D23 2017: Doug Chiang Talks Designing Star Wars-Themed Land for Disney Parks

Hear from the legend who helped design the Star Wars-themed land coming to Disney Parks, and see a massive gallery of the stunning model.

Introducing a new Star Wars planet — and you’ll actually be able to go there.

Last night at D23, a massive 50-foot model for the Star Wars-themed land coming to Disneyland Resort and Disney’s Hollywood Studios was unveiled. Based on a never-before-seen planet — and not quite like any we’ve seen in Star Wars thus far — the model is filled with beautiful miniature dwellings and vehicles, surrounded by forest and rocky terrain. (There’s also a BB-8 in there, so keep your eyes peeled.)

The Star Wars-inspired land, opening in 2019, will feature two main attractions: one that lets guests take the controls of Millennium Falcon on a customized secret mission, and an adventure that puts guests in the middle of a battle between the First Order and the Resistance.

To quote a certain Sith Lord, it is most impressive. You can see the model up-close, along with props, costumes, and concept art from the event, in the gallery below.

StarWars.com spoke with the legendary designer Doug Chiang, in attendance at the unveiling just to see the crowd’s reaction, about bringing a new Star Wars world to real life.

StarWars.com: How does it feel to see it unveiled to the public?

Doug Chiang: Oh, it’s amazing. It’s like a film premiere, because you work so hard. And we’ve been working on this for two and half years, which is pretty much the duration of working on a film. To finally reveal it to the public is a little nerve-wracking, because you never know what the reaction will be. But it’s so heart-warming to see the smiles on people’s faces when they see something like this.

StarWars.com: What was your role in the design of the land?

Doug Chiang: It was, really, coming up with the overall idea and working with the Imagineering team to design it — the overall scope of what the land should be, the individual textures, the buildings, the vehicles. It was a huge team effort. We’ve been deeply involved working with the Imagineering team for about two and half years, working on all the pieces, and hoping we would assemble it together, almost like a film. And that’s why it’s really rewarding for me today, because we finally see everything put together into one big show.

StarWars.com: It’s so massive and filled with so many little details. What’s the process for an undertaking like this?

Doug Chiang: The process is pretty in-depth, because we’re trying to anchor something that’s very grounded in the Star Wars universe, yet add something new to it. So it’s a very fine line of where that balance should be. For this land in particular, we were very careful because we wanted to create something fresh that would be timeless. You know, like a film, these have to exist for years and years, and so we wanted to make sure that we captured that perfect note. 

One of the interesting challenges for this was to find a world that felt exotic enough, and yet felt familiar. So one of the key things that we did was really play around with scale and the idea of petrified formations. It’s that blend of something that’s exotic, but then exaggerating the scale quite a bit and then creating a whole world based on that one idea. If you look closely, there’s history built into it. There’s history built into the landscape and history built into the structures themselves.

StarWars.com: What would you say is different in designing a theme-park land from working on movies? Is it completely different?

Doug Chiang: No, it’s actually very similar! In some ways, it’s almost like making a movie in slow-motion because the timeframe is so long. That’s because we have to build things that really are real. We can’t cheat things. On movie sets, we can frame it so that you can focus the camera on one point of view. For a theme park, you really have to make it immersive. Everything has to be worked out, because you don’t know where the guests are going to go, what they’re going to look at, what they’re going to touch. And then, I think that with the whole idea that you can be immersed in this world, everything has to be real. So, something that looks like rock has to be rock. Metal has to be metal. There’s an added layer of thoroughness that we have to do for this in order to build a world like this and have it be authentic.

StarWars.com: Finally, how excited are you for opening day in 2019?

Doug Chiang: Oh, I’m beyond excited. I mean, I’ve dreamt of visiting Star Wars in person. And I think this is the perfect opportunity for everybody to now experience that.

Dan Brooks is Lucasfilm’s senior content writer and editor of the StarWars.com blog. He loves Star Wars, ELO, and the New York Rangers, Jets, and Yankees. Follow him on Twitter @dan_brooks where he rants about all these things.

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