There’s always a debate on what fan base is better than the other, and I think it’s a little more intense when theme parks get involved. I had personally just come back around to the theme park world right after the opening of Universal’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter Hogsmeade, and that was the only reason I wanted to go to Universal. Walt Disney World didn’t have an Intellectual Property (IP) based land yet, but they had just announced the Avatar land (Pandora: Valley or Mo’ara).
By time WDW opened Pandora (2015), Universal had managed to open their second Wizarding World being Diagon Alley (2014). But Disney was just getting started. In 2015’s D23, Bob Chapek announced that not only a Toy Storyland would be coming to Hollywood Studios, but an immersive Star Wars land, known as Galaxy’s Edge, would also be on the way. The Star Wars fan base was excited to see what Disney was going to pull out to compete with Universal’s Harry Potter.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
Let me start with some history of the Wizarding World and theme parks. In 2003, both Disney and Universal entered a bidding war with Warner Brothers and JK Rowling for the theme park rights to Harry Potter. Rowling signed a letter of intent with Disney to create a small area in Fantasyland of Magic Kingdom. But once Disney actually pitched 2 small attractions (rumored to be a Omnimover with Wands like Buzz Lightyear, and a Magical Creator encounter, think the Velociraptor Encounter at Universal) and a small quick service themed to Leaky Cauldron, she was underwhelmed. She then pulled out and took the Boy who lived to Universal.
Once Universal had won the battle, it was time to start the war. To do that, they put more time, expertise, and money to make this experience better than anything they had built before. And in 2010, they opened the gates of Islands of Adventure to thousands of fans waiting to have a Butterbeer, go to Olivander’s for a wand, and most importantly visit Hogwarts. Before the paint had time to dry, Universal had already started to build an expansion of the land in Universal Studios, Diagon Alley, and in 2014 the walls to Diagon Alley Opened and the Hogwarts Express started to run.
Disney Starts to feel the pressure
Over the time frame that Universal spent building the Wizarding World, Disney announced and open the New Fantasyland expansion, and while it brought a lot of needed attendance to the parks, it wasn’t enough to compete with Harry Potter. However Disney was hoping to change that with their Pandora themed area for Animal Kingdom that was based on James Cameron’s Avatar.
Announced in September of 2011, Disney officially announced this new land that would be designed by Cameron and Joe Rohde at the lead. It wasn’t until January 2014 that construction actually began, and Pandora officially had its first intergalactic visitors in May 2017. It took 6 years from the start to build this land, and it had a lot of hype to follow it. Two new attractions, quick service restaurant, bar, bioluminescence, and themed entertainment, this land was going to be Disney’s first chance at taking on the Wizarding World.
Theme Park goers loved the E-ticket attraction, Flights of passage, but most pass on Navi River journey. It wasn’t the home run Disney wanted, but it was a step in the right direction.
As mentioned before, at D23 2015 Bob Chapek announced a long rumored Star Wars land, called Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge. This new experience would bring you into your own Star Wars story on the planet Batuu. This would be a new planet in the Star Wars universe where the Resistance has a hidden base and the First Order is looking to find them. With this announcement, Star Wars and Disney Fans finally were going to get their all immersive land like Harry Potter and Universal Fans had.
The downside to this announcement was that the time frame for this land was in between episodes 8 and 9, Disney’s trilogy. The long rumor was that the land would take you to some of your favorite places from the whole saga. You would have a chance to see characters from through out the saga. But Disney wants to sell toys from their trilogy, so we couldn’t get all of that.
How Do They Stack Up against each other?
Both of these additions to the parks are incredible. I grew up loving Star Wars, and read the Harry Potter books as they came out, so to say I was excited to see either of these properties come to the Theme Parks, is an understatement.
The attention to details in both of the lands are incredible, but it really comes down to heart for me. You see Star Wars was something I watched with my late father (Phantom Menace was one of the last movies we saw together), so the Falcon, the characters, and the environment mean so much to me. But when I walk into Galaxy’s Edge I don’t feel anything. None of the characters I grew up with are there, and the Falcon isn’t this big reveal. Even getting to pilot the Falcon on Smuggler’s Run, it just didn’t have the greatest memorable moment for me.
Walking into either of the Wizarding World lands is always such an emotional journey, and I don’t have a heart touching history with the stories. But I know the locations. I’m walking in the places I’ve read about and watched for so long. Walking through the areas makes me come back to my childhood memories. There’s no forced story, or background you really have to know to understand the land.
Galaxy’s Edge is a beautiful land, and it really raises the bar for Disney Parks. But I think they missed the mark by setting in on a planet that no one had heard of, or allowing the land to be able to exists through time, where you could run into characters from the saga. There were also huge concepts that had been announced that we never saw. Droids freely roaming the land, different species working in the land, random scuffles happening all around, and having your reputation follow you after you do your smugglers missions; but none of them came about.
So for me Wizarding World has my heart. I always enjoy strolling around the land and seeing every little detail they put into it. Galaxy’s Edge isn’t beyond repair, but what it lacks hits in all the wrong spots.