created sounds great and it should be built; instead I believe that setting one land in the era of the First Order and one in the era of the Empire would be much more valuable. While that the idea of creating 2 separate lands is the most appealing as a fan and guest, I acknowledge that decision would greatly balloon the costs, time and money, of the project far beyond what the Disney is willing to commit. In light of that, I believe that 2 different overlays of the same bones would have the desired effect. Since ride development is one of the larger costs, using the same rides in both parks is the most cost efficient. Based on the current description of the attractions, having the same attractions but taking place in both time periods would be achievable with a manageable amount of changes to them.
The Battle the First Order attraction sounds the most ambitious but since the Empire and the First Order have the same basic design cues alternating between the two could be “quick” alterations. Since I fully expect the attractions to use screens, the largest additional cost would be creating two sets of movies. Depending on how these movies are created would determine how much extra cost. If they used mainly live actors and practical effects this would mean a longer shooting schedule with more actors. Alternatively, if the scenes are mostly CGI then it might be a cheaper switch, depending on how many face characters there are.
For the Flight of the Falcon attraction the character that guests are most likely to encounter will be Chewbacca. Since the only visual difference between the Chewbacca in each era is a fur variation it should be an easy to change; be it through CGI or physical costuming of an actor. Alternately, if they choose to create an animatronic then making two different dressings should add no cost at all. Due to such factors I expect that neither attraction would cost much to alter the time period. If they needed any other original trilogy characters Disney has proven with films like Rogue One that they have the technology to bring back old characters. This technology when combined with a masking delivery method, such as a hologram projection or tracking CRT display, could eliminate any uncanny valley complaints that occured with the movies. While this process would increase the cost some it could be smartly applied to have larger impacts with minimal usage.
For the larger land, using color and vegetation differences would have a powerful effect for little to no additional cost. The shown designs of the grey stone and more tropical plant life work well for California. Since the goal is to make an alien planet and those choices help create a contrast with the orange and tans of Frontierland that it will be adjacent too. In Florida it will not be near anything that will visual encroach, because of that I think it would adapt a more western United states vibe. Using the same orange and sandstone color scheme for the rock work and maybe more adobe and spanish mission white plaster for the building colors. For the vegetation being inspired by the pacific coast might be wise. Conifers and other scaled bark trees would blend well with the pines that tend to circle the park and might act as a backdrop. The incorporation of some fake sequoias would also visually help tie in the front of Star Tours which, while removed in Hollywood Studios, would create a nice visual connection.
Now I understand that having a different look but the same rides might not sound like enough to warrant the effort, but the greatest modification has not been mentioned yet; that is in the stories that are able to be told in the land. Each land with be inhabited with characters and shows and there could be enough variation written in so that each land would provide a unique and separate experience. An encounter with Kylo Ren and Captain Phasma would happen very differently then one with Vader and Boba Fett. This variety would allow for guest to gravitate towards the stories that interest them most initially. Then over time they might hear the tales of others who went to the other park and would desire to go there as well.
These changes could lead to numerous benefits without delaying or ballooning the cost of the project. The most obvious benefit being is that it would probably attract Super Fans to both parks instead of just the park closest as is likely to happen now. The second in the draw of the original trilogy for casual fans might have an invisible hand effect to drive people towards Disney World instead of DisneyLand. This might help with the overcrowding problem that seems to be plaguing California. These fans might also end up booking longer trips since there is more to do in Disney World. Additionally, since the current goal seems to be to have merchandise that is also theme restricted to the land, this presents an opportunity for more unique collectibles. Due to all this I think Disney might have missed a chance to make a bigger impact then they already will with Star Wars Land.