Does “Shanghai Pirates” clue us in on the upcoming “Battle Escape” attraction at Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge?


13 May 2016

With Shanghai Disneyland now open, we have been treated to some breathtaking photos and videos coming out of the new park.

What we’re seeing is truly stunning. Thematically rich lands, updated versions of classic attractions combined with all-new rides and experiences, and just an epic scale all around.

The signature E-Ticket of the park is Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for the Sunken Treasure.

Feast your eyes on this YouTube video getting lots of play, featuring a full-length POV ride-thru of the attraction…

This looks jaw-dropping. I can’t imagine how massive this must feel in real life. Just listen to the riders shouting, “Oh wow! This is incredible!”

This newest incarnation of Pirates of the Caribbean represents the very best of Disney magic, combining traditional techniques with modern technologies. The result seems to be an unprecedented game changer and a massive crowd pleaser.

Oh, and if you’re looking for a preview of what Star Wars Land‘s new Battle Escape ride might feel like, we now have some significant clues.

There are strong rumors indicating Battle Escape is going to be a physical ride experience, passing through actual show scenes with practical special effects and technological wizardry.

Many are speculating the ride is going to utilize a “trackless” ride system, maneuvering vehicles forwards and backwards, side to side, and spinning around in a much more unpredictable and spontaneous way. The technology is showcased on current rides such as Pooh’s Hunny Hunt and Aquatopia at Tokyo DisneySea, and Luigi’s Festival of the Dance at Disney California Adventure.

The classic version of Pirates such as the one at Disneyland in Anaheim quite literally uses a flowing river of water to push the boats through the ride.

Shanghai Pirates gives the illusion of boats flowing with a current of water, but in actuality, they are connected to a track underwater, with a modern design mechanism that allows each boat to have it’s own freedom of movement, i.e. moving forward, backwards, spinning, etc. The ride system in play is different than Luigi’s Festival of the Dance, but the effect is similar.

Star Wars Land‘s Battle Escape ride would be the perfect opportunity to showcase this “trackless” ride system on an epic E-Ticket scale in Anaheim in Orlando.

But let’s take a ride on Battle for the Sunken Treasure and see what other clues we can discover that may hint at what’s to come with Battle Escape.

This shot reinforces to riders that they are inside Davy Jones‘s locker at the bottom of the sea. Projecting the giant squid on the other side of the barnacle-crusted cage is a brilliant effect and adds both a sense of place and a feel of realism.

When I see this and think of Battle Escape, I can see us on board a First Order Star Destroyer looking out at space beyond instead of the ocean and starfighter battles happening instead of giant squid swimming by.

Riders continue to move through more intimate, contained sets then come face to face with the most incredibly lifelike animatronic of Davy Jones himself.

In a world where holograms and video projections have become the norm at parks like Universal Studios, Disney hasn’t lost sight of its roots, and what makes these attractions so classic, and so Disney.

The best movie magic happens when filmmakers meld a variety of special effects techniques to keep our minds off balance and convince us that what we’re seeing is believable. The Star Wars saga and the Lord of the Rings trilogy are perfect examples, blending practical effects and real sets with green screen and computer-generated imagery.

On a Battle Escape ride, we could easily encounter an animatronic Kylo Ren with that mask down, establishing a credible physical threat at the start of our own ride.

A shot like this is truly incredible. Notice the rider with the cell phone in the corner. Davy Jones opens up a magical door that brings riders into an epic pirate ship confrontation. It’s amazing how close to the action we get. We are literally right there.

Suddenly, when we take a look at this teaser shot of Battle Ecape from the Wonderful World of Disney ABC special that aired back in February 2016, the technology to bring this to life becomes very clear.

And this is the crowning achievement of this next generation Pirates ride. This one shot represents the best of Disney. An actual ride-thru experience, towering physically contructed pirate ships on each side of us with cannons bursting and real explosions in the water, just like the classic attraction, now set against a massive IMAX-scale backdrop projection featuring breathtatking action.

If this was our vehicle moving through a hangar, say, with life-size AT-AT Walkers instead of pirate ships, with a massive battle between the First Order and the Resistance playing out on that giant projection, with real sparks and explosions happening around us, this could literally become the most spectacular attraction Disney has ever given us.

Oh, but there’s no way Disney would actually build life-size AT-AT Walkers inside the Battle Escape ride, right?

It’s happening, all right. Big time.

That climatic pirate ship battle is Disney throwing everything it has from a show perspective, including the kitchen sink, into one massive scene.

Might Battle Escape‘s experience be similar? It sure seems like it.

Pirates Shanghai connects the larger set pieces through these more intimate corridors, but makes sure there is interactivity even here. Covering the otherwise rectangular screen with broken set pieces in the foreground helps to sell the illusion. And when I see that particular shot of Davy Jones…

…I’m reminded of this teaser image of Battle Escape from that ABC special. I can’t wait to see how they pull off those laser effects.

The 3rd act of Pirates Shanghai takes us into a smaller space, where a duel between Jack Sparrow and Davy Jones plays out, and again, we are remarkably close to the action.

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey utilizes this projection technology as does Fast & Furious – Supercharged. But where these Universal attractions still feel at a distance, there is something about the believability in these shots in particular on this ride. Disney’s take on the technology seems crazy realistic, and the interaction between the projections and physical sets creates the magic.

Thanks to an annoying photographer on the ride who inappropriately uses his flash when he shouldn’t be, we get a better sense of the screen being used to sell the effect.

But I mean, how incredible would this sequence be if it were a thrilling climactic lightsaber battle between Rey and Kylo Ren playing out right before our very eyes?

If you’re having trouble imagining this, here’s the absolute worst lightsaber photoshopping job on the planet to sell you on the illusion, and the potential.

I don’t want to get my hopes up (too late?) and Disney hasn’t made any official announcements yet. For all we know, Battle Escape could end up being a glorified version of Dumbo the Flying Elephant.

On the other hand…

…what if?




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