Professor Roland Betancourt: Teaching Anteaters About Disney
File this Under: I’m changing my major… And I’ll declare “Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge,” my minor.
A class on Disney, with a lecture about Star Wars
So, at UC Irvine (their mascot is an anteater), students may take a course entitled, “Disneyland: Art, Architecture and Operation.”
Orange Coast Magazine tracked down Associate Professor Roland Betancourt and asked him about his unique course. Some initial thoughts on the class:
- “The class is a survey of Disneyland and trying to put Disneyland into the context of the history of the middle to late 20th century. One of my interests is the history of industry and manufacturing, and how do technologies developed for industries and mass production suddenly turn into amusement ride experiences.”
- “(We explore) some of the tactics (Disneyland) uses to try to take you to another place. For example, New Orleans Square tries to put you in New Orleans. There’s always this feeling that you’re aware you’re not there but creating this illusion of, this ‘as-if’ feeling, of almost being there. With Galaxy’s Edge, there’s this idea that you’re visiting another planet.”
- “The Imagineers were clearly trying to be very smart in how (Galaxy’s Edge) fit into the Star Wars universe. It very much fits into the timeline of the new movies. One example that cast members like to point out is the fact that Chewbacca has gray hair. So it’s not young Chewbacca, it’s the older Chewbacca.”
The piece is a Q & A and deserves your full attention, but here are a few of Professor Betancourt’s answers about Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge:
What were your expectations of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge and what were your initial impressions?
One of my major expectations both as someone who goes to Disney a lot and who has an academic interest in the park was that I was very interested to see how this land was going to be borrowing techniques and design that we’ve seen in some of the other parks around the world but not necessarily in the California park. I was very interested in how some of the elements of a place like Animal Kingdom would come into play in a place like Galaxy’s Edge. I think that in many ways it was very much what I expected in the sense that a lot of the tactics used in a place like Animal Kingdom to create a sense of an exotic land were definitely deployed. And just hearing how designers of the land have spoken of it definitely very much looking at places in the Mediterranean and the Middle East as a model for the experience of Galaxy’s Edge would be.
How would you describe the atmosphere of Galaxy’s Edge?
There is a sense that you are on a planet occupied by the First Order and so there is an element of dystopia, even with the whole narrative that the Jedi are coming back. If you build your lightsaber, you’re technically doing it in secret. So there is this sort of undercover (aspect), less of the heroic Star Wars that we might associate with the original trilogy. So I think in terms of narrative, that dystopian aspect works really well with these tattered flags and so forth. They were very much trying to go with a gritty Star Wars feel, which I think if you compare with something like Star Trek, which is a very clean, utopian future, versus the more Western model of Star Wars.”
What do you think of the response to Galaxy’s Edge so far?
I think everyone has their own theory as to why Galaxy’s Edge isn’t what everyone expected. In many ways, those theories go from Disney did their planning perfectly and therefore were able to avoid the massive crowds to the land doesn’t fit in with the ethos of the park or it’s not Star Wars enough. Placing it in a very smart way in an expanded universe of Star Wars is great because the land works almost like a form of fan fiction. It works in parallel to the universe but you’re not walking through the Death Star, you’re not meeting Darth Vader. I think in may ways for the die-hard Star Wars fan, it might not be Star Wars enough. That’s one very popular critiques of the land.
Question: Would you want to take a class on Disney? What would your first term paper be about?