A personal account of the D23 Expo 2015 by cheriarmour
Where to begin? It seemed like there was no end to the new and exciting announcements for the Star Wars franchise at this year’s expo, and Star Wars fans had lots to be happy about. From announcements about the theme parks to the upcoming films, video games, and new and exclusive merchandise, it was clear that the Disney company definitely saved the bulk of their big Star Wars announcements to be shared at D23.
It’s finally official, and the rumors were true. Star Wars Land will be coming to Disneyland and the other at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Walt Disney World. These two 14-acre lands will be the largest themed expansions at the resorts to date. If you haven’t booked a trip to either of these two Disney Resorts, do it. Do it now! With all the upcoming new changes, activities, events, and additions, you won’t want to miss it during 2016.
The Star Wars Lands will be fully immersive experiences, with restaurants and stores all in story in addition to the attractions. Want to make your childhood Star Wars dream of riding in the Millennium Falcon come true? An attraction featuring a ride on the famous starship through a battle scene was also announced, so you just may still get to make that wish come true. Ever wondered what that Blue Milk tastes like? You may get to try that there, too. After collaborating with Lucasfilm for over 25 years, the Star Wars Lands will be the biggest Imagineering and Lucasfilm collaboration project to become a reality yet. And later this year, we will even get to visit a new planet and meet new characters from Star Wars: The Force Awakens, all through Star Tours.
In Disneyland, it has been confirmed that Star Wars Land will take the place of what is now Big Thunder Ranch and some backstage areas surrounding it. Ground is not slated to be broken until late 2017, so you still have time if you to go check out the seasonal activities and All-You-Can-Eat barbeque currently there now.
If you have been to either Disneyland’s Tomorrowland or Hollywood Studios in Disney World in the last decade or so, you might have experienced the Jedi Training Academy. The East and West Coast resort Jedi Training Academies will also be receiving updates, adding new characters, storylines, and new designs for the characters.
If you make a visit to the Disneyland Resort in the next year and a half, be sure to take the opportunity to check out World Of Color: Celebrate at Disney’s California Adventure, a nightly water and effects show over by Paradise Pier, as seen above. It is definitely something special that Star Wars fans will want to see. It reopened with the new show in May 2015 for the Disneyland Diamond Celebration, and Disney has since added new and exclusive The Force Awakens footage and some special effects to the show you won’t want to miss. Be sure to check it out!
Also announced was the new Star Wars Launch Bay. Opening in early 2016, it will be an interactive experience that will feature exclusive content to the exhibit and park. Disney will be showcasing props and artwork from Star Wars: The Force Awakens (and more than likely Rogue One, since it will be released in late 2016, as well as other upcoming Star Wars films). If you are a Star Wars gamer, you will definitely want to check out the Launch Bay exhibit, since it will also include areas where guests will get to play Disney Infinity 3.0 and Star Wars Battlefront. There will be exclusive custom content for both which you will only be able to experience at Star Wars Launch Bay. It was not announced how long the Launch Bay would remain open, but a good guess would be at least through 2016. And at Disneyland, another good guess is it will most likely be housed in Innoventions, which recently closed, but it will not be replaced, since it is already set up for interactive experiences and exhibits.
Coming later this year to Disneyland’s Tomorrowland is Hyperspace Mountain. Guests will get to experience an updated Space Mountain, which will feature a new Star Wars themed soundtrack, new special effects, and new digital enhancements. And don’t be surprised if there is some special limited time merchandise to coincide with its arrival as well, along with possible countdown merchandise to the highly anticipated sequel. (Disney has been known to release special park exclusive merchandise for other feature films they have produced.)
Also coinciding with Star Wars Launch Bay will be a new seasonal event, aptly named Season of the Force, set to kick off early 2016. Season of the Force will feature Star Wars character experiences, limited time food and drinks, and of course, limited time merchandise. Events will be held at both Disneyland and Hollywood Studios. Season of the Force is separate from Star Wars Weekends, an annual event that’s held in late May and early June at Disney’s Hollywood Studios each year.
Over in Disney World at Hollywood Studios, park guests will even get to experience a new Star Wars fireworks show for Season of the Force. Featuring soundtrack music by John Williams, it was also announced that the London Philharmonic Orchestra recorded the score. No mention was made to clarify whether Hollywood Studios would also have a Star Wars Launch Bay exhibit, but it sounded as though they would not.
Now, onto the movie news! J.J. Abrams himself brought out some of the cast of Star Wars: The Force Awakens at the panel, including Daisy Ridley, Oscar Isaac, John Boyega, and Lupita Nyong’o. Even Harrison Ford stopped by to say hello to the audience. Guests at the panel were given an exclusive poster designed by Star Wars movie poster artist Drew Struzan, which featured an image of Boyega’s character (Finn) holding a green lightsaber. That definitely caused quite a stir! Throughout the day on Saturday, two different posters were handed out–some on the expo hall floor in addition to the aforementioned lightsaber poster at the panel.
At the Live Action at the Walt Disney Studios panel, a lot of exciting developments happened. The cast photo of the key actors dressed in character was released for Star Wars: Rogue One, along with some information about the resistance fighters mentioned in A New Hope and how they acquired the plans for the Death Star. The actors named to be starring in the film include Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland), Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything), Ben Mendelsohn (Bloodline), Donnie Yen (Blade II), Jiang Wen (Let the Bullets Fly), Mads Mikkelsen (Casino Royale), Alan Tudyk (Firefly), and Riz Ahmed (Nightcrawler). The film is being directed by Gareth Edwards (director of Godzilla). The film is slated to be released December 16, 2016. It is to be a ground-war type film, set in the Star Wars universe.
A Han Solo origin film was also re-confirmed to be a Star Wars story film as well as the director for Star Wars: Episode IX, Colin Treverrow, who previously directed Jurassic World. Episode IX is slated to be released in 2019. Finally, in film news, George Lucas was made one of the newest Disney Legends.
From live-action films, we dive into video games. Disney Infinity 3.0 revealed a new set of Limited Edition Light FX Star Wars characters. The set will be available for purchase this holiday season. This set will feature lightsabers, which will light up when placed on the Disney Infinity base, in each of the character’s respective colors. The Limited Edition set characters are Luke Skywalker, Anakin Skywalker, Darth Vader, Yoda, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Kanan Jarrus. The figures functionality will be exactly the same as their regular figure counterparts. There was a large pavilion for guests to try out Disney Infinity 3.0, Star Wars Battlefront, and two Star Wars Battle Pods.
And for those of you eagerly awaiting Star Wars Battlefront, November can’t come soon enough! The game will have 9 multi-player modes. On November 17, the PS4 Limited Edition Star Wars Battlefront bundle will be released. It will include a voucher for 4 Star Wars classic games (Super Star Wars, Racer Revenge, Jedi Starfighter, and Bounty Hunter–all with improved graphics) and a PS4 Limited Edition Disney Infinity 3.0 bundle (includes a base, Rise Against the Empire set, and the exclusive Playstation Boba Fett figure). It is black and features a side view of Darth Vader with the Star Wars logo etched around it. This fall, the Force will undoubtedly be strong with Playstation. There was even a Battlefront photo op exclusive to D23, where guests could visit Hoth and take home a photo souvenir. Over at the Walt Disney Animation Studio pavilion, there were props and costumes from The Force Awakens, as well (as seen above). Captain Phasma and BB-8 even made the trip, so guests could get a photo.
Insofar as merchandise, Jelly Belly released their new Star Wars Galaxy mix with sparkling jellybean flavors. Additionally, Star Wars Rebels blind box Vinylmations LE (Limited Edition) 1500 were released (Hera Syndulla LE 1350 and Kanan Jarrus LE 150), along with the exclusive Force For Change: The Force Awakens Stormtrooper designs t-shirts. The Star Wars Elite Die Cast figures LE 500 six-piece set was also sold at the Disney Store, along with other merchandise of exclusive Star Wars artwork designed for D23 and an exclusive LE 500 six pin set. Mickey’s of Glendale, a Walt Disney Imagineering Cast Member exclusive store that only sells to the public during D23, also released a four mug set featuring Star Wars planets.
Art Awakens also had exclusive limited edition The Force Awakens metal prints by DKNG and Mark Englert for sale, with proceeds from the sales of the two prints going to support Force for Change. The sale also kicked off the nationwide art competition, which will conclude with the five winners participating in a three-day professional art exhibit, entitled Star Wars: The Force Awakens, at Gallery 1988 in Los Angeles later in November. All proceeds from the art auctioned will also be going to support UNICEF Kid Power. There was also a Star Wars themed mini-obstacle course, Star Wars Space Chase, with movement bands that measured movement to also raise funds for UNICEF Kids Power.
Also at the Expo was the Star Wars Legion exhibition. I was fortunate to attend the original Star Wars Legion exhibition that was held in Los Angeles in 2014, as seen above. Just recently announced, they will be auctioning off several pieces beginning on Tuesday, August 17, with proceeds going to Force for Change, which benefits UNICEF in support of Kid Power. Last year’s Star Wars Legion exhibition was held in May at the Robert Vargas Gallery in downtown Los Angeles. Over 300 approximately 6-inch tall stormtrooper helmets were sent to a variety of different artists in the Disney Company. Each artist was asked to individualize their helmet and create one-of-a-kind interpretations. Artists participating in the exhibition came from Disney Publishing Worldwide, the Disney Stores, Pixar, Marvel, Industrial Lights and Magic, Walt Disney Animation Studios, and other departments. The Legion blind box series. The Legion blind box set of 9 vinyls were released as an expo exclusive at the Disney Store (8 along with one chaser), along with a men’s and women’s Legion t-shirt, each featuring a different Legion silk-screened design.
Users of the free D23 Expo app also had access to Aurasma’s augmented reality technology by focusing on items throughout the expo. Star Wars characters would appear when the image registered at select Star Wars merchandise or exhibit locations. Additionally, this year’s free trading cards also featured a set of three Star Wars characters: Darth Vader, R2-D2, and C3PO.
Over by the D23 Member Lounge, Target had a booth for fans to take Galaxy Identification cards. Guests could dress up as Rebel Pilots, Troopers, Jedi, or Sith. Participants received an ID card and could download the card to share via social media.
All in all, there was a lot of amazing news and even more exciting things to come. It will be an exciting next few years for Star Wars fans, for sure, both at the parks and in the theaters. I’m looking forward to it all, and hopefully, you are too!