D23 releases new 'Star Wars' land details, more surprises to come

D23 convention happening this weekend in California

By Ken Pilcher - Producer

For Walt Disney World fans, wishing upon a star for new rides and attractions, their dreams may be coming true this weekend at Disney's D23 convention in Anaheim, California.

D23 revealed Thursday the complete large-scale model for a land based on "Star Wars" under construction right now at Disney World's Hollywood Studios and Disneyland in California. The land will transport parkgoers to a never-before-seen planet in the "Star Wars" universe, complete with a cantina, marketplace, and two major attractions: Piloting the Millennium Falcon and an adventure putting visitors in the heart of a battle between the rebels and the First Order. 

[Click through the gallery below to see photos of the Star Wars land model]

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Imagineers are promising the "Star Wars" land will break new ground in terms of interactivity. Fans should learn many of those details at a special Disney Parks & Resorts presentation on Saturday evening at the convention. News 6 Theme World producer Ken Pilcher will be at a simulcast of that announcement and will bring the announcements here on ClickOrlando.com. Follow him on Twitter: @ThemeWorld6.

The "Star Wars" land, and a land based on the "Toy Story" movies were announced at the D23 convention in 2015, and insiders predicted there could be several major new projects revealed at this year's event.

There are many rumors making their way among Disney fan sites. Here's a look at the ones that have the best chance of being real. 

First up, the Universe of Energy pavilion at Epcot is expected to be gutted and replaced with a roller coaster-style attraction  based on the "Guardians of the Galaxy" franchise.  Recent permits Disney filed with the South Florida Water Management district hinted a major new addition could be built in what is currently a backstage area and part of a parking lot. If the project does move forward, Energy would close sometime this fall. 

Another permit already filed with SFWM showed construction could begin in the next few weeks on a major addition to the France pavillion at World Showcase. That addition, backstage between France and Morocco, is expected to be a ride based on the film "Ratatouille." 

Disneyland Paris already features a trackless "Ratatouille" attraction in which visitors "shrink down to the size of Remy and duck, dive, dodge and scurry to safety in a dazzling chase across a gigantic kitchen." The Epcot version is expected to be nearly identical.

More SFWM  permits appeared to show a new gondola transportation system is planned to connect Epcot, Disney's Hollywood Studios, Caribbean Beach Resort, Pop Century Resort, and The Art of Animation Resort. Caribbean Beach has already broken ground on a major remodel that will add a new tower of guest rooms, along with enhanced dining and recreation options. It is likely more about the gondola system and those enhancements, along with additions to Coronado Springs Resort, will be announced. Insiders said there is an outside chance for information about an entirely new resort, as well. 

[VIDEO BELOW: Large-scale Star Wars land model]

Back at Disney's Hollywood Studios, SFWM permits were recently filed for "Project M." The address matches the last opening-day attraction: The Great Movie Ride. News 6 Disney sources said it is expected to close soon. Well-sourced rumors expect it to be replaced by the first-ever ride based on Mickey Mouse.  Since permits are filed, an announcement on its fate seems likely. 

The Magic Kingdom is not expected to be left out.  Already, Tomorrowland has started a quiet makeover, beginning with new signage and paint for the classic Carousel of Progress attraction.  Sources said the next phase involves putting down the paintbrushes and manning the bulldozers. When Shanghai Disneyland opened in 2016, the sleeper hit of the park was the "Tron Lightcycle" coaster. In China, it serves as the park's Space Mountain. In Florida, it could be Space Mountain's next-door-neighbor. If that plan moves forward, expect major changes to the classic, but gas-guzzling, Tomorrowland Speedway attraction nearby. It could be an opportunity to help smooth out one of the few awkward transitions in the Magic Kingdom: from Tomorrowland to Fantasyland & Storybook Circus.

While there are rumblings of plans in the works to replace one of the Magic Kingdom's least popular attractions, it appears less likely the replacement for Stitch's Great Escape will be announced at D23. 

If everything that is in the works is announced, there could also be some surprises few people will see coming. However, Disney is famous for changing its mind and sometimes even cancelling announced projects. Hyperion Warf, now Disney Springs, comes to mind. At previous D23 Expos several major and minor announcements were pulled at the last possible moment. News 6, ClickOrlando.com and Theme World will be there to help separate fact from fiction and to put these announcements in context. 

It should be an exciting weekend for theme park lovers and those whose livelihood depends on any of the area's parks.

Follow full coverage of the main D23 events Saturday on Clickorlando.com/themeparks and watch News 6.

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