Two years after buying Lucasfilm for $4 billion, Disney is starting to reveal just how "Star Wars" will be integrated into the company's theme parks.
Main attractions will be based on new sequels and spinoffs -- the first of which, "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," bows next year -- not the older films in George Lucas' sci-fi franchise, according to Walt Disney Co. chief Bob Iger.
"There will be a much larger 'Star Wars' presence in our parks globally," Iger said during a Q&A at Variety's Dealmakers Breakfast on Wednesday, presented by Bank of America and sponsored by Delta. "But we want to do this big, which takes time, and to do it right."
For Disney and its team of theme park designers at Walt Disney Imagineering, that meant waiting until director J.J. Abrams could reveal his plans for "The Force Awakens."
Disney could have easily started producing new rides based on the original "Star Wars" films -- and early development on new rides did revolve around the first six "Star Wars" movies. But Iger didn't want a situation in which theme park guests would be disappointed with an attraction after seeing "The Force Awakens."
"I didn't want someone to say, 'I just saw the movie and there's nothing in that movie in this (attraction)," Iger said. "We waited to see what this film would have in it."
As a result, Iger stopped early development on theme park attractions at Imagineering. "We couldn't tell them what was new," Iger said, until Abrams was finished developing and producing the sequel. "I slowed it all down so what we come forward with will have a blend of the past, present and maybe the future," referencing upcoming sequels and spinoff films. "Now we have a sense of what's in 'Star Wars 8,' and what some of the standalone films will have in them."
The older films, their worlds and characters already are featured in the "Star Tours" attraction at Disney's parks.
Iger has previously said that "Star Wars" would have "a significant presence" inside the company's resorts. "Why not?" he asked on Wednesday. "We bought the thing. We can do that now." The first look at the new "Star Wars" attractions are expected to be revealed next year.
During the conversation with Variety co-editor-in-chief Claudia Eller inside the Palm restaurant in Beverly Hills, Iger noted how he has repeatedly stressed to Abrams that the future of the franchise and the company's acquisition of Lucasfilm rides on the success of "The Force Awakens," out in theaters Dec. 18, 2015.
"I keep telling J.J. Abrams this is a $4 billion movie," Iger said, in reference to the Lucasfilm deal, not the actual budget of the film. "We need to treat this very special. It's an unbelievable privilege and unbelievable responsibility to take a jewel and treat it in a way that is respectful of its past but brings it into the future."
Early reaction to a teaser trailer already has been strong.
The 88-second teaser, which includes just 39 seconds of footage, has been viewed over 110 million times, Iger said, in addition to 40 million views of spoofs created around the footage.
Disney nearly didn't release a trailer, Iger admitted. Abrams is known for wanting to keep footage of his films under wraps. But the rabid "Star Wars" fanbase prompted Disney to come up with the brief introduction of what the new film would look like.
Iger said there's a big opportunity to reach a younger demo that's attracted to the"Star Wars" franchise through Lego toys, as well as foreign markets like China where the original films in the 1970s and '90s weren't as popular because of the size of the theatrical market in those territories at the time.
Disney is anticipating that "curiosity will extend beyond the people who grew up with the movies," Iger said, and Disney "has done a tremendous amount of work in how (the films) will be brought to market and where the opportunities are" in growing the franchise.
One way to do that is the way "The Force Awakens" is produced.
Iger noted how Abrams has relied more on physical sets and props that are significant in size and scope, rather than computer-generated imagery.
"That will give the film a look that will be extremely respectful of the look George (Lucas) created in the '70s," Iger said, "and will play well with ardent 'Star Wars' fans and play well with audiences today."
Iger noted how the use of computer-generated graphics has made filmmaking seem "too easy." "There's a sameness to a lot of these films today," Iger said. "The wow factor isn't what it used to be. J.J. decided to create the physical wow factor."
'Avatar' Ride Coming to Life at Disney's Animal Kingdom
There are many perks to running the Walt Disney Co. It turns out one of them is getting to be the first to ride the winged beasts that will be one of Animal Kingdom's signature rides when "Avatar" land opens inside the Walt Disney World theme park in 2017.
Bob Iger said he was recently given the chance to try out the ride, which will enable guests to fly through "Avatar's" Pandora on the back of a flying banshee.
"It felt so real, so lifelike," Iger said of the prototype vehicle guests will board to travel through the fictional land. "There's never been anything like it."
The vessels that guests will ride upon will essentially be the banshees themselves, with bodies that move to mimic a breathing beast. The flying sequences will be brought to life through large video screens -- similar to "Soarin'" -- with vehicles moving with the 3D action inside a massive theater.
While Disney and "Avatar" franchise creator and director James Cameron and producer Jon Landau already had announced that "Avatar" land would include the flying attraction, Iger excitedly provided a better glimpse of the experience, describing how he had to scale scaffolding in order to try out the ride for the first time.
Iger discussed the new theme park shortly after discussing plans for "Star Wars" at the company's resorts during a Q&A with Variety co-editor-in-chief Claudia Eller at a Dealmakers Breakfast Wednesday morning, presented by Bank of America and sponsored by Delta.
Disney broke ground on the "Avatar" park in January. The themed addition, designed with Cameron, represents the largest expansion to Animal Kingdom since the park opened in 1998.
Designed by Walt Disney Imagineering, the land will include Pandora's floating mountains and bioluminescent plants across several acres that will house attractions, including a boat-based attraction, and eateries.
The addition of "Avatar" land is clearly Disney's answer to Universal's pair-up with Warner Bros. to build the wildly successful Wizarding World of Harry Potter park and Diagon Alley expansion inside Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios in Orlando.
The themed land will open as Cameron releases the first of three new "Avatar" sequels, starting in December 2016.