Nov. 03--When the Walt Disney Co. bought one of the biggest movie brands in Hollywood history this week, it also triggered speculation about how Lucasfilm Ltd.'s Star Wars franchise might further manifest itself in Disney's theme parks.
Disney made it clear after announcing the purchase Tuesday that, in addition to making more Star Wars movies, it planned to use the brand in all of its business units, including its parks-and-resorts division.
"We have ample opportunity to expand the presence of this franchise in our parks. ... There's room to grow what we've already got, so we feel particularly good about that," Disney Co. Chief Executive Officer Bob Iger said.
Attractions experts say they expect to see Disney do more with Star Wars in its theme parks, though Disney has previously told industry analysts that it is taking a break from big-time capital projects in its parks unit, so it could be a while before anyone senses a disturbance in the Force in a Disney park.
John Gerner, managing director of Leisure Business Advisors, said he expects Star Wars will generate more than another ride but less than a whole theme park. As its own area within a park, he said, it could provide Disney with a series of attractions rivaling Universal Orlando's Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which is part of Universal's Islands of Adventure theme park.
"With now six movies, it has a great deal of breadth to it," Gerner said. "Just like Harry Potter, there is that possibility of really taking it to a new level."
He said Disney would be helped by the fact that Star Wars -- a franchise whose movies span more than three decades -- has developed multi-generational appeal, something family theme parks like to see.
But there are self-imposed financial constraints to consider as well, as Walt Disney Co. comes off a swell of capital spending in its U.S. parks and resorts.
Projects ranging from a billion-dollar overhaul of Disney's California Adventure theme park to a two-ship expansion of its Celebration-based cruise line to the ongoing expansion of the Magic Kingdom's Fantasyland section at Walt Disney World have sent parks-and-resorts spending soaring in recent years. But Disney has promised analysts it plans to curtail its capital spending.
Disney's domestic capital spending swelled to $2.3 billion in 2011 -- equal to 24.7 percent of the revenue generated by its U.S.-based resort businesses.
"We should be coming down substantially -- substantially -- in domestic spending," Disney Chief Financial Officer Jay Rasulo said during a presentation to stock analysts earlier this year.
On Friday, Disney would not comment on its plans for Star Wars in its parks.
Neither financial concerns nor the lack of specifics from Disney officials have dampened the enthusiasm of Star Wars fans, who have been creating what amounts to an online wish list ever since Disney announced it was buying Lucasfilm from filmmaker George Lucas for $4 billion. Lucas' movie empire also includes properties such as the Indiana Jones franchise and his Industrial Light & Magic special-effects studio, which produced the recent animated feature Rango.
There is a general consensus, among fans, at least, that Disney's Hollywood Studios would be a logical place for a Star Wars "land," because Disney World's movie-themed park is already home to a Star Tours simulator ride, as well as a Jedi Training Academy and an annual Star Wars Weekend.
Many Star Wars fans would like to see more than just a portion of a theme park devoted to the franchise, however. For Star Wars Celebration V, the 2010 Orlando convention for all things Star Wars, California artist Tom Hodges created a rendering of a "Star Wars Universe Dream Park" that he based on a 1966 map of Disneyland.
"This was my most successful piece, and it was because Star Wars fans want this. To them, this should've been done 20 years ago," Hodges said. "Now that Disney has Lucasfilm and the Star Wars franchise, I almost feel there's a pretty good chance this is going to happen."
Hodges' imagined theme park includes rides such as Death Star Trench Run and the Hunt for General Grievous, as well as restaurants with names like Jabba's Palace Grill and Wuher's Cantina. In place of a centrally located fairy-tale castle, there's a reproduction of the Jedi Temple.
"I've been thinking about this since I was a kid," Hodges said.
Disney's plans to produce new Star Wars films is particularly helpful from a theme-park perspective, said Bob Rogers, of BRC Imagination Arts in Burbank, Calif. The new films will help keep young people engaged with the brand and inspire park attractions in the years ahead.
"As long as there are new Star Wars films, the franchise will stay current, it will stay relevant in people's minds, and it'll mean great things for the theme parks," Rogers said.
Rogers expects the Star Wars brand will inspire "great stuff" under Disney ownership, though he wasn't willing to speculate much on specifics.
"You should never second guess the imagination of Walt Disney Imagineering," he said. "They will come up with something that's outside of whatever you thought of."
(c)2012 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.)
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