When the Disney company acquired the Star Wars franchise to the tune of 4 billion dollars back in 2012, some of us nerds worried they would ruin the beloved sci-fi property. Others celebrated because Disney might breathe new life into a franchise that had been tarnished by its very creator, George Lucas. Now, a mere month away from the release of J.J. Abrams’ The Force Awakens, Disney is launching several Star Wars themed attractions at its parks to warm us up, to show us what they can do. Whether you bemoan the “Disney-ication” of your childhood, or are thrilled with what Disney has done so far, you wouldn’t pass up a chance to ride a rollercoaster into hyperspace, would you? Neither would I.
Well, that’s exactly what I did tonight. Tomorrow, November 16th, the original Disneyland park will open the “Star Wars Launch Bay” in its Tomorrowland. The Launch Bay will include a meet-and-greet area, featuring Darth Vader and Chewbacca, a replica cantina, and props and videos from the upcoming films. Around the park, the merchandise is being rolled out: BB-8 sippie-cups, Tie Fighter popcorn bowls, light and darkside lemonade. The gift shops and concession stands have been taken over. All of this (dubbed The Season of the Force) is supposed to tide us over until the opening of Star Wars Land next year. Along with the Launch Bay, Disneyland’s premiere rollercoaster, Space Mountain, has undergone an extensive update, refashioning it as a Star Wars themed ride. Myself, and a few other lucky individuals, got to enjoy the “soft-launch” of the new Hyperspace Mountain. The design is truly force-inspired.
The updated Space Mountain includes everything a Star Wars fan could ask for. The waiting queue included video footage of franchise favorite, Admiral Akbar. X-wing blueprints were projected overhead and the rebel insignia adorned the passages. And, as we climbed into our seats, we could hear some familiar squadron radio chatter: Red 5 standing by, Red 7 standing by. For several years now, the coaster has used embedded speakers to pump music into the ride’s carriage. Through the speakers, the iconic theme began to play as the coaster climbed into its first drop. This is what Disney gets right: the details.
Space Mountain is the perfect ride to simulate the Star Wars experience. Most of Hyperspace Mountain features a space battle, a classic dogfight. The dark interior of the coaster’s housing allows Tie Fighters, Star Destroyers, and X-wings, to be projected along the tracks and across the walls. Several times, it felt as if you were actually speeding alongside your rebel comrades in an intense battle with the Empire. Here, the use of the speakers really shone. Laser blasts. Ship explosions. Roaring engines. All the unique sounds of the Star Wars universe are used to transport you. At only about three minutes, Hyperspace Mountain wasn’t nearly long enough to satisfy all my Star Wars cravings, but it came close. As the ride ended, everyone in our car exploded into applause and cheers. The cheers were well deserved.
While we have a long wait until Star Wars Land opens, Disney is doing its best to keep us interested. Merchandising is the inevitable, if not unfortunate, consequence of the company’s takeover of the Lucas property. We all knew that was coming–toys, clothes, food, etc. However, Disney has a legendary commitment to quality, also. We’ll have to wait to see how the new films pan out, but so far Disney is winning (at least some of us) over with these little teasers. With their redesign of Space Mountain, however, they have given us much more than just a teaser. Hyperspace Mountain is fantastic Star Wars ride on its own account. If you can make a trip to the magic kingdom in the next few months, don’t miss it.