A couple of months ago, I flippantly suggested in my column that since there are so many Star Wars franchise spinoffs on the boards, this is “George Lucas’ universe and we just pay to watch it.”
But I had it wrong. This is actually Walt Disney’s universe, especially after the acquisition of Lucasfilm added all things Star Wars to the already burgeoning Disney library.
This was driven home last week when my wife and I decided to embrace the inner child — though at our age, embracing the inner 40- or 50-year-old has the same effect — and head to Disneyland for the first time in a couple of decades.
And when we wandered (or more correctly, were carried by the crowd) into Tomorrowland, we discovered it has essentially morphed into Star Wars Land.
At least until 2019, when an actual Star Wars Land is scheduled to join the other “lands” contained in the Disneyland park — which right now is comprised of Critter Country, New Orleans Square, Mickey’s Toontown and four parks that have been around since Disneyland’s 1955 debut: Fantasyland, Frontierland, Adventureland and, of course, Tomorrowland.
Something called “Season of the Force” has been in effect since November 2015, during the run-up to the then highly anticipated movie “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” And there is apparently no end date for this celebration, or at least I couldn’t find one by scouring the various Disneyland websites.
Tomorrowland is also keeping up with each new Star Wars film release. The Star Tours ride has incorporated characters from “The Force Awakens,” banners flapping in the wind display characters from “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” there are “Rogue One” props in the Star Wars Launch Bay, and BB-8, the orange and white droid from “The Force Awakens,” is all over the place.
Could this question one day make its way into a Disney trivia quiz: What do you get when you cross Mickey Mouse with BB-8? To answer, someone will pull out a BB8 skullcap with mouse ears — a popular item that was worn by visitors everywhere.
One of the more interesting changes is the Space Mountain ride, which was Disneyland’s second roller coaster (after the Matterhorn Bobsleds). Space Mountain opened in 1977, but a 2015 refurbishment has given it a Star Wars makeover. Even its name has been changed to Hyperspace Mountain.
I grew up in the Long Beach area and remember going to Disneyland just a week or two after it opened in July 1955 with my parents and brother. And we went with some frequency thereafter.
So during this trip, I spent some time thinking about the things I did as a kid and took notice of how much of the original park is still around. The biggest change, of course, is the price. Back in the day, the entrance fee was a dollar for adults and 50 cents for kids, with separate prices for each ride — up to 50 cents for adults and up to a quarter for children. Or you could by ticket books, which shaved the price.
Last week, we purchased a two-day, two-park ticket. We had never been to the California Adventure park, so we did that the first day, and then the Disneyland park the second day. The price: $398. Talk about sticker shock.
In those early days, Disneyland was built primarily around Disney movies, from “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” to “Davy Crockett.” And today? Well, there’s no question that Disneyland is still all about the movies.
The Fantasyland attractions are largely the same as they were in 1955, and the lines were quite long for rides I remember going on back then — Snow White’s Adventures, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan's Flight, which are, of course, all based on pre-1955 Disney animated features.
I found this rather encouraging and was happy they hadn’t been replaced by rides based on “Zootopia” and “Frozen.” Not yet, anyway.
Here’s hoping the parents of the kids in those lines have shown them — or will show them — those wonderfully artistic and entertaining hand-drawn classics. There is life beyond “Beauty and the Beast.”
Similarly, the nighttime “World of Color” water show in the California Adventure park is built around Disney and Pixar features, and we found ourselves ticking off films we hadn’t watched in a long time that might be fun to see again.
Then the cynic in me kicked in, wondering if perhaps that was the point.
As spectacular as the water and light show is, it also feels like a lengthy clipfest advertising Disney animated movies as scenes from dozens of films wafted through the mist.
And if we felt an urge to watch some of those movies again, how did the kids around us feel?
Ah, subliminal advertising.
I was half expecting to see a kiosk at the exit selling DVDs and Blu-rays.
Oh, and there was also one live-action movie in the mix: one of the Pirates of the Caribbean pictures.
Is that one included because a new sequel opens in theaters May 26?
Or is it simply because Johnny Depp’s portrayal of pirate captain Jack Sparrow is so cartoony it fits right in with all those animated flicks?