Galaxy's Edge: Storytelling and Retail
How Disney's Star Wars experience connects continuity to consumerism
The most crucial element in the Disney parks playbook is customer service.
As a parent (or a Disney-loving adult), you are spending time and money - significant amounts of money - on an experience billed as nothing short of “magical.” That is the promise of visiting Walt Disney World or Disneyland and it’s a tall order to promise the general public. Those of us who work in retail know that it’s a near impossible task. And while it is true that some people will never be happy, the returning visit rate, stellar reviews and all-important word of mouth show that Disney parks are doing far better than most - and making a ton of money in the process.
The second most important Disney parks attribute is the concept of being “immersive.”
When you enter a themed land in Disney’s theme parks, the company’s goal has always been to fabricate a safe, family-friendly - perhaps watered-down - replica of authenticity. Think about the saloon-fronted facades of Frontierland, the candy and ice cream shops lining Main Street USA and the pulp 60’s science fiction of clean lines and creature comforts in Tomorrowland.
But the Star Wars experience, Galaxy’s Edge, at Walt Disney World’s Hollywood Studios in Florida is something else entirely. Unlike the “lands” of the past, this new acreage attempts to create a seamless experience from another world: A distant universe that die-hard, fickle fans know all too well.
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For many in my generation (Gen-X, where ya at?), the Star Wars films were critical components of our childhoods. Yes, the movies were great, but it would be a decade before we could watch them at home. What we had instead was merchandise: Action figures, bedding, comics, clocks, erasers, t-shirts and hundreds of other licensed “collectibles.” The advertising execs were telling kids, from day one, that these items were special and worthy of not just play and use, but also sacred. Man, a lot starts to make sense when you think about that.
After Disney acquired the rights to Star Wars, the merchandising of the franchise (which always verged on the obscene) somehow ramped up even further. More films followed and then came the ultimate promise of a theme park. We could actually live the Star Wars adventure!
That brings us to 2023 and my recent visit to Galaxy’s Edge.
There are thrill rides in this section of the park, most notably the innovative Rise of the Resistance, but the main purpose of Galaxy’s Edge is to sell you things. Those ever-present baubles range from in-universe styled $4 bottles of soda to $6000 suits of armor. One of the largest chunks of real estate in the park consists of a marketplace. They aren’t hiding what they are doing.
But it works. And this is how.