The Disney executives responsible for the company’s most literal bit of world building to date, the creation of Star Wars Land, had a decision to make. They could ban underage visitors from the cantinas that have long served as the franchise’s more iconic settings or they could let them in to intermingle with all that scum and villainy. A new promo released for Star Wars Celebration provides evidence they went with the latter option, creating dive bars for the target audience, which George Lucas recently described as 12-year olds. Will there be blue milk on tap? That much is unknown, but what is absolutely clear is that Disney is performing a delicate balancing act by creating a kid-friendly park around adult themes and settings.
The broader idea, after all, is that the park is a canonical planet on the lawless fringes of the galaxy. When visitors arrive, they’ll be welcomed into a place with friendly folks from Mon Calamari, but also some sinister Westworld undertones and explicit violence. After all, dismemberment and genocide are recurring Star Wars themes. So is gambling in bars with shady characters.
As the preview made clear, the parks will contain First Order forces, rebels, and quite a few aliens — not all of whom have been designed to be google-eyed and kid friendly. The production as a whole looks remarkable and potentially peerless in the world of theme parks, but the real potential achievement here is the creation of something that might resonate with adults of kids on totally different levels. Constructing a cantina that reads as a shady watering hole for dads and a fun social spot for kids is no easy task. Disney is taking an admirable risk in the attempt.
Shooting first either works well or not at all.
In a sense, the park seems to be accessible for kids, but designed for adults who have spent decades thinking about X-Wings and Tie Fighters and trade embargoes affecting the economy of Coruscant. The park could never be PG-13, like Rogue One, but it can gesture in that direction. The cantinas are going to that gesture.
Star Wars isn’t the first major property to have to toe the line. The last big film franchise theme park for kids was the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Potter is, like Star Wars, appealing to people of many ages and, on a fundamental level, about the abuse of power and the inevitable rise of hate. Universal dealt with that reality by building a park designed to celebrate the first three or four books and films. Hogs Head Pub is a nice place in the Wizarding World. Danger does not lurk around every corner — intrigue maybe, but not danger. Disney could have gone the same way and leaned hard in the direction of The Phantom Menace. They didn’t. The force is too strong for that nonsense.