“The Empire Strikes Back: Revisited” – Superfan Adywan Releases an Edited Masterpiece

August 18, 2017 – A decade in the making, superfan Adywan of the UK last week released what may become a classic of fan editing: The Empire Strikes Back: Revisited (ESB:R).

ESB:R is a remarkably cleaned up version of the original Empire Strikes Back (1980), which fans have been clamoring for for decades. Gone are the distracting changes from George Lucas’s Special Edition (1997) and subsequent alterations, which were met with criticism and even outrage from fans and movie critics.

With input and recommendations from dozens of supporters, Adywan has attempted to recapture the look and feel of the original Empire while still incorporating color corrections, audio and visual improvements, and other technical updates from later editions.

To call ESB:R a labor of intense love is no overstatement. The 49-year-old British creator, who states he has not taken a vacation in 20 years, has gone so far as to painstakingly recreate miniature sets. An example is the Rebel transport hangar at Echo Base.

Adywan built his Rebel transport hangar, measuring 9ft L x 6ft W x 3ft H, which he later filmed for certain scenes in ESB:R. (Photo Credit: Adywan)

Photo Credit: Adywan

Some of Adywan’s other efforts, such as recreating the Wampa costume, met with failure.

As he explains on his blog on July 3rd, 2017: “Did a full costume test fitting of the wampa today and it’s just not working. One disaster after another. Claustrophobia and heat are a huge factor in the problems. But also the head slipping, causing the mouth not to open. It would take stripping out the inner head and remaking it. Months worth of work. But i’ve spent too much time and money on it now and i really don’t think that spending the extra is worth it.

Another huge setback occurred when one of Adywan’s hard drives failed, resulting in months of lost work, as described in Michael D. French/Retroblasting’s YouTube video below:

To better appreciate Adywan’s incredible commitment and attention to detail, watch the Retroblasting video in full.

And then, when you are ready to be amazed, download Adywan’s edited masterwork (about 8 gigabytes) for free. The download links and instructions are listed here on his blog. To remain in compliance with copyright laws, be sure you already own an authorized copy of Lucasfilm’s Empire Strikes Back.

What ESB:R Is Not

To be clear, ESB:R is not a restored version of the original theatrical release of Empire, with all its flaws and glory. In fact, if Lucas and Disney have their way, we may never see the original release.

Nor is ESB:R to be confused with Harmy’s Despecialized Edition of Empire. In the video below (no audio), you can see a five-minute side-by-side comparison of differing versions of Empire.

While no one has yet invented a time machine that we know of, ESB:R comes pretty close. It transports us back to a time and a place we all came to love when we first watched Empire, and for that, we are thankful.

To follow the ongoing discussion and learn more about developments in pursuit of the holy grail of Star Wars, visit originaltrilogy.com.

Disney Announces Star Wars Hotel, “Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge” Name, “Tron” Ride and Many Other Additions

July 16, 2017 – In a news-packed presentation yesterday at the D23 Expo in Anaheim, Disney announced numerous coming changes to its theme parks. The news gushed out so fast and furious that some fans felt like they were trying to drink out of a fire hydrant. Here are the major highlights:

Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge

What fans and the media have been calling “Star Wars Land” for the last two years now has an official name: “Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge“. The name applies to both Star Wars-themed lands at Disneyland (Anaheim) and Disney’s Hollywood Studios (Orlando).

Disney further stated that California’s version would open first in the summer of 2019. The Florida version will open sometime later in 2019. At 14 acres each, both themed lands will be mainly the same. The most noticeable differences will be in the entrances and transition points at both theme parks.

Unknown is whether future attendees will be calling the themed lands either “Galaxy’s Edge” or “Star Wars Land” for short.

A Star Wars Hotel in Orlando

Disney confirmed what many had been speculating for the last several months: A Star Wars-themed hotel in Orlando will be built overlooking Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. The luxury hotel will be an immersive, multi-day experience. Every room will be decorated in an other-worldly style, windows will allow guests to peer into a simulated outer space, and some views will offer vistas overlooking Galaxy’s Edge.

Expect to pay premium prices at the Star Wars-themed resort in Orlando, which will include interactive droids, a cantina, and views overlooking Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. (Image Credit: Walt Disney Co.)

It will be Disney’s “most experiential concept ever,” said Bob Chapek, chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. Guests at the high-dollar hotel in Florida can expect to interact with droid servants and, of course, grab a bite or drink at the alien cantina.

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The exact location and opening date were not disclosed.

“Tron” Ride, “Guardians of the Galaxy” Ride, “Ratatouille” Ride, and Other Major Additions in Orlando, Florida

In preparation for Walt Disney World’s 50th anniversary in 2021, major changes are coming to three of its Orlando theme parks: Magic Kingdom, Epcot and Hollywood Studios.

At Magic Kingdom, a “Tron” ride will be installed in new space adjacent to Space Mountain. The company opened the first “Tron Lightcycle Power Run” at Shanghai Disneyland last summer, 2016, and it has become Shanghai Disneyland’s most popular attraction.

An artist’s rendering of the “Tron” ride (at left) and Space Mountain (at right) at The Magic Kingdom in Orlando. (Image Credit: Walt Disney Co.)

Earlier rumors last week that Tron would replace Magic Kingdom’s Tomorrowland Speedway are now debunked. Fans of the gas-powered cars can now breathe a sigh of relief.

Also at Magic Kingdom, a 1920s-style theater will be constructed near the park’s entrance. Whether the theater will host movie screenings, live entertainment or special presentations was not revealed.

A 1920’s-styled theater is coming to the Magic Kingdom. No opening date has been announced. (Image Credit: Walt Disney Co.)

At Epcot, two major new attractions will be added: A “Guardians of the Galaxy” ride will replace Ellen’s Energy Adventure (closing August 13th) and a ride based on the movie Ratatouille (2007) will be installed in the French pavilion.

Chapek said the “Guardians” ride will be “rooted in an Epcot story” on the Future World side. The ride will be substantially different from the version at Disneyland, though no details were divulged other than the artist sketches below.

Artist’s rendering of the building exterior for the Guardians of the Galaxy ride coming to Epcot (Image Credit: Walt Disney Co.)

An artist’s concept of the Guardians of the Galaxy attraction coming to Epcot (Image Credit: Walt Disney Co.)

The Universe of Energy attraction first opened with the theme park in 1982. It was replaced in 1996 by its current incarnation, Ellen’s Energy Adventure,
which has four movie segments presenting a storyline with Ellen DeGeneres, Bill Nye, Alex Trebek, dinosaurs and educational matter about energy. After 21 years, however, some of the allusions are outdated and, significantly, the Ellen DeGeneres automaton no longer works.

At Epcot’s France pavilion, a new family-friendly Ratatouille ride will open by 2021. Based on the 2007 movie of the same name, the new attraction will be similar to the version at Disneyland Paris.

Hidden somewhere in this artist’s concept is the coming Ratatouille ride at Epcot’s French pavilion. (Image Credit: Walt Disney Co.)

Epcot, which celebrates its 35th anniversary this fall, will also feature new films in the China pavilion and a table-service restaurant within Mission: Space. No opening dates were announced.

A full-service restaurant is coming to Mission: Space at Epcot.

Meanwhile, at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, fans of the current Twilight Zone Tower of Terror attraction can rest easy. The creepy, literally hair-raising ride will not be rethemed as a Guardians of the Galaxy ride, as happened last year in Anaheim.

However, fans of The Great Movie Ride had better experience it one last time. It closes August 13th. The current 3-year contract between Disney and Turner Classic Movies (TCM), the ride sponsor, expires in 2018 and will not be renewed.

Replacing the ride will be an all-new Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway. Inspired by the modern “Disney Shorts” series of Mickey Mouse cartoons, Runaway Railway will have state-of-the-art 3-D effects without the need for guests to wear special glasses.

Here is a 2016 example of a Mickey Mouse short feature:

Imagineer Kevin Rafferty said at D23: “This is not going to be a small attraction. This is going to be game-changing.” The ride will be Mickey Mouse’s first marquee attraction.

Runaway Railway has no announced opening date. However, just steps away, the nearby Toy Story Land will open in summer 2018.

Disney Skyliner (Gondolas), Minnie Vans and More

Disney has finally confirmed the rumored system of gondolas. To be called the Disney Skyliner, the enclosed air-conditioned gondolas will transport guests between Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Epcot, the Caribbean Beach Resort, the Art of Animation/Pop Century resorts, and the under-construction Riviera Resort.

Is that Mickey and Minnie in the Disney Skyliner or is that just your imagination? (Image Credit: Walt Disney Co.)

Similar to Disney’s fleet of buses, monorail cars, and water taxis (boats), the Disney Skyliner will be free to ride. No opening date yet, but construction is already underway.

Rumors of a gondola-style skyway system began in February, 2017.

Another new transportation option, opening this month, will be the Minnie Van service, offering point-to-point transportation. Disney reportedly wants to compete with the Uber, Lyft and private taxi systems operating on its property.

Next, the D23 presentation announced that planning is underway for Disney Vacation Club’s 15th property: Disney Riviera Resort. Located near Epcot, the latest DVC resort will have 300 accommodations, a rooftop restaurant with views of nighttime shows at Epcot and Hollywood Studios, and a connection to the gondola service, Disney’s Skyliner.

Disney’s Riviera Resort will open in the fall of 2019. It is being built on the recently demolished section of Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort. (Image Credit: Walt Disney Co.)

Lastly, Disney Cruise Line is adding three new cruiseliners. It will have a fleet of seven ships by 2023.

Your First Peek into Disney’s Star Wars Land

July 14, 2017 – During a preview at the D23 Expo 2017, fans are being treated to a first detailed peek at a model of Star Wars Land. The 14-acre themed areas are now under construction at both Disneyland in Anaheim, California, and Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Orlando, Florida.

A large, detailed model of the Star Wars-themed lands reveals numerous details of the never-before-seen planet. Once the lands are opened sometime in 2019, guests will find themselves immersed in an other-worldly environment where they can interact with aliens, droids and beasts; explore a forested entry, exotic market bazaar, local culinary options, shops and stunning architecture; take a close-up look at an alphabet soup of classic Star Wars vehicles (an A-wing, X-wing and Millenium Falcon, among others); and participate in two new attractions – a First Order Battle Escape and a Millenium Falcon ride.

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At Disneyland, there will reportedly be three entrances into Star Wars Land, including the forested area mentioned above. At Disney’s Hollywood Studios, there may be three or even four access points. In both theme parks, your walking journey may also be determined by your sympathies, whether you choose to meet up with the Resistance or follow the First Order.

The themed land represents a never-been-seen planet from the outer rim of the Star Wars galaxy. Disney thus avoids the problem of boxing itself in if it had instead chosen one or two familiar planets to replicate.

Nevertheless, there are plenty of echoes of familiar planets we have seen before: The model shows hints of the rugged frontier wilderness of Endor and Tatooine. Further, the architecture and landscaping reveal shades of Yavin and Naboo. Pretty clever on Disney’s part.

The D23 Expo is being held at the Anaheim Convention Center, July 14-16, 2017. The detailed model is on display in Walt Disney Parks and Resorts’ “A Galaxy of Stories” pavilion throughout the weekend.

Bob Chapek, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts Chairman, will share many more details tomorrow, July 15th, during a D23 Presentation.

In the video below, filmed July 13th, Bob Chapek unveils the model:

It was just two years ago, at D23 Expo 2015 (Aug. 14-16, 2015), when Walt Disney Company Chairman and CEO Bob Iger first announced the Star Wars project. Star Wars Land on both coasts will be Disney’s largest single-themed park expansion at 14 acres each.

Why Are Star Wars Products So Much More Expensive in Europe Than in America?

July 8, 2017 – Why are Star Wars toys and most all merchandise, in general, so much more expensive in Europe than in the United States? An action figure that might cost, say, $15.00 in the U.S. would cost at least €25 in the European Union, or about $28.50 USD at current exchange rates.

While most readers of this site have IP addresses within America (about 80%), a large percentage of readers are from Europe (UK 14%, Germany 6%, France 6%, Spain 3%) or other countries (Canada 7%, Australia 4%, Mexico 3%). So today’s topic may be more of interest to our overseas readers – and anyone interested in economics that go beyond the basic laws of supply and demand.

Could Europe’s larger population, and thereby greater demand, account for the higher consumer prices?

The population of the 28 member-countries of the European Union was approximately 510.1 million as of Jan. 1, 2016 [Source: ec.europa.eu]. By contrast, the U.S. population as of July 8, 2017, is smaller at just over 326.5 million [Source: worldmeters.info].

While it appears there are a larger number of Europeans chasing a limited number of Star Wars goods, the laws of supply-and-demand do not fully account for the higher costs as compared to the United States.

Here, then, are some significant reasons why your Star Wars action figures and other merchandise may cost so much more in Europe than in America:

1) TAXES: In Europe, the value-added tax (VAT) adds about 20% to the cost of merchandise. (For American readers, think of the VAT as a huge sales tax.) The VAT is “hidden” in that it is already included in the final sticker price. By contrast, sales tax in the United States is not reflected in the sticker price and is added only at the time of purchase.

So if you are just comparing sticker prices, be aware that a European sticker price already includes the 20% VAT while a U.S. sticker price does not include sales tax. The effect is that this practice makes merchandise in Europe look exaggeratedly more expensive.

By contrast in the United States, the five states with the highest average combined state-local sales tax rates were Tennessee (9.45%), Arkansas (9.26%), Alabama (8.91%), Louisiana (8.91%), and Washington state (8.89%) as of 2015 [source: taxfoundation.org]. California has the highest state-level sales tax rate at 7.5%. The five states with the lowest average combined rates are Alaska (1.76%), Hawaii (4.35%), Wisconsin (5.43%), Wyoming (5.47%), and Maine (5.50%) as of 2015.

In the United States, 45 states collect statewide sales taxes and 38 states collect local (municipal or county) sales taxes. Five states have no statewide sales taxes: Alaska, Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire, and Oregon. Of these, Alaska and Montana allow localities to charge local sales taxes [source: taxfoundation.org].

2) STORAGE AND DISTRIBUTION COSTS: To deliver that precious Star Wars toy into your eager hands requires gasoline or petroleum to power the cargo-containing ships and trains and trucks that make distribution possible. Europe’s reality, however, is that most everything costs a lot more than in the United States.

Take gasoline/petrol, for example. Currently the price for a gallon of gasoline in the U.S. is anywhere between $1.93 (South Carolina, the cheapest) to $2.92 (California) and $3.01 (Hawaii, the most expensive) [source: gasbuddy.com/USA]. By contrast, on July 3rd, you would have to pay about $5.60 in the UK, $5.39 in Germany, $5.50 in France, and $6.80 in Norway for the equivalent of a gallon of gas [source: globalpetrolprices.com].

Add to fuel costs the higher expenses of warehousing and storage, higher vehicle costs (trucks/trains) and higher labor costs, and you now have a costlier Star Wars product sitting on a store shelf.

3) MARKET EFFICIENCIES: The United States enjoys a competitive advantage in the form of cheaper labor, cheaper warehousing and retail space costs and cheaper transport. In addition, the United States is a large, unified marketplace among its 50 states with no significant internal trade barriers. In short, the U.S. is an efficient marketplace with a large domestic market, which produces economies of scale and thus lower prices.

The European Union was created, in part, to achieve similar market efficiencies. As a political and economic union of 28 member states, the EU is, by some estimates, the world’s second or third largest economy. (The United States and China are neck-and-neck at Nos. 1 and 2 interchangeably.)

With its roots in the post-World War II era, the EU has been successful at reducing or removing many internal trade barriers. But it still faces daunting challenges to greater market efficiencies. For example, the euro (€) is the currency of only 19 of its 28 member states. And the UK’s “Brexit” vote one year ago and daunting negotiations over the next two years could make the EU less market-friendly. Add in the inherent problems of multiple languages on the continent and the rise of more populist, nationalistic governments in central and eastern Europe, and you have a large trade market facing growing headwinds.

4) RETAIL COMPETITION: Another factor driving down retail prices in the U.S. is strong retail competition. Behemoths like Walmart and Amazon force vendors who want to do business with them to strip their costs as much as possible. And their competitors, whether a brick-and-mortar retail chain or an online presence, have to follow suit in order to compete.

So why can’t Europeans take advantage of the lower online prices? They can so long as the U.S. retailer ships overseas. The problem is costly shipping and postage rates to Europe, which then make the final cost sometimes unreasonable.

5) CURRENCY EXCHANGE RATES: Exchange rates have an inverse relationship for the consumer, depending on which side of the Atlantic Ocean you live on. Perhaps three years ago, when the Euro (€) and British pound (‎£) were stronger and the U.S. dollar ($) was weaker, Europeans found some imports more affordable. In other words, a European consumer back then could buy more for the equivalent of an American dollar.

Today, post-Brexit, the U.S. dollar is stronger and both the Euro and British pound are weaker. The effect of a strong dollar is that it makes U.S. goods exported abroad more expensive. Thus Hasbro and other U.S. toymakers find their exports abroad are squeezed.

6) LOCAL EFFECTS AND VARIATIONS ON PRICES: Finally, keep in mind that “Europe” is not one monolith. The most obvious point is that the richer, more developed parts of Europe (western and northern Europe) experience higher prices. Meanwhile, parts of eastern and southern Europe, with weaker economies, have lower costs.


Today’s topic, “Why Are Star Wars Products So Much More Expensive in Europe Than in America?”, could have easily been turned on its head: “Why Are Things So Much Cheaper in the United States?

The analysis would have been the same. Both questions are simply two sides of the same coin.

But lest our fellow American readers get too smug about paying considerably lower taxes and enjoying relatively lower prices, consider that:

1) Over the last five years or so, Hasbro has had – and continues to have – a horrible and inept distribution system. It is almost irrelevant what the cost of your Darth Revan or other rare action figure is when you cannot find it in the first place. So globally, all Star Wars collectors face the common challenge of finding sufficient quantities of Star Wars product.

2) While European taxes are higher than in the United States, Europeans for the most part do enjoy a stronger social safety net, including access to medical care, longer paid maternity/paternity leave and – in seven European countries – free college education or no tuition as well as other benefits. While not everyone likes to pay taxes, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr had this to say: “Taxes are what we pay for civilized society.”

And if some consider taxes a weapon, an old coot like Obi Wan might say: “An elegant weapon for a more civilized age.”

Hasbro: “Happy 40th Anniv- … Nah, We’re Just Kidding”

June 27, 2017 – Well, that was awfully quick: In what will likely be among the shortest-lived Star Wars merchandise lines ever, The Black Series Six-Inch “Star Wars 40th Anniversary” (TBS6 SW40) line has now come to an abrupt halt.

Multiple sources report this week that Hasbro has decided to stop production of both Waves 1 and 2 of the well-received Black Series SW40 6-inch action figure line. This means, in effect, that the short-lived TBS6 SW40 will have lasted two or three months at most.

The 40th anniversary date of Star Wars: A New Hope was just last month, or May 25, 2017, to be exact. Hardly a month later, Hasbro has thrown in the towel and discontinued the series, despite great collector demand.

Keep in mind that it was just four months ago, or in February, 2017, when Hasbro first announced it was releasing a TBS6 SW40 collection to be available sometime “in the spring.”

On February 22nd, we first posted an article previewing the then-upcoming 6-inch SW40 line of figures. You can glimpse the figures and their classic Kenner-inspired packaging in the video below:

Hasbro has not yet released an official statement on why it has decided to stop production of Waves 1 and 2. But speculation is that company officials have shifted their focus to the next wave of products for release on Force Friday II (Sept. 1, 2017) and in support of Star Wars: The Last Jedi (premiere date: Dec. 15, 2017). And like that old joke about the poor chap who cannot chew gum and walk at the same time, Hasbro just can’t seem to do two things at once either.

What the Cancellation of TBS6 SW40 Means For You, the Collector

1) If you managed to find both Waves 1 and 2 as well as any SW40 store exclusives, then congratulations: You now possess what will likely become one of the rarest, most highly sought after and quite valuable collections in Star Wars history.

Watch prices on Ebay and online retailers begin to soar as fans and collectors attempt to finish their inchoate SW40 collection.

2) If you are one of many collectors who have avoided the Black Series 6-inch line like the plague, then congratulations to you as well. You have just saved yourself the heartache of a dream unfulfilled.

3) If you are still looking for the elusive R2-D2 and Han Solo from Wave 1, then good luck. As both figures were limited to one each per case box assortment at retail, your search has just become that much harder as further production has now stopped.

4) If you pre-ordered a case or assortment and still have not received your items from the online source, the vendor may or may not complete the order. The problem is, once again, Hasbro’s chaotic distribution system. Other than Hasbro, nobody knows how many quantities of the TBS6 SW40 figures have been produced, when final shipments (if any) will be made to retailers, and therefore whether you, the consumer, will receive what you pre-ordered.

To cite just one example: In early May, DorkSideToys had begun accepting pre-orders for Wave 2 of TBS6 SW40. DorkSideToys had announced that shipments would likely occur in June. The website now says to expect a July shipment. Is a cancellation notice the next possibility?

Wave 2 of The Black Series 6-Inch “Star Wars 40th Anniversary” series

5) Some of the six-inch figures – Tusken Raider, for example – are still readily available for purchase online at reasonable prices. But the packaging won’t include the Kenner-inspired vintage cardback that is SW40. Instead, your figure will arrive in the traditional Black Series box.

Hasbro currently lists this 6-inchTusken Raider at $19.99 USD and Amazon at $22.93.

What Cancellation of the Line Does NOT Mean

1) The Black Series line, both 3.75-inch and 6-inch figures, still survives for the immediate future. Launched on August 1, 2013, TBS will likely end in 2018, when The Vintage Collection is released. For now, it is only the Star Wars 40th Anniversary TBS6 figures which have come to a screeching halt.

2) The cancellation of one line does not mean sunny skies and clear roads ahead for the next. Hasbro still has not fixed, or even significantly acknowledged, its haphazard distribution problems.

While some might view the quick end of TBS6 SW40 as good news – no risk of unsold, peg-warming figures from the 40th anniversary – the truth is that the SW40 figures hardly had a chance at retail. How often did you see a SW40 figure hanging around, waiting to be purchased? Not often or for long, we would venture.

3) The unexpectedly quick end of the SW40 line does not bode well for future lines. Collectors who are eagerly anticipating the return of The Vintage Collection (TVC) series, now set for 2018, ought to be more than a bit concerned. While TVC is still “a go”, do not expect a flood of variety or sufficient quantities. Hasbro’s poor distribution problems over the last several years ought to serve as fair warning.

In his weekly online column at GalacticHunter.com, Adam Pawlus, a longtime toy industry insider, has given us some food for thought. He wrote in his Q&A column on June 25, 2017:

(W)e don’t know how long (The Vintage Collection) line will run. I would bet on it being a limited release like in 2004 (12 figures), 2006 (5 figures), and 2007 (6 figures). I would be shocked to see it run for 100 figures without another break, and if Hasbro told any of us that their plans were to run it for more than a year at the outset I’d be suspicious. Things change, so whatever the 2018 plans are I would expect that the 2019 and 2020 plans won’t be known until they get at least some real feedback from retailers – and until we know what the figures are, it’s going to be tough to know.

And so we will leave the final word to the Chinese – or, at least, an ancient Chinese proverb: “He who hesitates is lost.” Translation: Get ’em while you can.

The Legacy Pack includes a “Special Edition Darth Vader” figure, an action figure display stand, a reversible backcard and instructions. Grab one while you can.

The Problem of Solo

June 23, 2017 – We are not going to say “We told you so.…” But Disney’s corporate eagerness to produce a Han Solo stand-alone movie might not have been such a good idea.

The recent change of directors is a giant red flag that all is not well with the movie.

Kathleen Kennedy, president of Lucasfilm, released a diplomatic statement on June 20th: “Phil Lord and Christopher Miller are talented filmmakers who have assembled an incredible cast and crew, but it’s become clear that we had different creative visions on this film, and we’ve decided to part ways. A new director will be announced soon.”

Phil Lord and Christopher Miller said, “Unfortunately, our vision and process weren’t aligned with our partners on this project. We normally aren’t fans of the phrase ‘creative differences’ but for once this cliché is true. We are really proud of the amazing and world-class work of our cast and crew.”

“Creative differences” means that both directors, despite being granted a large measure of creative freedom, ran into loggerheads with Kathleen Kennedy’s vision for the second anthology film. (The first was Rogue One.) The inability to reconcile their creative visions means that Lord and Miller were effectively let go.

Two days later, Lucasfilm announced that Academy Award-winning filmmaker Ron Howard had been named director of the untitled Han Solo film.

The June 22nd announcement, coming only two days after Lord and Miller’s departure, was well orchestrated. The quick turn-around means that Kennedy and Lucasfilm had to have interviewed and approached Ron Howard (and likely other potential directors as well) weeks, if not months ago, to get him to sign on; ensure they had a solid agreement on how to direct the film going forward; and to allow lawyers on both sides to draft and finalize a new director’s contract.

Kennedy said, “Filming will resume the 10th of July.” And with that quick announcement, the Lucasfilm P.R. machine hoped to have rushed past this awkward moment of change of directors.

But that does not mean the Han Solo movie, scheduled for release on May 25, 2018, is out of the woods yet.

Why Making a Han Solo Movie Might Be a Mistake

1. The Star Wars saga is centered primarily on the struggles of the Skywalker family. By shifting focus to a non-Force wielding, non-Skywalker, the Han Solo movie risks going down a storytelling alley that few may be interested in.

For many fans, it is enough to know that Han Solo was a cocky smuggler and a galactic swashbuckler. Do we really need to delve into his past history? Does anyone really care? How will Han Solo’s back story enrich our understanding of the Star Wars galaxy?

2. Disney/Lucasfilm seem to have ignored fans’ requests to produce anthology films focused on more popular characters. Tales of the bounty hunters – especially Boba Fett – or a story unveiling some part of Master Yoda’s 900-year-old life, would have presented more compelling cinema.

3. The timing is a bit off for a prequel Han Solo movie. Thanks to The Force Awakens, we learn that Solo and General Leia have consummated their relationship and produced a wayward, temperamental son. And we have witnessed Han Solo’s terrible demise. So now that we know Han Solo’s “future” and of his tragic demise, is there any need to visit his past? By revealing his dramatic death in TFA, there may be less interest in learning about his past. Put another way, the balloon is a bit deflated since we already know the final outcome. So why bother?

4. The gestalt of Star Wars requires that each movie, whether part of the traditional saga or a stand-alone anthology movie, should contribute to the overall master story.

Lucasfilm has promised and allowed its directors great creative freedom in producing the anthologies. The problem, however, is that “creative freedom” might lead to too much deviation from the main storyline.

So where is the continuity in the whole? How does a Han Solo movie contribute to our understanding and enjoyment of the Skywalker story?

Pre-Disney, George Lucas was in charge and had a clear vision or roadmap. There would be a middle (Episodes IV-VI), a beginning (Eps. I-III) and an end (Eps. VII-IX).

Corporate Disney, understandably, wants to cash in on its $4 billion investment. But rather than wait patiently for the nine Star Wars episodes to play out, Disney is eagerly promoting stand-alone movies that explore backstories and alleyways that fans may or may not be interested in.

The risks include over-saturation of the market, rushed production schedules, and lack of a unified vision on how the entire Star Wars story unfolds.

Why Releasing a Han Solo Movie Will Be a Success

Despite the foregoing misgivings, here are some reasons why a Han Solo movie will likely be a success:

1. No matter how mediocre or disjointed the final product tuns out to be, there is no denying that droves of fans and the curious will come out to see a Han Solo action flick. The appeal of most anything related to Star Wars is so strong that there is no doubt that Disney/Lucasfilm will have made a ton of money on the film and the resulting merchandise.

Film critics might pan the film and large swaths of fandom might give it a thumbs down, but the Han Solo film will be a financial success. Both The Phantom Menace (1999) and Attack of the Clones (2002) prove the point. The only question is, How much money will a Han Solo movie bring in?

2. Ron Howard already has a long relationship with Lucasfilm and is a well-credentialed talented director. He directed Lucasfilm’s Willow (1988) as well as Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind (winner of four Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director), The Da Vinci Code, Frost/Nixon, and Rush. In front of the camera, longtimers will recall Ron Howard starring in George Lucas’ American Graffiti as well as two TV hits, The Andy Griffith Show (1960-1968) and Happy Days (1974-1984). He also narrated and produced the comedy series Arrested Development (2003-2006).

Ron Howard’s talents as a director and his amenable personality bode for a better, stronger partnership with Kathleen Kennedy and the visionaries at Lucasfilm.

3. At some point, the Skywalker family’s struggles will have to come to an end. Grandpa Vader is long dead and Luke Skywalker, gray beard and all, is looking rather long in the tooth. Therefore, the Star Wars saga, some would argue, has to evolve into other conflicts, other personalities, and other tales.

A non-Force wielder, such as Han Solo, might be a bridge to this “other” Star Wars universe. And if the movie does prove to be popular among moviegoers, then the floodgates will have been permanently opened to explore other characters in the growing anthology as well.

Ron Howard’s Animated Voice Four Decades Ago

Note the title of Episode 2, Season 1, of the animated series, “The Fonz and the Happy Days Gang” (1980).

If you were a kid growing up in the 1970's or early 1980's, you might remember the ABC sitcom Happy Days. Less familiar is the cartoon series, The Fonz and the Happy Days Gang, which ran from Nov. 1980 through Sept. 1982. The animated science-fiction comedy series bore almost no resemblance to the live action Happy Days TV show – other than to somehow convince Henry Winkler (voicing the part of Fonzie), Ron Howard (Richie Cunningham), and Don Most (Ralph Malph) to supply their respective voices for the cartoon series.

In short, the show involves a malfunctioning time machine and Fonzie and his friends as they land in different time periods as they attempt to return to their own time.

It’s only apt that Season 1, Episode 2, is titled “May the Farce Be with You”. Is the universe telling us something? Call it prescient or call it purely coincidental, but how did a 1980’s cartoon somehow tie Ron Howard to Star Wars? Yes, this observation is a stretch, and a weak one at that. But sometimes the universe just loves to drop clues for us to find.

Let’s just hope the Han Solo movie does not turn out to be “the Farce” alluded to 37 years ago. Ron Howard is a gifted director and, with fingers crossed, we hope he can save the Millenium Falcon and its crew from an inglorious onscreen crash.

Star Wars Land (Orlando) Update: Visualizing the Main Entrance

June 5, 2017 – It’s been three months since we posted our last Star Wars Land construction update for Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

With the successful May 27th opening of “Pandora – The World of Avatar” (a.k.a. Avatar Land) at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Disney’s Imagineers and construction crews can now fully focus their efforts on erecting Star Wars Land. The 14-acre themed area, within Disney’s Hollywood Studios, is expected to open sometime in late 2019.

The following photos show accelerating progress with basic building foundations and new vertical construction. The photo below is an overview shot taken June 4, 2017, showing both Toy Story Land and Star Wars Land construction as well as newly cleared land for additional parking. In addition, the bottom right corner of the photo shows a temporary construction road which may morph into a new main entrance road. A new interchange will direct traffic from World Drive or Osceola Parkway directly into the expanded parking lot.

Photo taken June 4, 2017. The large swath of cleared land (right side of photo) will double parking capacity. (Photo Credit: bioreconstruct@twitter.com)

Steel beam supports for a show building for the Battle Escape attraction have gone up in the last week in this photo taken June 4, 2017. (Photo Credit: bioreconstruct@twitter.com)

Another view of the show building frame for the Battle Escape attraction. Photo taken June 4, 2017. (Photo Credit: bioreconstruct@twitter.com)

To keep things in perspective, below is a not-to-scale layout showing where the Battle Escape and Millenium Falcon attractions will be in Star Wars Land. A long berm will block visual sight lines between Toy Story Land and Star Wars Land.

The two new lands will likely connect through the long berm. A new entrance and exit for Toy Story Mania will be built at the back of the building. The current entrance as well as Pixar Place will likely be closed off and turned into a backstage area. (Graphic Credit: OrlandoParkStop.com)

Crossing Through an Expanded Muppets Courtyard

Before entering Star Wars Land, guests will first have to cross through an expanded Muppets Courtyard. One boundary of the larger courtyard will be the last standing remnant of the Streets of America, a building façade connected to the now-closed Writer’s Stop and the still-open Sci-Fi Dine-in Theater Restaurant.

A magnified portion of this photo, taken May 28, 2017, shows an expanded Muppets Courtyard, the main entrance to Star Wars Land, and more clues than answers. (Photo Credit: bioreconstruct@twitter.com)

The above photo is intriguing for several reasons, confirming some rumors (the building façade will not be torn down) while inviting new speculation (Club 33, anyone?)

The Streets of America building façade will not only remain; it also appears the structure is being transformed into a functioning building. Recent photos of various paint test swatches on the building front as well as the addition of steel beam reinforcements strongly suggest that the structure will have a new purpose.

Speculation includes the opening of a
Club 33
– not to be confused with D23, the official Disney fan club. The ultra-exclusive Club 33 has initiation fees of $25,000 to $100,000 as well as annual dues of $12,500 to $30,000, depending on your membership level. Club 33 already exists in New Orleans Square at Disneyland as well as at Tokyo Disneyland and Shanghai Disneyland.

Disney announced in April that Club 33 would be coming to all four theme parks at Walt Disney World by the fall of 2017. One initiation fee and annual dues will cover admission to all four Club 33 locations at Walt Disney World.

As for Disney’s Hollywood Studios, some are speculating that the Club 33 entrance will be placed somewhere in the former Streets of America façade. Another possibility is the now-shuttered Writer’s Stop, which is adjacent to the façade.

An expanded Muppets Courtyard could feature a live-action Muppet show from the second- or third-floor windows of the revamped façade. A similar-type show – “The Muppets Present Great Moments in American History” – can now be seen at Magic Kingdom’s Liberty Square.

Another view of the repurposed Streets of America façade and the main entrance to Star Wars Land (Photo Credit: bioreconstruct@twitter.com)

An expanded courtyard offers many more possibilities. The open-air space could temporarily hold throngs of guests prior to each day’s rope drop. The courtyard might also feature roaming Muppets characters, kiosks, mobile vendors and temporary stage performances.

Visualizing the Main Entrance to Star Wars Land

Once guests get past the Muppets phalanx, they will go through a large doorway or entrance in the berm. According to Scott Trowbridge, the leader of the Imagineering team working on the Star Wars Land project, guests will then catch sight of familiar-looking desert outposts, marked by low, circular buildings. Guests then enter into an exotic market.

In an interview with Bloomberg published April 19th, Trowbridge said, “It’s this exotic marketplace. It’s like a souk street market filled with stalls where you can buy fragrances and spices and clothes and toys and equipment from all across the galaxy, sometimes from the black market. But don’t ask too many questions.”

An artist’s rendering of what may be an entrance to Star Wars Land in both Anaheim and Orlando (Image Credit: Disney/Lucasfilm)

Vaguely reminiscent of a souk (an exotic Arab market or bazaar), guests’ senses will be assaulted in this other-worldly place peopled with aliens and droids. (Image Credit: Disney/Lucasfilm)

And, yes, there will be a cantina where you will be served by exotic aliens. Trowbridge promises, “You’re going to see aliens. You’re going to see droids. You’re going to see beasts.”

Just past the bazaar, “travelers” (Disney-speak for you, the guest) will see a First Order spaceport and an ancient forest compound. Look around, and you just might see certain members of the Resistance.

And beyond that? The two main attractions, a Battle Escape adventure and the opportunity to pilot the Millenium Falcon. More details will likely be unveiled in July at Disney’s D23 Expo at the Anaheim Convention Center.