Why a deep-dive into a failed Star Wars hotel is a viral hit

The view from inside Walt Disney World Star Wars Galactic Starcruiser in 2022.
The view from inside Walt Disney World Star Wars Galactic Starcruiser in 2022. Photo credit: Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images via CNN Newsource

In 2023, Disney closed a highly-publicized luxury hotel on the Walt Disney World property called Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser.

For Disney superfans, it was a time of high drama and schadenfreude as promises about the hotel's immersive world ran aground on the rocky reality of some guests' experiences.

Now, a year later, a four-hour-long YouTube deep-dive has resurfaced details about the concept and spread the niche piece of Disney lore to millions of viewers.

The creator of the video, YouTuber Jenny Nicholson, is known for her commentary on various corners of fan culture. Some of her most popular videos cover shows and movies like The Vampire Diaries, Pirates of the Caribbean and installments in the Star Wars franchise.

None of them are nearly as long as her most recent video, The Spectacular Failure of the Star Wars Hotel.

Over the course of 20 video chapters, Nicholson details her 2022 stay at the Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser hotel in Orlando, Florida. The tale is likely familiar to Disney and Star Wars fans, many of whom heard about the high-dollar, high-concept hotel and its closure in 2023.

Nicholson says she paid more than US$6000 for a two-night stay in the hotel, which was supposed to resemble a Star Wars-style spaceship called the Halcyon. The big draw of the hotel lay in what Disney marketing called an "immersive, customisable Star Wars experience" that Nicholson equated to LARPing, or live-action roleplaying. Guests were encouraged to dress up, and through a combination of live experiences with cast members and choices made in a special app, were guided through a three-day-long Star Wars storyline complete with full itinerary and, if played to its full extent, very little downtime.

A room inside the hotel, featuring futuristic bunk beds.
A room inside the hotel, featuring futuristic bunk beds. Photo credit: Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images via CNN Newsource

With Disney-esque details like working lightsabers and colourful themed food, the experience was supposed to feel like a "landlocked cruise," with all of the entertainment happening onboard the ship - in reality, a large ultra-secure windowless building near Walt Disney World's Epcot resort area.

Nicholson's experience squared with some more critical reviews of the hotel: Cramped rooms, inconsistent experiences with technology and a general sense of confusion as to the purpose or audience of the venture. (She also mentioned, at length, some of the things she enjoyed, like cast member performances and details in the ship-hotel's interior.)

Little of this is new information. Disney announced the closing of the Galactic Starcruiser in May 2023, and the hotel served its last guests last September.

In a press release provided to CNN from that time, Disney said the project "gave us the opportunity to try new things".

"Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser is one of our most creative projects ever and has been praised by our guests and recognised for setting a new bar for innovation and immersive entertainment," the statement read. "… we will take what we've learned to create future experiences that can reach more of our guests and fans."

Still, Nicholson's video netted more than 2 million views in two days, and has already wormed its way into the social media pipeline of memes and references. Some X users marvelled at the fact that they willingly watched a double feature-length video about, as one user said, something they "previously never gave a shit about in my life."

Why yesterday's drama draws today's audience

Longform videos are an increasingly popular form of YouTube entertainment, and it isn't unusual to see older topics being re-examined in multi-hour "deep dives." Nicholson's video also combines several winning formulas into one: Disney, Star Wars, insider information (Nicholson includes pictures and videos from her time in the hotel) and, of course, failures.

"I couldn't care less about some dumb Star Wars hotel, but give me those 4 hours," one X user said.

Guests enjoy one of the hotel's interactive scenes, featuring Disney cast members.
Guests enjoy one of the hotel's interactive scenes, featuring Disney cast members. Photo credit: Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images via CNN Newsource

Consumer research from Google claims that longform videos are gaining traction among younger viewers and, interestingly, are even more successful when they cover "fan culture" content.

"There is a healthy appetite for more in-depth exploration of topics such as film, TV, and sports," a 2022 Google consumer insights report reads. "These allow for fan-centric creators to share thoughts and ideas at length with an increasingly captive audience: 61% of Gen Z would describe themselves as a "really big" or "super fan" of someone or something."

Both Star Wars and Disney enjoy particularly loyal fandoms with elephant memories and no qualms about engaging the same topics over and over again. Even the tiniest details in a Star Wars movie or a Disney theme park have cult followings, backstories, fan lore and, of course, their own video deep dives.

A spotlight on Disney's future

Nicholson's video, while not exactly breaking news, drops as Disney prepares a new slate of innovations. Earlier this year, Disney announced a massive 10-year, US$60 billion expansion program for its parks, cruises and experiences worldwide. That includes a planned 14-acre expansion at the Magic Kingdom in Orlando's Walt Disney World and an expansion of the original Disneyland in Anaheim.

The company recently got final approval from Anaheim's city council to move forward with DisneylandForward, a nearly US$2 billion investment in the Disneyland resort and surrounding areas.

"We're ready to build on decades of innovation, creativity, and storytelling to bring new, exciting experiences for our guests," Disneyland Resort President Ken Potrock wrote in a blog post announcing the approval of the project.

In April, Disney CEO Bob Iger said expansion plans for Walt Disney World are on track after the settlement of a long legal battle between Disney and the state of Florida. Iger said the decision "will actually enable us to pursue the kind of significant investment in our Florida parks."

Disney enthusiasts are expecting a trove of new information this August, when the company hosts its annual D23 Expo that focuses on upcoming projects and attractions.

While the Galactic Starcruiser hotel has now earned a place in the annals of Disney lore, renewed interest in its failure provides a new lens through which to see Disney Parks' ambitions and expansions. Will they live up to everyone's wildest dreams, or be the subject of the next four-hour YouTube deep dive?