In a few short days, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge opens at Disneyland in Anaheim, California, followed by the Walt Disney World opening in Orlando, Florida on August 29. The massive new lands, based on George Lucas’ beloved tales from a galaxy far, far away, are set to be the most immersive lands in Disney parks to date, truly making guests feel like they are visiting the Black Spire Outpost on the planet of Batuu.
To help achieve that new level of immersion, where guests can interact with bounty hunters and rebel spies, and become a part of the story, the plan is to eschew the character meet-and-greets Disney parks have traditionally used. Instead of having lines where guests wait to meet and take photos with a character, the focus will be on interactive experiences.
But you don’t just hope this new concept will work come opening day when the doors open to countless guests; you try it out first. So Walt Disney Imagineering did just that and enlisted the help of a Disney parks staple, Pirates of the Caribbean’s Captain Jack Sparrow.
The character played by Johnny Depp in the Pirates of the Caribbean film franchise, was used as a part of a series of play tests Disney conducted to test what it hoped to do in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. The play tests took place in-park at Walt Disney World several years ago and involved Jack Sparrow just walking around the land and interacting with guests.
We’ve seen Johnny Depp show up at Disneyland as Jack Sparrow in the past, but this Jack Sparrow had a very specific purpose. The mission of these tests was to figure out the logistics of these story-driven interactive experiences that would be used in place of traditional meet-and-greets as Imagineering portfolio creative executive Scott Trowbridge explained to The Orange County Register:
If Captain Jack Sparrow was just walking through the land, how would guests react? And how can we create constructs that allow the story-driven experience? How can we let those story-driven experiences happen and still allow people to get the photo they want, but not turn it into a line of people waiting to take photos?
Guests weren’t clued in to the underlying purpose of these Jack Sparrow encounters, so Disney Imagineering got a raw and real look at what they could expect when they replicated this kind of experience at Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. The biggest questions involved how to maintain the desired experience, without it devolving into everyone just lining up to take photos like a traditional meet-and-greet.
That is definitely an interesting and complex problem with a lot of variables. But smartly, Disney used the play tests with Jack Sparrow to gain a better idea of how these story-driven experiences could work in practice, what the potential pain points are and how best to solve for them.
So with a big assist from Jack Sparrow, Disney has a better idea of how the guest interactions at Galaxy’s Edge will work. But Scott Trowbridge admits that there are some things they just won’t know until they are actually trying this in the new land and seeing what works, what doesn’t and how people respond.
If nothing else, it is a bold swing Disney is taking to try something like this. Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is wildly ambitious to begin with, primarily on a technical level. But changing the way guests interact with characters in a theme park involves going against pre-established modes of behavior and expectations for how things operate, which is tricky in a very different way.