Walt Disney Co. gave fans the first three-dimensional look at the new “Star Wars” lands it’s building in Florida and California, including its jagged mountains, metal-domed cantina and forest packed with scheming rebels.
Disney unveiled the models at a preview to D23 Expo, a three-day, biennial fan event that begins Friday in Anaheim, California. “This is the most ambitious land we’ve built to date,” Bob Chapek, chairman of Disney’s parks division, said Thursday at the unveiling.
The projects are part of a renewed focus on investment in the parks. Last year, the company opened its first resort on the Chinese mainland, the $5.5 billion Disney Shanghai Resort. That was followed by an “Avatar” land in Orlando, Florida, and a “Guardians of the Galaxy” revamp of its Tower of Terror ride in California. More investments are planned, including “Toy Story” lands in Orlando and Shanghai.
The world’s largest entertainment company announced the “Star Wars” plans at the expo two years ago. Costing about $1 billion each, they’ll feature a simulated ride on the Millennium Falcon spaceship and an attraction that puts guests in the middle of a battle between the evil First Order and the Resistance fighting them.
They’re expected to open in 2019 at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Orlando and the company’s original park, Disneyland, in Anaheim.
The theme-park division, the second-largest after television, is expected to account for the bulk of Disney’s profit growth through 2020, according to estimates from FBR & Co. analyst Barton Crockett. Earnings from cable TV, which generated more than 40 percent of Disney’s 2016 profit, are expected to be flat as that business copes with viewers shifting to online video options such as Netflix Inc.
The parks division has challenges, too, as Disney tries to keep crowds coming while setting prices to ensure parks don’t get too crowded and tarnish the experience. In part because of price increases, attendance last year fell at all but one of the company’s parks, the newly opened Shanghai Disneyland, according to data from the consulting firm Aecom.
New attractions are one way to entice guests and coax more spending on food, merchandise and hotel rooms. Price increases, particularly during peak periods, can help balance demand, Chapek said in an interview.
“If it was just about attendance then we can win that game at any time,” he said.
Burbank, California-based Disney will entertain D23 guests this weekend with sneak previews of movies as well as the opportunity to purchase exclusive merchandise at dozens of shops situated in the Anaheim Convention Center. Single-day, adult tickets for non-Disney fan club members are $81.
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Bob Iger will hand out the company’s Legends awards Friday to “Star Wars” actor Mark Hamill, Marvel Comics icon Stan Lee and others, while Pixar’s Chief Creative Officer, John Lasseter, will show clips from upcoming animated films. Chapek is scheduled to preview additional attractions Saturday.
Corey McConville, a 27-year-old pizza delivery man from Pittsburgh was waiting out in front of the convention center with his friends from 10 a.m. on Thursday so he could get good seats for the Legends event. He planned to spend the night on an inflatable chair in the lobby. It will be his third Disney Expo.
“It wasn’t as crowded four years ago,” he said. “That was before Star Wars.”