We talked about the original plans for Galaxy’s Edge a few months ago. Back then it was reported that the Star Wars theme park was to be about the Original Trilogy, and that Bob Iger changed his mind when The Force Awakens was released, when he saw first footage. Now it turns out that this is not the whole story. Former Walt Disney World Vice President Dan Cockerell was a guest on the WDW Radio podcast and there he talked about how events unfolded. And it turns out that the reports from a few months back left out one important detail: a meeting Bob Iger had with Kathleen Kennedy. Click through for more!
According to Dan Cockerell Bob Iger didn’t arrive at the idea of changing plans for Galaxy’s Edge after two years of development all on his own. Instead, he met with Kathleen Kennedy who was apparently instrumental in convincing Iger that it’s better to have a theme park about the sequel trilogy.
Dan Cockerell talks about the original plans in the first part of the podcast, things we already know, that it was supposed to be based on Tatooine, with Mos Eisley, the Cantina etc. But then everything changed over night.
This is what Dan Cockerell says in the podcast:
They (the imagineers) said: “Well, yesterday Bob Iger met with Kathleen Kennedy, who a lot of people may know is sort of George Lucas’ protege, and headed up Lucasfilm, And they had a conversation, a meeting, and Kathleen Kennedy, her point of view was there are way more Disney Star Wars stories ahead of us than behind us. So we really should think about, do we want to build a Tatooine and build what all of the fifty-somethings remember Star Wars as, 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.”
Acording to Cockerell this meeting was apparently crucial in changing the plans, instead of Tatooine and Mos Eisley we got Batuu. So Bob Iger only arrived at the idea of changing everything after Kathleen Kennedy convinced him. At least according to what Dan Cockerell is saying.
Now hindsight is 20/20. It is understandable why both Kathleen Kennedy and Bob Iger may have thought that with The Force Awakens the all new Disney Star Wars movies will become the defining Star Wars movies to a whole new generation of fans, comparable in numbers to the prequel or maybe even original trilogy generation. It’s certainly not wrong either to say that very soon there will be a lot more Disney Star Wars than there is Lucas era Star Wars.
However, if Dan Cockerell’s quote of Kathleen Kennedy is correct – and we have no way of knowing that, he only recounts what other people told him – then her mindset is revealed. She apparently thinks Lucas era Star Wars and especially the Original Trilogy is mostly for “fifty-somethings”. So it’s the past you have to leave behind.
In my opinion this quite dramatically underestimates the cultural significance of the original three Star Wars movies. Characters like Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker or Leia Organa are not just some random movie characters, they are cultural icons. To think that a Star Wars theme park should ONLY focus on the new movies and almost exclusively on the new characters from a brand new trilogy was completely disregarding the cultural significance of Lucas era Star Wars. And to assume that only “old people” still cared about the Original Trilogy is certainly not true.
One has to wonder whether or not Kathleen Kennedy, at that time at least, truly understood the significance of the Original Trilogy and it’s cultural impact and overwhelming love people felt for it. Sure The Force Awakens was extremely successful, but to leave out Lucas era Star Wars from a Star Wars theme park is still the equivalent of designing a Harry Potter theme park around the Fantastic Beasts franchise, with no Harry Potter, Ron and Hermione or even Hogwarts.
Arguments were made that a Galaxy’s Edge based on Tatooine would have been a Star Wars museum, that Batuu is much more about the now and the future, a living experience, instead of a museum. To that I can only say, that Galaxy’s Edge as it is now, will quickly become much more dated and even more of a museum than Tatooine would ever have been. This argument, that Tatooine would have felt like a museum, once more completely disregards the cultural significance of the Original Trilogy. In fact, a Tatooine based theme park could have included some of the new characters quite easily. Even the sequels end up on Tatooine again, because of its significance. In fact, The Rise of Skywalker is one huge nostalgia festival, including a view of the twin suns on Tatooine. But of course back then Kathleen Kennedy didn’t know what the third sequel trilogy movie would be about. But with Tatooine in mind she and the people she hired could have easily come up with plans in advance on how to include Tatooine in the sequels, since it’s such a significant location. The birth place of Anakin Skywalker / Darth Vader, the planet Luke Skywalker grew up on. And JJ Abrams did just that for the third movie. But only after The Last Jedi’s credo “kill it (the past) if you have to” proved to be very controversial with fans. Splitting the fanbase into two bitterly entrenched camps.
One more thing: Kennedy’s idea that Lucas era Star Wars is apparently mostly for fifty-somethings, may have informed her decision to greenlight things like Forces of Destiny, Star Wars Resistance, Star Wars Roll Out and Galaxy of Adventures. It may also have shaped the general direction of the movies. But as we all know, and not just based on fansite rumors, but actual industry reports from sources like Bloomberg, the new Star Wars fails to connect with kids. It was always quite daring to assume that Kylo Ren and Rey and all the others would quickly become as iconic as Darth Vader, Han Solo or Luke Skywalker.
But again, hindsight is 20/20, back then Kathleen Kennedy and Lucasfilm certainly thought that winning over the hearts of kids and getting them to buy toys and merchandise will be really easy after The Force Awakens.
It was not entirely wrong of Kathleen Kennedy to want the sequels represented in a Star Wars theme park. The theme park absolutely needed to include the new content.
But not only in hindsight, even back then, it was a really bad call not to include the most iconic Star Wars characters and not to build on the nostalgia many “fifty somethings” feel for the franchise. Tatooine is the one place that connects all three trilogies and even the new hit show The Mandalorian.
Who wouldn’t have wanted to visit Chalmund’s cantina, to sit in Han’s booth, to visit the Lars Homestead? And what’s more, a Tatooine based theme park could even have included the Mandalorian and Baby Yoda. Can you imagine how many people would like to see animatronic Baby Yoda? If only Lucasfilm and Disney had known in advance what they were going to do a mere three or four years later down the road…. but as it turns out they had no plan. No real vision. Things you may want to have when you construct a theme park that has to stand the test of time.
Instead Galaxy’s Edge is now stuck forever in the sequel era, post The Last Jedi, not even accounting for The Rise of Skywalker. You cannot have Luke, Darth Vader, Leia or The Mandalorian on Batuu (of course, season 2 or 3 could feature Batuu, which is one way of at least making that possible, even if it violates the official Batuu timeline) and the question is how it will feel like to go to Galaxy’s Edge in 5 or 10 years from now. Will it still feel “fresh” and “relevant” or will it be a sequel trilogy museum instead? In many ways it may already be a museum and constant reminder of what could have been and what we got instead. Tatooine would have been a timeless location, a place that connects all three trilogies and even the new and very popular Star Wars series. Baatu may very well become, or even already is, only a sad reminder of the sequel trilogy. A place that looks like something out of Star Wars, but with no real history and a place few people have a real emotional attachment to.
And the ultimate thing to take away from all this may very well be that Kathleen Kennedy was completely mistaken when she considered Lucas era Star Wars, and especially the Original Trilogy, as something only old people still care about. You can have the new without killing off or ignoring the old. A lesson Lucasfilm learned the hard way in the past few years. But it’s too late for Galaxy’s Edge which will most likely forever be Batuu now. Time will tell what Galaxy’s Edge and especially the rides will feel like in 2025 or 2030.
Listen to the podcast with former Walt Disney World VP Dan Cockerell on the WDW Radio website! His remarks about Kathleen Kennedy meeting Bob Iger are around the 16m30s mark.
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