On May 18, 2023, Disney dropped the bombshell announcement that the Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser will take its final voyage this September.
The 100-room immersive Halycon ship had only been immersing Guests in the Star Wars universe since last March, but bookings have been dwindling for months. Well ahead of the closure announcement, Disney began removing some of the Starcruiser’s voyages from its booking website, and even on the remaining voyages, Guests who booked noted that the crowd levels were incredibly low.
On top of decreasing bookings, Disney recently began offering incentives to book through discounts for Cast Members and Annual Passholders. With discounts continuing to roll out, many fans began to expect that the Starcruiser would eventually either lower its price points (from its initial roughly $4,800/voyage) to make the experience more accessible. And while many Disney and Star Wars fans did not expect the initial setup of the Galactic Starcruiser to fail, few could have foreseen its closure before the end of this year.
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Why did the Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser fail?
Without access to Disney’s internal data, we can only speculate as to why the company made the decision to close the Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser, but we have some ideas…
First, let’s address what everyone is thinking: the price. A voyage aboard the Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser could range from approximately $4,800 per cabin to nearly $20,000 for the captain’s suite, depending on how many Guests are in your party. Pricing for the Starcruiser is, as you can see, incredibly expensive and even out of reach for much of Disney World’s main demographic. (Sure, plenty of Guests are spending $5,000+ for a Disney vacation, but how many are willing to justify this cost for a two-night experience?)
Despite my own inclination to forgo paying so much for a two-night stay, I actually do not think the price on its own was the problem here. Star Wars has an intense fan community, and with some changes to the experience and with a marketing push toward this niche fandom rather than to the average family vacationing in Disney World, I would not be surprised if this price point worked. But more on that later…
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Confusion Over What the Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser Actually Is
The main reason why I believe the Starcruiser did not work is because the public did not understand the product, and unfortunately, this is mostly Disney’s fault.
The initial announcement for the Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser came out of the Parks panel at the 2017 D23 Expo (yes, the same event that announced plans for TRON Lightcycle / Run and several projects likely canceled during the COVID-19 pandemic.)
At the Expo, former CEO and then-Disney Parks & Resorts Chairman Bob Chapek referred to the upcoming experience aboard the Halcyon as a “Star Wars Resort.” Even the official D23 website, which could have been updated after Chapek’s speaking engagement, notes, “Star Wars-Themed Resort Announced.”
Chapek’s announcement in 2017 shared:
It’s unlike anything that exists today. From the second you arrive, you will become a part of a Star Wars story! You’ll immediately become a citizen of the galaxy and experience all that entails, including dressing up in the proper attire. Once you leave Earth, you will discover a starship alive with characters, stories, and adventures that unfold all around you. It is 100-percent immersive, and the story will touch every single minute of your day—and it will culminate in a unique journey for every person who visits.
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If you have not been following the Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser since the beginning, you may be surprised by the wording of its initial announcement (and you may not remember how much of the fan community at the time was very focused on the question of, “Would you have to dress up?”) With few details shared in the beginning, many early fan reactions to the project expressed an interest in a new Resort experience and questions about what the proper attire would entail.
Some of my insight from more casual Disney Parks fans comes from the questions my family tends to ask me when they hear of upcoming projects, especially if the news is portrayed differently in the mainstream media than we’ve reported here. In terms of the Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser, my family’s first big question was something like, “Wait, Disney is building a new Resort that doesn’t even have a pool?”
And with that, since 2017, I and many Disney Parks fans have wondered if the Starcruiser could work long-term with so many potential Guests missing the point (due to no fault of their own, Disney was the first outlet to call the Halcyon a “Resort”.)
When more information was revealed later on about the Starcruiser, I reported back to my family and tried to explain why there would be no pool, no spa, no pin trading, and no transportation to the theme parks, save for the excursion to Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
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How could Disney fix the Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser?
There are countless options for how Disney could effectively repurpose the Starcruiser, ranging from making it into a day trip experience or simply expanding Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge to have easier access to the Chandrilla ship (though I’m not sure how feasible this is logistically.) Here’s what I think would work best.
Focus on the original trilogy
Remember those Star Wars fans I mentioned earlier who have already proven they’re happy to spend big bucks on their fandom through merchandise alone? Well, it’s quite possible that those people would be comfortable spending $4,800+ or something close to it if the experience aboard the Halcyon focused on the original Star Wars trilogy and culminated in an epic lightsaber battle against Darth Vader rather than Kylo Ren.
Not all Star Wars fans are Disney fans, and a fair number of them simply aren’t willing to spend when it comes to films and stories that came after Disney acquired Lucasfilm. A diehard Star Wars fan who dislikes the perceived “Disneyfication” of the films is certainly not going to spend so much on a two-night experience, but on a stay aboard a ship positioned in the timeline after The Empire Strikes Back (1980) could be a different story.
Modify the current Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser experience
Whether it be by lowering the price or by making the LARPing (live-action roleplaying) element more relaxed (or optional), it seems there are ways to largely keep the Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser as it is while also making it more accessible and interesting to a greater number of Guests.
The totally immersive elements of the Starcruiser seem to work well for those who are interested enough, but not every Guest is going to fit this bill. And with such a high price point (even with dining, all activities, and access to Disney’s Hollywood Studios included) Guests who are on the fence about how involved in the story they’d like to be simply aren’t going to book.
Make the Starcruiser into what it was announced as: “Star Wars-Themed Resort”
Bob Chapek said it first, and a “Star Wars-Themed Resort” is certainly what stuck with the public and what kept the headlines coming as Disney tried to help the media out in justifying a nearly $2,500/night “Resort” stay. Deluxe Resorts at Walt Disney World range in price from approximately $350/night to $8,000/night (or more depending on the room type), and there are Guests out there willing to pay for it. In my opinion, the Starcruiser was largely doomed from the beginning because it was originally billed as a “Resort” that came with few amenities of any hotel, never mind what Guests have come to expect from Disney’s highest-priced offerings.
If Walt Disney Imagineering were to revamp the Starcruiser into a more traditional Resort, I believe it could keep many of the interactive elements that made it truly special. Allow Guests to dress up if they want to, continue the musical performances with Gaya during dinner, and keep or even add character interactions and bridge training, but make the really immersive, interactive experiences optional. And add a pool and some additional amenities for the Guests who aren’t totally into the LARP element of it all.
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To me, the biggest problem with both the Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser and Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is that they are self-limiting to the timeline of the last trilogy, which is great for Guests whose favorite film is The Force Awakens (2015) but not so much for so many other fans.
We’ve already seen how limiting the timeline of Galaxy’s Edge is when it comes to the challenge of introducing new characters (which is presumably why it took so long for The Mandalorian and Grogu to debut at the theme parks.) With the Star Wars universe being so vast with so many different stories included in it, I always thought Galaxy’s Edge (and the Starcruiser) would operate best as places without a tie to any specific time on their own, but with set days of the week to focus on various Star Wars stories (or even set hours of the day.)
I admittedly have not yet finished reading Black Spire by Delilah S. Dawson, which serves as the backstory for Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, but from my understanding, most, if not all, of the locales in Star Wars have existed for years. It seems the same planet “now” under siege by the First Order could have had run-ins with the Galactic Empire earlier in its history. The same logic could go for the Starcruiser, too, as the ship may have existed for long enough to be a part of various events.
Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, the most popular ride in Galaxy’s Edge, certainly throws a wrench into the ability to change the timeline regularly, as the ride’s plot would not make sense at other times, but I still think there are ways to work around this.
The Great Movie Ride, while now closed and a less technologically advanced attraction, was able to offer a similar ride experience with two different scenes featuring live performers varying by ride vehicle. Surely if such an idea was possible in 1989, something similar could be done with Rise today. Most of the effects on Rise of the Resistance that places Guests firmly within the First Order’s timeline are shown on screens which could make them easy to swap out for other footage. And I don’t necessarily know how, but I’m sure Imagineering could come up with a way to hide Kylo Ren’s Animatronic and focus on Darth Vader, whether based on the number of ride vehicles or the day of the week.
At the end of the day, the Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser is an incredible feat of creativity by Walt Disney Imagineering, and it’s disappointing to see something so impressive and well-intentioned not work out. Still, I think the concept holds a lot of potential outside of its original form, and I’m curious to see what comes next.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and may not reflect Disney Tips as a whole.