Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, the ambitious 5.6-hectare expansion coming to Disneyland this year, is opening earlier than expected — with a catch.
The massive, interactive attraction will debut at the Anaheim resort in California on May 31, Walt Disney Co Chief Executive Bob Iger told shareholders on Thursday at the company’s annual meeting in St Louis. An identical planned attraction at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, will open on August 29.
However, the highly anticipated attractions will not be, to use Star Wars-speak, fully armed and operational when they debut. Iger said that one of the main draws, an immersive experience called Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, will not be ready for the public until later this year.
Rise of the Resistance, a showcase attraction of the land, features multiple full-scale ships and vehicles and extensive animatronics. The experience, representing a Resistance mission gone bad, will move guests among multiple locations, where they will ride vehicles and encounter characters from the blockbuster franchise. Iger did not reveal when Rise of the Resistance would open, but noted that the project is “somewhat daunting” even for the dominant player in theme parks.
“We’re pushing the limits of imagination and innovation,” Iger said. “No one has ever attempted anything of this magnitude, and so it’s somewhat daunting even by our standards.”
Burbank-based Disney had not previously revealed when exactly the public would be able to experience the new Star Wars lands, which are set on a distant planet called Batuu and feature game-like attractions such as Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run and a Cantina-themed bar. The Anaheim version had been targeted to launch in June, with the Florida project set for a few months later in the fall.
Guests looking to visit Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disneyland between May 31 and June 23 will need to make a no-cost reservation, Disney said.
Iger’s remarks, at the Stifel Theatre in St Louis, came as shareholders narrowly approved a new, reduced pay package for the CEO. Shareholders voted 57 per cent in favour of Iger’s revised pay package, a year after shareholders voted 52 per cent against his compensation plan in a non-binding resolution that was seen as a stern rebuke to the entertainment giant.
Disney has recently made tweaks to its pay plan for Iger, following sharp shareholder criticism. The company this week cut $13.5 million (Dh49.5 million) from the executive’s annual target pay package, which includes bonuses and stock awards, to $35 million. Iger’s base salary will be $3 million a year, $500,000 less than an earlier plan proposed.
The company recently also increased the performance bar Disney must hit for Iger to collect more than $100 million in incentives he could earn as a result of Disney’s pending $71.3-billion acquisition of assets from 21st Century Fox. Iger said Disney is in the final stages of completing the landmark deal and that regulators should give final approval soon.
Iger remains one of the highest paid executives in media and entertainment. He received $65.6 million in fiscal 2018, an 80 per cent jump from the prior year largely because of stock awards tied to his 2017 contract extension.
During the 90-minute event, Iger previewed a scene from Jon Favreau’s upcoming ‘Lion King’ remake showing young Simba and Mufasa, and also offered a sneak peek at James Cameron’s long in-the-works ‘Avatar’ sequel, featuring concept art from the production.
As usual, shareholder questions covered an eclectic range of topics.
Justin Danhof, of the conservative think tank National Center for Public Policy Research, called out ABC late night host Jimmy Kimmel’s use of blackface in a past comedy show, alleging a political double standard. Iger said the company had dealt with the matter privately and that there was no need to comment. Another attendee asked if Disney had made any progress on a possible third ‘National Treasure’ movie. Iger’s answer: no news, though producer Jerry Bruckheimer is interested. One young shareholder asked if she could take Iger to lunch. Iger, not sounding committal, said: “We can negotiate that.”
In response to another shareholder’s question, Iger said the company would continue to make movies under the Fox label after the acquisition, but did not say how many.
Iger offered little information on Disney’s upcoming streaming service, Disney+, which is expected to compete with Netflix. The company will preview the new entertainment app, which will include a variety of original Star Wars, Pixar and Marvel Studios content, at an investor day on April 11 in Burbank.