matt tillotson

Star Wars: Wallet's Edge

My daughter Avery and I were fortunate enough to visit the newest Disney Parks creation: A Star Wars-themed land called Galaxy’s Edge, which opened at Disney’s Hollywood Studios last week (and at Disneyland last May).

I have thoughts, in three areas:

  • Quick first impressions
  • Defining “success” for Galaxy’s Edge
  • A interesting brand partnership

Yeah, it’s great

I’m not going to go on and on about the experience of Galaxy’s Edge itself. There are million places to read in-depth reviews and see professional-quality photos and videos if that’s your thing.

But …

As a Star Wars fan, I’ll just say:

Right now, the land has one feature attraction open, the Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run ride, where you and five others must pilot the ship in pursuit of coaxium (non-nerds: that’s Star Wars ship fuel).

The ride is great, but I’m not sure the best part isn’t outside the attraction:  a full-size Falcon in all it’s glory. The rider line wrapped around the ship outside, and Avery became very frustrated when she kept trying to talk to me but I was like this for about 25 minutes:

Bottom’s Up: Og’s Cantina was also fun—it’s an offshoot of the Mos Eisley Cantina when Luke and Obi-Wan meet Han and Chewie in A New Hope.

It’s an odd experience watching your 12-year old sidle up to bar to have a drink (even if it was just Powerade and pomegranate juice).

We had such a good time we went back the next night, as we heard the place looks amazing all lit up.

It did not disappoint.

More to come: In December, the “main” attraction, The Rise of The Resistance, will open and is supposed to be Disney Parks’ most ambitious attraction ever. Looking forward to it.

Down to business

Some people feel the new land is under-performing. In California, the Disneyland version of Galaxy’s Edge opened in May, and park attendance there has actually fallen this year vs. last.

In Orlando, early crowds have been manageable, but with the hurricane looming offshore it’s hard to tell what should have been expected.

Missing the point: I don’t think massive herds of customers is the real end game for Disney Parks with Galaxy’s Edge, and, in many, ways, for the parks going forward.

In marketing we talk about LTV—lifetime value of a customer. I’m sure Disney Parks has a somewhat similar metric—call it revenue per guest (RPG)—a measure of how much a guest spends in the park over and beyond the ticket price.

Galaxy’s Edge is set up to increase revenue per guest in a substantial way. And I don’t mean selling ice cream and key chains—I’m talking about expensive, high-end items and experiences that truly “move the needle.”

For example, Disney takes the souvenir concept uptown by wrapping a unique guest experience around the item, enabling massive margin increases:

  • A $200 Build-A-Lightsaber experience
  • A $100 Build-A-Droid experience

Rather than just picking an item off a store shelf, guests pluck plastic droid parts off an assembly line to create their own remote-controlled toy, or choose their own “kyber crystal” to power up their lightsaber, which they create and “infuse with the force” themselves as part of a ceremony, complete with full orchestra music as accompaniment.

Disney can churn guests through these experiences, 15 or so per experience, ten-ish times per day, seven days per week.

Money machine.

Flipping the model: Disney offloads the assembly labor onto the guest, who pays enormous upcharges for the privilege.

That’s a unique way to bring manufacturing back to the USA.

I hope you get a mint on your pillow: And coming soon is a Star Wars-themed hotel, which is estimated to cost over $3,000 per GUEST per NIGHT.

Here a father and daughter review their Star Wars hotel bill, which is so large it must be viewed from space

Galaxy’s Edge is not designed to draw massive hordes of common guests, though it’s fine if they come. The land is a magnet for attracting super-fans with cash to burn on premium experiences.

I suspect it will do that very well.

Have a Coke and a smile… or a vaguely grenade-like beverage container

Brand partnerships have long been a way for theme parks to offset costs; a brand pays to sponsor a ride, and gains visibility and the emotional association of the cool or fun factor of the attraction.

But things are trickier in Batuu, the fictional planet on which Galaxy’s Edge is based. Disney wants the land to be extremely immersive, to the point that merchandise sold in the land doesn’t even promote or feature the Star Wars logo. The experience is set up so that you’re buying “authentic” merchandise from a far away world.

So that makes brand partnerships challenging. Piloting the Millennium Falcon isn’t quite the same if it’s brought to you by Delta Airlines, or if you have to pull the ship out of battle to grab a double cheeseburger at Wendy’s.

But Disney and Coca-Cola made it work.

They created bottles of Coke, Diet Coke, and Sprite that look like thermal detonators (non-nerds: thermal detonators are Star Wars grenades).

he bottles look pretty cool, so much so that the TSA banned them for a minute, and then rescinded.

(The TSA: Keeping you safe from recyclable plastic containers since 2001.)

The not-dangerous sodas are sold from bright red Coca-Cola branded small spaceships, complete with droid pilots. The lettering is done in Aurebesh, the Star Wars alphabet.

The red stations really stand out in the land, popping against the browns and grays used to theme Galaxy’s Edge.

This is when brand partnerships are fun.

  • The companies found a unique way to feature Coca-Cola while maintaining Disney’s theming requirements.
  • Both companies got loads of free publicity thanks to TSA incompetence.
  • Guests get a unique souvenir to take home, which, of course, is overpriced thanks to the special container concept.

At $6 a piece, we own four of them. I am not immune to Disney’s marketing prowess. But at least we didn’t have to assemble them ourselves.