A conflicted addition to Discoveryland

The green fences are beginning to fall, decorations are being revealed, online fanatics are speculating furiously over parade floats and characters are making impromptu preparation meets. Something is brewing in the air of Disneyland Paris, the wind is beginning to change. This can only mean one thing… the 25th Anniversary is coming!

In a few months, guests near and far will descend upon Marne-la-Vallée for the silver anniversary of Disney’s European resort. In addition to the introduction of day and night entertainment including an all new nighttime spectacular and “new” parade, this celebration year shall once again see attractions added to the roster in the resort’s arsenal. Be it the opening of a second gate for the 10th anniversary in 2002, or the ensemble of E and D tickets brought in to rescue it 5 years later, a milestone celebration met with a brand new guest experience is a marriage that works on all accounts; despite its absence for the 20th.

This attractionless blip is a concern I am happy to report will not be the case this year, sort of. While previous anniversaries have brought an extension to the magical footprint, Imagineering has opted opted for the cheaper route of upgrading and retheming the fallen darlings of Discoveryland.

6 years in the waiting, March will finally bring us up to speed with the rest of the world as Star Tours: The Adventure Continues makes regular departures to the Galaxy, far, far away. This sudden but much overdue hyperjump from the 1980’s will also see the old post-show area transform into the resort’s flagship Star Wars store – making it the best duty free you will ever step foot in. In addition, guests’ cries of American envy will be suddenly silenced with the opportunity to meet Darth Vader himself in the repurposed Star Traders building.

A highly anticipated upgrade without doubt, but that isn’t all that will be coming to Discoveryland in 2017. No, a dangerous, Rebel mission awaits you. Board your starship, dodge incoming TIE Fighters and Star Destroyers and prepare for an almighty launch from… a steampunk mountain?

Piggybacking on the success of the US parks in last year, our very own Space Mountain will receive the Star Wars treatment with Hyperspace Mountain: Rebel Mission. At the time of writing, little is still known about the attraction upgrade other than this is rumoured to be a permanent change to the attraction and the eagerly waited new trains are expected to arrive when the coasters reopens its doors.

That hasn’t stopped the controversy spilling over all the internet from this announcement. Like the sight of Jar Jar Binks for the first time, many have met this news with serious disapproval of how their favourite element to the park has been ‘ruined’ and is nothing more than a cheap cash grab. I have never been one to shy away my opinion on something regarding Disneyland Paris. I made my disappointment with Ratatouille very clear after riding it, and word of my hatred of Swing Into Spring has traveled far and wide. It would not be unexpected for me to pick a side and spend the reason of this article explaining where my allegations stand. There is a problem, however. I can’t. I am totally on the fence over this decision.

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One only has to look at the exterior of Space Mountain to see precisely the problem with throwing Star Wars into the attraction; it doesn’t fit in any way whatsoever. The gritty, war-beaten aesthetic of the Lucasfilm epic is a huge contrast to the colourful and shiny metals of Discoveryland’s steampunk design. The epic Columbiad cannon – which took center stage in our adaptation of ‘From The Earth to the Moon’ – would make zero sense when brought into an universe that uses hyperdrives for long distance travel. Never before has such a device where hyperspace is achieved by catapulting a vehicle been seen or mentioned in the new canon of Star Wars. Indeed, looking in the tangled, endless pardora’s box that is Star Wars Legends (an extended universe I might add which has entire backstories and books dedicated to virtually every character on film, even that guy who walks past the background for a second), all I found was a single reference to a Hyperdrive Cannon; described as an unused relic with none believed to still exist.

The only way to resolve these glaring issues would be a drastic retheme of Space Mountain’s dome and cannon, a change that would undoubtedly rip out the entire soul of Discoveryland. In the 21st century alone we have lost Les Vis to Buzz Lightyear, our Jules Verne story to Mission 2 and Videopolis’ to Lions then Jedis. If the land’s flagship attraction – the fan proclaimed saviour of Disneyland Paris and once envy of the Disney world – was to receive a facelift removing its iconic look, the great visionary theme is no more. The land is no longer Discoveryland, it’s just another Tomorrowland.

In ways, Space Mountain is the personification of Disneyland Paris. The attraction’s opening in 1995 saw a new birth of the resort while keeping that outstanding Imagineering work and attention to detail the resort prided itself on from its creation. A decade later, the thematic downgrade in Mission 2 was to many the final straw in poor and cheap additions to the resort. The sacrifice of that rich Jules Verne atmosphere for a generic blockbuster science fiction “story” was something you could all too well makes comparisons with to Walt Disney Studios Park when it opened three years prior. After another 11 years dominating the Discoveryland skyline, Space Mountain saw a technological addition in the form of newer special effects and a general refurbishment, bringing much needed life to the aging steampunk dome. Penned as ‘phase 1’ in the attraction’s project, this ushered in DLP’s Experience Enhancement Project; promising a fresher, smarter and greater Disneyland Paris than ever before.

Now as we enter the long awaited 25th Anniversary (the very reason for the EEP, no less) we see Space once again getting attention with the revelation of Star Wars, attributing to second phase of its masterplan. In this new age of theme parks in general – where franchises are seen as a much greater priority and demand from guests and management – is Hyperspace Mountain the Harbinger of another new era into Disney’s European resort, one that sees once loved attractions cut in favour of more recognised and profitable properties?

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Much like the force, there is always another path. Another ideal. When looking at this addition from a certain point of view, one could argue Hyperspace Mountain may just be one of the smartest and best decisions DLP could ever make.

Firstly, lets just think about what this change in Space Mountain is bringing to us. A Star Wars retheme. A Star Wars themed roller coaster. I don’t know how anyone, even those with just an awareness of the movies, cannot be excited about that prospect. With all the respect to simulator rides and VR technology, nothing can bring the sensation of speed, sharp turns and drops that would come with an actual X-Wing dogfight quite like a real rollercoaster. Throw in some classic John Williams score, those iconic blaster fires and you’ve got every Star Wars fans’ dream ever since that trench run of ’77. The inclusion of loops, corkscrews and increased speed of Paris’ Space has the potential to make this incarnation of Hyperspace Mountain the most exciting one in the world, if high thrills are your cup of blue milk.

That is of course not without its drawbacks, the addition of Hyperspace Mountain will see an end to Space Mountain: Mission 2… but is that really a bad thing? Ever since the “upgrade” from de la terra a la lune, Space Mountain has never been seen the same by fans. Pretty much universally regarded as a cheap, unoriginal reskin of the Jules Verne classic, I have seen endless cries for Mission 2 to be removed for over a decade. While this isn’t exactly how we wanted it (I am very much a supporter of Bringing Back The Moon), it is a step in the right direction and – in a way – acknowledgment from Disney that fans weren’t happen with the current theme. There is always the potential of change too, it seems to be written into the DNA of our Space Mountain. I would not be surprised in the slightest if 10-15 years from now, Hyperspace Mountain will go the way of Mission 2 and see a retheme. Who knows, may then our calls will be heard and we’ll be heading back to Luna once again?

It has been no secret that Disneyland Paris in recent years has been failing to capitalise on the mouse’s biggest hitters. The ridiculous closure of the Anna and Elsa meet & greet – right in the middle of the global Frozen phenomena – and the still painfully lacking Marvel presence in the resort makes it very clear that management has been out of touch with their audience in the last few years. This has never been moreso apparent with Star Wars; the biggest movie franchise in the history of film. The first signs of concern came on the build up and release of The Force Awakens and DLP’s attempts to tie in with the sci-fi’s major return; none. As Star Wars regained its former popularity this soon became a Wampa in the room for Paris, with Rogue One: A Star Wars Story opening worldwide without a single sign of presence to the series available to guests.

Away with your fear, young padawan, for this story is on the cusp of a happy ending. Season of the Force is full swing in Studios right now, bringing some vital attention not only to the space opera epic but to the park in general. As mentioned, this is not where the additions end as Star Tours returns in late March just before – you guessed it – Hyperspace Mountain.

What a difference a year makes. When Episode VII’s home release came in May 2016, the only thing Star Wars fans had in the parks was Jedi Training Academy, and as enjoyable as the show is, there’s only so many times I can watch kids I don’t know fight Darth Vader before envy of being a grown up has me rooting for the dark lord. Come a few months time when Rogue One has hit Blu-Ray and DVD, guests will not only be training with lightsabers, but taking trips all over the galaxy on the Endor Express, battling the Empire over Jakku next door and – according to rumours – continue enjoying the main bulk of Season of the Force festivities in the second gate.

At last, Star Wars is getting the sort of attention it deserves, and there’s no denying this is going to be huge for Disneyland Paris. Finally, the park can atone for its ignorance of recent years and bring us the Star Wars love we have longed for. I love a good redemption story, me. While anniversary years are always popular and typically see an attendance increase, something tells me this added push by Skywalker and co. could see figures rival that of 2012’s impressive record.

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You may love it or hate it, but soon we’ll be leaving the edge of the universe in favour for a Galaxy, far far away. In a few months time we will be able to judge the update itself as an attraction rather than a concept, when I will be able to truly give my opinion on Hyperspace Mountain. Until then, I can only stay wobbling on this bronze plated fence with astromech supports. I adore Space Mountain, and I am one of the biggest Star Wars geeks you will ever come across, so in a way this is a match made in heaven and hell for me. On one hand I am ecstatic at the thought of experiencing my beloved film franchise in a brand new way for the first time. On the other I am mourning the potential of the Jules Verne theme, all the dedication and level of detail put in and what could have been. It’s going to be an emotion reunion to the Mountain that’s for sure. I’m going to geeking out at all the Star Wars references no doubt hidden away in the queue line, but I will remorse if that ceiling no longer has the constellation of Imagineers charted upon it.

There is one thing I am certain of though. After all these months of debate, discussions and sheer waiting for the refurb fences goes down, all my presumptions will dissolve the moment I re-enter than queue. I just cannot wait to be launched through that cannon again, no matter where it may take me.

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