Jim Denney: Would Walt Disney approve of 'Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge' theme park? The answer will surprise you

Walt Disney died in December 1966, more than a decade before the first “Star Wars” movie was released. What would he think of Galaxy’s Edge, Disney’s new 14-acre “Star Wars”-themed land?

Galaxy’s Edge opens at Disneyland in California on May 31, and at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Florida on August 29. As you enter, you step into another world, the planet Batuu. There you find the Black Spire Outpost, a battle-scarred waystation for bounty hunters and smugglers on the galactic fringe.

DISNEYLAND IS LIMITING STAR WARS: GALAXY'S EDGE VISITORS TO FOUR-HOUR WINDOWS

The centerpiece attraction is Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run, a simulator that puts you in the cockpit of Han Solo’s souped-up Corellian freighter. As part of the Falcon’s cockpit crew, you jump to hyperspace, steer the ship, and fire the weapons while smuggling dangerous cargo along the outer rim of the Galaxy.

There are also “Star Wars”-themed eateries, a build-your-own droid depot, and a build-your-own lightsaber workshop. A second thrill ride, Rise of the Resistance, opens this summer.

Walt Disney had a lot to say about the future -- both humanity’s future in space and Disneyland’s future expansion. On Disneyland’s opening day, July 17, 1955, he said, “To all who come to this happy place: Welcome. Disneyland is your land. Here age relives fond memories of the past, and here youth may savor the challenge and promise of the future.”

He knew the future is always a moving target, and he wanted Disneyland to never stop aiming for it. “Disneyland will never be finished,” he said. “It’s something I can keep developing, keep plussing and adding to. It will be a living, breathing thing that will always keep changing.”

Walt envisioned Disneyland as a place to stimulate young minds and fire up the imagination. “In Disneyland, people can actually take part in visible, touchable, moving, and dimensional fantasy. They can ride on it, fly with it, measure imagination with it, and glean information from it about the past, the present, and future.”

There was a special place in Walt’s heart for young people. He wanted future generations to believe their future is bright, that anything is possible.

He said, “To the youngsters of today, I say believe in the future, the world is getting better; there still is plenty of opportunity.”

Though the “Star Wars” saga is set “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away,” it is really about the limitless possibilities of the future.

I once spoke with science-fantasy writer Ray Bradbury about the first time he met Walt Disney. At Christmastime in 1964, Ray spotted Walt walking through a Beverly Hills department store, his arms laden with gifts. Ray stopped Walt and introduced himself. Walt’s eyes lit up and he said, “Ray Bradbury! I know your books!”

It’s true -- Walt knew Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451” and “The Martian Chronicles” because he was a science fiction fan from way back. Walt had grown up on the classic science fiction tales of Jules Verne. That’s why he made a lavish 1955 production of Verne’s “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.”

Walt was also enthusiastic about humanity’s future in space, which is why Tomorrowland is one of the four original lands of Disneyland. Walt himself conceived the wildly popular Space Mountain attraction, though he originally called it Space Port. The development of Space Mountain faltered for years after Walt’s death, but it finally opened in January 1975 at Florida’s Magic Kingdom Park.

“Star Wars” creator George Lucas was a confirmed Disney fan. Lucas once told Entertainment Weekly, “I was at Disneyland the second day it opened.” He was eleven-years-old on July 18, 1955, and his favorite ride was the Tomorrowland Autopia. Today, attractions based on his “Star Wars” creations are among the most dazzling wonders of Disney theme parks.

Walt Disney and George Lucas are both innovative, imaginative geniuses who fought for their ideas and changed the entertainment landscape. Disney and Lucas impacted the global culture in ways too profound to measure.

They created entertainment that is optimistic, family-friendly, and loved by fans of all generations.

In a 2012 interview, Lucas said, “When I first made ‘Star Wars,’ everybody in Hollywood said, ‘Well, this is a movie that Disney should have made.’”

“Star Wars” is a paradox, a fantasy future set in the distant past. That’s why it’s the perfect solution to a problem that long plagued Tomorrowland.

Walt talked about this problem shortly before his death in 1966: “When we opened Disneyland, outer space was Buck Rogers. I did put in a trip to the moon, and I got [NASA space scientist] Wernher von Braun to help me plan the thing. Since then has come Sputnik and then has come our great program in outer space. So I had to tear down my Tomorrowland that I built eleven years ago and rebuild it to keep pace.”

Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge will open May 31, 2019, at Disneyland Park in Anaheim, California.

Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge will open May 31, 2019, at Disneyland Park in Anaheim, California.

It's true. The futuristic attractions that dominated Tomorrowland in 1955 -- the Rocket to the Moon and Space Station X-1 -- have been gone for decades. They’ve been replaced by Space Mountain and the “Star Wars”-themed Star Tours space flight simulator. Tomorrowland makeovers tend to look dated within a decade or two, but “Star Wars” is ageless.

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So, yes, Walt would definitely approve of Galaxy’s Edge. As longtime Disney imagineer John Hench said, “Walt had one foot in the past and one foot in the future.”

It’s been more than fifty years since Walt left us, yet his optimistic, futuristic spirit lives on at Disneyland and the other Disney theme parks around the world. And yes, his spirit lives on in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.