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Disney teases park fans with hints of 'Star Wars' attraction

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By Christopher Palmeri
Bloomberg News
Published:
LOS ANGELES -- Walt Disney Co., known for teasing fans with clues to new attractions, used a convention in Anaheim, Calif., to hint that "Stars Wars" would play a role in a new round of theme-park improvements.
Disney placed crates with "Star Wars" references in an area of the D23 Expo highlighting new attractions. One was labeled "lightsaber assortment." Another sported a cutout of R2-D2, giving the appearance the robot character had escaped from the box. The three-day gathering for fans ended Sunday.
The hints followed comments by Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Robert Iger, who said on a conference call Tuesday that the Burbank, Calif.-based company plans to announce new attractions in Disneyland, the original park in Anaheim opened by founder Walt Disney in 1955. Disney acquired "Star Wars" maker Lucasfilm last year for $4.1 billion.
"We're going to continue to invest in Disneyland," Iger said. "We've got some pretty exciting things that we'll be announcing over the next couple of months."
The crates were addressed to Disney's Imagineering theme park design group and stamped "speculation beyond imagination" and "Project Orange Harvest," with some of it in lettering similar to the "Star Wars" logo.
Disney has said it wants to use characters like the robot C-3PO and Chewbacca the Wookiee in parks, movies and television programming. The world's largest entertainment company will release its first "Star Wars" film, the seventh in the series, in 2015.
Since the Lucasfilm acquisition, Disney-oriented websites have speculated about the location of a "Stars Wars" park attraction. In June, themeparkinsider.com reported that the company was planning a "Star Wars" land at Disney's Hollywood Studios park in Orlando, Fla.
Disney earned 19 percent of its almost $10 billion in operating income from the parks division last year.
Thomas Staggs, the chairman of Disney's parks and resorts division, declined to comment on new Disneyland attractions or the possibility of a standalone "Star Wars" park, when asked at the convention.
David Koenig, who has written four books about Disney, said the company may be considering remodeling the Tomorrowland section of Disneyland with a "Star Wars" theme or building a new park on land it owns nearby.
"They like to cluster them," Koenig said of the company's theme parks.
Todd Regan, founder of the website MiceChat.com, said on a recent podcast that the plans may include a "Star Wars" cantina in Florida.
Disney owns 461 acres in Anaheim and has a long-term lease for an additional 49 acres, according to its annual report. The company operates two theme parks there, the original Disneyland and Disney California Adventure.
The company already operates Star Tours, a space travel thrill ride that was done in collaboration with "Star Wars" creator George Lucas.
The company spends billions of dollars upgrading its parks and developing new ones, such as the Shanghai resort scheduled to open in late 2015.
The world's largest theme-park operator more than doubled annual investments in its resorts division between 2008 and 2012, spending $2.24 billion last year on projects such as as the remodeling of California Adventure and a new cruise ship.
Disney fell 1.6 percent to $64.73 on Friday in New York. The shares have risen 30 percent this year, compared with 19 percent for the Standard & Poor's 500 Index.
The D23 Expo is held every other year for fans of the company, offering peeks at future film releases, updates on park attractions and talks by company executives and its creative teams. The name is a reference to 1923, the year founder Walt Disney arrived in Hollywood. The appearance of the crates was reported on InsidetheMagic.net, a website for Disney fans that isn't affiliated with the company.
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