Could Immersive Theater be Merging with With Theme Parks in Disney’s Star Wars Land

I’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time and I think we are on the cusp of it finally happening. Immersive theater, which I believe is the most exciting form of entertainment out there today, may finally have some elements mixed in with Disney’s new Star Wars land when it opens in 2019. I’ve got a couple of sources to back this up, but let’s start with a video that was released during Star Wars Celebration 2017 in Orlando. Check it out below.

Right around the 2:30 mark in the video above, you hear a brief sound byte implying interactions with new characters. This is an extremely important piece of Star Wars land, as Disney has been slowly ramping up how guests interact with characters, from Lucky the Dinosaur to talking Mickey Mouse in the Magic Kingdom. However, the one I want you to pay close attention to is a droid that has been roaming the halls of Star Wars Launch Bay at Disneyland.

The video above, filmed by Keith Lapinig, was taken in summer 2016 at Disneyland. It features a droid who seems to be completely autonomous and interacts with computers. That’s because this droid is indeed autonomous. It has a certain area it can cover and certain functions it can do. It can recognize people around it and react accordingly and, just like a real Star Wars droid, it carries out various “tasks” because that’s what droids do, right? Now while this may not seem very exciting to you, understand that this is only the first phase of testing. Imagine if Star Wars land is filled with droids. Some will interact with you, some won’t. Each will have their own unique quirks and personalities and breathe life into the Star Wars universe.

After all, isn’t that the charm of a Star Wars movie? All these characters that just inhabit the world. Maybe you see them for less than five seconds on camera, but here, they live and breathe. You don’t need to freeze frame your DVD to admire them; they are right in front of you… because they’ve always lived there. You, as a guest, are just there to visit. Now maybe you don’t want to hug a droid, but you are interested in hugging another character that’s an autonomous robot?

Recently Disney filed a patent for a soft humanoid robot. Reading the fine print connects these two projects: “A robot designed for reducing collision impacts during human interaction.”  Meaning, this isn’t a suit people would wear. It’s a robot people could touch and interact with. Something that you could touch and when it touches back, it won’t hurt you. Do I think these are the droids you’re looking for in Star Wars land? Yes… yes I do.

Now before you go searching for which obscure characters could match with the ones filed in this patent (which is a very generic figure that can be customized), make sure you understand that the characters seen in Star Wars land aren’t necessarily those in the films. Imagineers have promised currently existing stories and themes in addition to all new ones. For now, that will save you some time. However, how exactly does this tie into immersive theater?

Well, if Disney wants to truly make this an accurate Star Wars land, they will have to populate it with dozens of free-roaming characters and droids. Instead of a show, these are personable interactions. Think about it for a second. What’s missing from Hogsmeade at Islands of Adventure? Students, teachers and faculty to populate the land to make it feel real. Sure, you can say the employees are those students or teachers, but that doesn’t exactly feel real when they sell you a butterbeer or load you onto an attraction.

Sleep No More

Now let’s take it one step further and speculate on something. What if these free-roaming droids and characters could give you a one-on-one interaction like they do at Sleep No More? Imagine a character approaching you and asking you to visit their workshop? They lead you to an unmarked door, use an RFID key built into their robotic arm… and poof… you’re in a small room where you and your family get a special interaction with a droid. It’s small, unique, personable and never been done before. Could I be way off in my assessment? Perhaps, but it’s very very possible I’m not. Because believe me, the powers that be at all major theme parks are in love with immersive theater and they have been looking for ways to combine elements of these shows into  theme parks for years now. Will Star Wars land be the first? Stay tuned.

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Images Copyright: Walt Disney Company, Sleep No More, Universal Orlando

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