‘Star Wars’ Land & Other Surprises from the D23 Convention

By Phill Powell

Disney and “Star Wars” fans are super-stoked about news coming out of the recent D23 Convention (D23 is Disney’s official fan club), announcing that both Disney World and Disneyland will get “Star Wars” lands.

And while there was plenty of news about Toy Story 4 (and upcoming films from the “Cars” and “The Incredibles” franchises), the anticipation about Star Wars: The Force Awakens and news related to the franchise, now owned by Disney, has fans in a fever pitch.

“Star Wars” Coming to Disney Parks
What could be better than having fun at a Disney theme park? Answer: Getting to celebrate the greatest space epic ever made while you’re there! That’s right…Disney is bringing “Star Wars” to its parks, but we’re not just talking about a couple of “Star Wars”-themed rides.

Disney CEO Bob Iger told D23 attendees that fans will be able to relive the “Star Wars” experience at California’s Disneyland and Florida’s Walt Disney World. Each park is expected to add a 14-acre “land” devoted to the mega-popular movie series. It’s the largest single-themed park expansion ever (for both locations).

What will fans get to do? How about ride aboard the Millennium Falcon and take command of the controls?

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This stunning concept art shows what a “Star Wars” land will look like at a Disney park.

Or maybe visit the famous Star Wars Cantina? Or participate in an X-Wing dogfight? Or, instead of getting a snap taken with a costumed Goofy, maybe you’d enjoy interacting with droids and aliens?

No dates have been announced for when the new “Star Wars” lands will open, but you can expect more and more integration of “Star Wars” culture into Disney parks.

First Official ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ Poster?
D23 audiences also got to peep the first official poster from the film that’s now on everybody’s mind – well, almost. What fans were actually treated to is a new “commemorative poster,” designed by famed “Star Wars” poster artist and graphic designer Drew Struzan. Struzan has created iconic movie posters of not only Luke Skywalker but also Indiana Jones and Harry Potter.

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It’s not official, but Drew Struzan’s commemorative poster is our first poster from 2015’s biggest movie. (Image: LucasFilm)

Struzan’s poster does a great job of introducing the new characters now leading the saga while nodding to classic images he produced for Return of the Jedi and The Empire Strikes Back. Out in front, with a very determined look on her face, is Rey (played by Daisy Ridley). She’s supported on one side by Finn (John Boyega), and challenged on the other side by the Vader-like Kylo Ren (Adam Driver).

There are lots of X-Wings and TIE Fighters shown flying in formation, and in the bottom-left corner of the poster, the series’ distinguished legacy, Han Solo (Harrison Ford), gray with age but ready for a fight.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens opens December 18th.

Star Wars: Rogue One Cast Photo – First Official Image
In other “Star Wars” news from D23, we now know a lot more about “Rogue One,” the new “Star Wars” story that takes place before events in the existing “Star Wars” storyline.

According to producer Kathleen Kennedy, Star Wars: Rogue One “goes into new territory, exploring the galactic struggle from a ground-war perspective, while maintaining that essential ‘Star Wars’ feel that fans have come to know.”

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Getting ready for action: The Resistance fighters of Star Wars: Rogue One want to take down the Death Star.

D23 was abuzz with news of the first released cast photo from the new film, which opens December 16, 2016, and is being helmed by Gareth Edwards, who directed Godzilla and Monsters.

The ultra-cool cast photo shows actors Riz Ahmed, Diego Luna, Felicity Jones, Jiang Wen and Donnie Yen, surrounded by various equipment and machinery used by these Resistance fighters. The plot revolves around their efforts to lay their hands on plans that will help them destroy the “Star Wars” series’ infamous Death Star.

The rest of the Rogue One cast includes Forest Whitaker, Ben Mendelsohn, Mads Mikkelsen and Alan Tudyk.

First Official Look at Live-Action Jungle Book
The Disney news included the first authorized look at the upcoming update of Disney’s beloved Jungle Book. The concept art is breathtaking, showing Mowgli the jungle boy (played by Neel Sethi) walking with the panther Bagheera (voiced by Ben Kingsley) in front of a mighty and majestic waterfall.

Jon Favreau (Iron Man) is set to direct this new adaptation of the beloved 1966 classic animated film. This time around, big Bill Murray will supply the voice for Baloo the bear, with the rest of the cast being rounded out by Scarlett Johansson, Christopher Walken and Lupita Nyong’o.

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Director Jon Favreau plans to use modern tech tools to enhance the new Jungle Book.

Favreau knows how to bring modern tools to traditional stories. “There’s a lot of great images and feelings that I remember from being a kid that I’d love to incorporate using today’s technology and storytelling techniques,” he recently said in an interview. The film is set to open on October 9, 2015.

Feel the Force
In “Star Wars” mythology, the Force is a powerful positive energy that can lead you to greatness. In our modern world, this force can be summed up in a single word: technology.

When kids and teens “get their tech on,” amazing things happen. Creative passions are ignited. Talents are developed. Careers get started. Future destinies suddenly appear.

Each summer, kids (ages 6-12) and teens (12-17) discover a galaxy of creative possibilities at Digital Media Academy tech camps, where they can explore filmmaking and visual effects like they might find in Star Wars: The Force Awakens or learn animation skills, like the polished animation skills that Disney’s always been known for.