by Brady MacDonald | Release Date: May 21, 2016 | Availability: Kindle
The Disney and Pixar characters come alive at Disneyland each night to dance, party, brawl, love, and carouse. Only one thing can unite bitter enemies Mickey Mouse and Sheriff Woody: Star Wars Land. Neither want it, both plot to destroy it—with Indiana Jones caught in the middle.
Darth Vader is happy to rule the Star Wars roost at Disneyland, and doesn't want all the other characters from the films to take away his spotlight in the new Star Wars Land. Over poker and booze at Club 33, Darth talks Mickey into forming an unholy alliance with the Pixar crowd to sabotage the new themed land at its kickoff ceremony the next day.
Indiana Jones has other ideas. He's tired of being Indy, and wants to be Han Solo instead, even though it's against the Disney rules to be anything except what you were created to be. He races the clock to save Star Wars Land, risking the wrath of Mickey and evading the scorned rage of the Disney princesses, whose hearts he has broken.
When the guests go home, all your favorite Disney, Pixar, Marvel, and Star Wars characters come alive as their true bawdy, lusty, treacherous selves in a nightly tale of adventure, romance, betrayal, and power politics.
Operation Death Star is the first volume in the Backstage Disneyland series, written by award-winning Los Angeles Time reporter and theme park blogger Brady MacDonald.
Prologue: Once Upon a Time
Chapter 1: Wonderful World of Disney
Chapter 2: A Whole New World
Chapter 3: Exile on Main Street, U.S.A.
Chapter 4: Evil Plans
Chapter 5: Real Princesses of Disneyland
Chapter 6: Action Figure
Chapter 7: Code R
Chapter 8: Common Foes
Chapter 9: Peace, Love, and Mickey
Chapter 10: Operation Death Star
Chapter 11: Frozen Ever After
Book Two: Real Princesses of Disneyland
Backstage Disneyland started like many of my story ideas with a “what if” question: what if Disney characters are real and they live backstage at Disneyland?
As a newspaper reporter, I’ve written about Disneyland for nearly 25 years and covered theme parks as a blogger for a decade.
Being in the business of make believe, Disneyland officials have always insisted that the characters in the parks are real. Costumes? What costumes? Nobody plays Mickey Mouse. Mickey is Mickey.
As a lover of storytelling, I’ve always gone along with this absurd and surreal premise with a wry wink and a bemused smile.
But what if it were true?
What if there was a secret world hidden behind the scenes at the Happiest Place on Earth?
What would it be like to have the characters from all the Disney, Pixar, Marvel, and Star Wars stories living together in one tight-knit community?
Would they act differently among themselves? Would they have the same problems as you and me? Would they fight? Party? Date?
And what if one fateful day that long-held secret was revealed to the world in a stunning and dramatic way?
The premise of characters from different universes interacting in a single sandbox has been examined in many books, TV shows, movies and video games. But I wanted to explore the interpersonal relationships of this enormous extended family and imagine their day-to-day challenges.
I hope you enjoy it.
Brady MacDonald is a senior producer for latimes.com, the website of the Los Angeles Times, working on home page production, special projects, and site design. He writes the Funland theme park blog for the Times’ Travel section, covering the latest trends and newest rides at major parks around the world.
Indiana Jones battles the dilemma of his own identity as night falls on Disneyland and the characters congregate for an after party at Club 33.
High above Disneyland, the rivers, railroads, mountains, and castles twinkle in the twilight as the fantasy world of fairy tales and make believe prepares to shut down for the night.
A solitary cast member closes a wrought iron gate at the park’s entrance as the very last guest leaves the Happiest Place on Earth for the evening.
Wearing a checked vest and a wide-brimmed hat, the lone cast member walks past the floral Mickey Mouse display under the train station and disappears through the darkened tunnel leading to the closed park.
With its towering gabled roof, the Victorian-era train station sitting high atop the berm ringing the park effectively serves as a stage curtain hiding the wonders that lay beyond. The sign above the train station entrance welcomes visitors to Disneyland, population 750 million. A glowing clock near the peak of a cupola marks the time at one minute past midnight.
Beyond the berm, the graveyard shift stirs to life as an orchestrated procession of gardeners, electricians, and painters tackle a punch list of overnight assignments. Utility vehicles brimming with flowers, tools, and supplies make intermittent stops. Cherry-picker cranes roll into position while bleating out a beep-beep-beep warning. Golf carts carrying supervisors zip to and fro.
Turn-of-the-century storefronts inspired by Walt Disney’s childhood home of Marceline, Missouri, stretch for two blocks down Main Street, U.S.A. The mix of architectural styles evoke small town Middle America of the early 1900s. Forced perspective hides the true scale of the buildings, turning the streetscape into a stage set where characters and visitors alike become players in a never-ending production. For 60 years, this short street has served as an entryway to a world of magic, dreams, and imagination.
Thousands of lights rimming the decorative gingerbread trim of the buildings reflect in the thin layer of water sprayed on the pavement by a hose-wielding custodian. The smell of wet asphalt, fresh paint, and potting soil slowly replace the day’s odiferous confections of popcorn, cotton candy, and churros.
Up ahead at the central hub, a massive banner hanging over the entrance of Tomorrowland reads: Star Wars Festival Coming Soon. Just inside the futuristic land, the brass and bronze Astro Orbitor rocket ride sits idle after a day of nearly non-stop flights to outer space and back.
Sleeping Beauty Castle stands at the center of the park, a towering symbol of one man’s steadfast determination in the face of long odds and his unwavering belief in the power of imagination. Crowned turrets jut into the ink-black sky as the squared teeth of the parapet wrap the midsection of the Disney icon, inspired by Germany’s Neuschwanstein castle.
A solitary figure in a fedora and weathered leather jacket emerges from the castle drawbridge entrance, backlit by the Fantasyland carousel in the distance. A coiled whip bounces on one hip, balanced by a holstered revolver on the other. Slowly, the distinctive silhouette of Indiana Jones comes into focus before making a sharp right turn and striding purposely into Adventureland.
Tonight, like many others, Indy is lost in deep, existential thought. He asks himself: Who is Indiana Jones?
With its tribal masks and ancient totem poles, Adventureland captures a 1950s Hollywood vision of the uncharted wild by blending the exotic jungles of Africa, the market bazaars of the Middle East, and the Tiki kitsch of the South Pacific. It’s a set designer’s dream of a cinematic cross between The African Queen and Casablanca.
To Indy, Adventureland is home. In fact, it’s his whole world. It’s where he spends his days at work and the place he rests his head at night. But Indy remains unable to shake a troubling reality: he doesn’t like who he’s become. He’s tired of his same old storyline. He wants a new look and a new outlook. The confining jungleland has become a prison he longs to escape.
None of the workers closing up the shops in the tropical-themed land even notice Indy. He’s so much a part of the atmosphere that he blends into the architecture. The signature trumpet blast from conductor John Williams’ “Raiders March” emanates from the Indiana Jones Adventure dark ride. Indy walks right past his own front door. There’s an ice-cold drink waiting for him in New Orleans Square.
Transitioning from one fantasy world to another, Indy wonders: Is it possible to change if everybody wants you to stay the same?
A fragrant floral scent fills New Orleans Square as flower-festooned wrought iron balconies line the upper floors of the French Quarter-inspired buildings that bound Rue Royal. A treasure chest overflowing with gold doubloons glistens in the store window next to the exit of the Pirates of the Caribbean.
Indy rings the doorbell at the unmarked entrance next to the Blue Bayou restaurant. A hostess dressed in a cotillion ball gown opens the door and lets Indy into the secretive Club 33. Inside the lobby, a staircase wraps around an antique glass-enclosed elevator in the middle of the blood-red room.
“Good evening, Mr. Jones,” says the hostess. “Your weapons, please.”
Indy hands her his Smith & Wesson revolver and Khyber Bowie knife as she unlocks a glass case built into the ornate hardwood reception desk and places them inside. A disorderly collection of lightsabers, daggers, laser blasters, and crescent-shaped swords fill the case.
On the wall, a sign in gold-leaf lettering reads: For the comfort and safety of all our guests, no weapons allowed beyond this point. Strictly enforced.
“And your whip,” the pleasant hostess says, holding out her hand.
After Indy relinquishes his 8-foot-long coiled bullwhip, the hostess locks the case and hands him a numbered coat check tag.
“You’re party is waiting for you upstairs,” she says with a smile and a wave of her hand.
Continued in "Operation Death Star"!
Things begin to get out of hand at Club 33, with Darth Vader and Mickey fomenting rebellion, and the Pixar Toys wanting Buzz Lightyear back, at any cost.
Skipping the antique glass-enclosed elevator, Indiana Jones bounds up the stairs two at a time into the private Club 33 dining room typically reserved for Disneyland’s most well-heeled guests. Walt Disney built the exclusive second-story restaurant above New Orleans Square as a place to woo captains of industry he hoped would invest in Disneyland. The fine dining restaurant famously remains the only place that serves alcohol in the family-friendly park.
At the top of the stairs, Indy pauses to peruse the wood-paneled room lit by crystal chandeliers. The place is brimming with Disney characters from every story in the company’s extensive portfolio. To Indy, it’s like a high school reunion that never ends.
By day, Club 33 caters to the elite class of Disneyland. The moneyed, cultured, and pampered who consider a $20,000 initiation fee and $7,500 annual membership the equivalent of tip money. The waiting list for the exclusive club reportedly stretches for more than a decade.
But by night, the Disney characters turn the elegant bistro into a cross between a raucous frat house and a rowdy German beer hall. At the closest table, Donald Duck, Goofy, and the animals play flip cup to thunderous cheers. Nearby, Olaf, the Seven Dwarfs, and other sidekicks build a towering pyramid of drinking cups. Over in the corner, Cruella de Vil, Jafar, and a host of villains play poker with a pile of chips at the center of the table.
Cruella surreptitiously pulls a card from the draped sleeve of her dalmatian-spotted fur coat. Jafar marks the back of a card with the laser eyes of his cobra snake staff. The Big Bad Wolf and Emperor Zurg pass cards to one another under the table.
“Leota is the only one not cheating,” says Mickey Mouse.
The playing cards levitating in front of the Haunted Mansion crystal ball containing the spirit medium’s floating head reveal an impossible hand containing five aces.
“That’s what they think,” Madame Leota says in a stage whisper.
After a jam-packed day, the undisputed king of Disneyland has stripped down to his high-waisted red shorts. With the strength of Atlas, the Mouse carries the weight of an entire entertainment empire on his slender black shoulders. Mickey takes a long drag on his cigar and exhales acrid-sweet smoke over Indy’s fedora.
“Where have you been?” Mickey asks. “Darth’s been looking for you.”
“Where is he?” Indy asks, scanning the room.
“Over there with Buzz,” says Mickey, pointing with his cigar.
The ornamented dining room is filled with animatronic tigers, bears, and vultures that move with repetitive robotic motions. Framed animation cels depicting scenes from classic Disney films line the walls.
Gaston raises his pewter mug, climbs atop a table, and breaks into song as Indy winds his way across the room.
“I use antlers in all of my decorating,” bellows Gaston.
The heroes and alpha males drinking with Gaston join him in a rousing chorus of the pub song from Beauty and the Beast. The animatronic deer, antelope, and moose mounted on the walls sway in unison and sing along.
“How are we going to stop this dirty, rotten, filthy, no-good Star Wars Land?” says Darth Vader, pounding his black gloved fist on the table.
The outburst surprises Indy. Darth is usually much more mellow backstage, saving the bluster for his onstage persona. But the recently-announced Star Wars Land has been all anyone can talk about. To keep enthusiasm high during construction, Disneyland plans to host a Star Wars Festival with a spectacular kickoff scheduled for the day after tomorrow.
Nobody in the room seems to be the least bit concerned about Darth’s rising ire. The Dark Lord of the Sith adjusts in his seat to free his long black cape, which has gotten caught on his chair leg. The overhead lights from the chandelier glint off his highly polished black mask and helmet.
Darth has been complaining about Star Wars Land for months. He doesn’t want to share the spotlight with all the other characters from the Star Wars universe. Aside from a few ancillary roleplayers, Darth’s been the sole Star Wars character at Disneyland for decades.
Indy takes a seat next to Buzz Lightyear, who, as usual, is a bundle of doubts and disappointments—the exact opposite of his familiar onstage action hero persona. The space ranger with an ego the size of Uranus wallows in his own misfortune as he slumps in his chair aimlessly flipping the glass visor on his space suit open and closed.
“We must crush this rebellion with one swift stroke,” says Darth, barely able to keep a straight face.
Indy lets out a laugh as he grabs two frosty mugs of beer off the serving tray of a passing waitress smelling of sickly-sweet perfume.
“It’s not funny,” says Darth, laughing to himself.
Indy slides a beer over to Buzz, knowing that Darth doesn’t drink. The familiar taste of hops and malt hit the spot after another long day.
“Yeah, it kind of is,” Indy says, mimicking Darth. “We must crush this rebellion with one swift stroke.”
“Sorry,” says Darth in his distinctive ventilator rasp. “Sometimes I forget I’m backstage.”
Most of the Disney characters have a distinctly different backstage personality compared to their onstage personae. Like actors playing roles, they relax and reveal their true selves when the stage lights dim and the audience exits the arena. But they can’t completely take off the mask and turn off the performer. The role and the player are one.
“Happens to us all,” says a melancholy Buzz, taking a long drag on his beer.
Some characters never turn their onstage personas off—cranking them up instead. Roger Rabbit bounds by, bouncing from table to table babbling in rapid-fire snippets of nonsensical blather punctuated by his high-octane laugh.
“Some more than others,” Buzz says.
Indy has been dreaming for months of completely turning off his archaeology professor-turned-adventurer and becoming someone else entirely.
“We still need to come up with a way to stop Star Wars Land,” says Darth, reasserting his rage and pounding his fist again.
“Hey, man, watch the beer,” Indy says, catching his teetering mug before it tips over. “We get it. You’re upset.”
“After the kickoff there will be no way of derailing this thing,” Darth says.
Buzz wipes spilt beer off his plastic space suit as his glass rolls around on the table in front of him. Indy grabs Buzz a replacement beer from a passing waitress. It’s no accident waitress rhymes with temptress, seductress, enchantress, and goddess. The presence of Gaston’s busty blonde bimbettes serving as waitresses only reinforces how few women are in Club 33. With a few rare exceptions, the after-hours watering hole is a boys-only club.
“There’s nothing we can do now,” says Buzz, trying to sooth Darth but only stoking his fury.
“That’s unacceptable,” says Darth, clenching his fist. “We’ve got to come up with a plan to ruin this kickoff party.”
What Indy doesn’t want to tell Darth is that he’s actually excited about the new Star Wars Land. With the expanded universe of characters, Indy hopes to play Han Solo.
A cheer goes up in the middle of the room as the Disney sidekicks put the finishing touch on a towering beer cup pyramid. Olaf the snowman wobbles wildly as he balances on top of it.
“What about Woody and the toys?” Buzz asks, trying to be helpful.
“The last thing we need is any help from your Pixar pals,” Darth says with a sneer.
“Maybe if it was Mickey’s idea,” says a self-pitying Buzz.
Mickey works the room like a campaigning politician—shaking hands, slapping backs, making promises, and securing favors. The rodent powerbroker never forgets who he is, what he represents, who he needs, or what he wants. Indy throws his arm around the broad plastic shoulders of a bummed Buzz.
“That’s alright, buddy,” says Indy, patting Buzz on the back. “I think it’s a great idea.”
Roger bounces from table to table in his characteristic red overalls, blue polka dot bow tie, and yellow gloves. He knocks over the cup pyramid to jeers and spills his beer down the back of Jafar, who unsuccessfully tries to grab the frenetic bunny by the ears.
“Five aces?” says Roger, looking over Leota’s crystal ball. “Is that good?”
Everyone at the poker table groans and folds their cards, much to the consternation of Leota.
“What about Roger?” Darth asks.
“What about Roger?” Roger asks, brimming with excitement.
“He’s certainly good at destroying things,” Darth says.
Roger pulls an enormous mallet from his back pocket and slams it down on the poker table, sending chips and drinks flying everywhere. The hammer rebounds and strikes Roger in the face. Knocked unconscious, Roger lies on the floor with tweeting birds and twinkling stars circling over his head.
“You can’t be serious,” Indy says. “You really want to trust your diabolical plan to Roger Rabbit?”
The look on Darth’s face speaks volumes. Roger won’t work.
From across the room, a string of invectives ring out as the playing card guards from Alice in Wonderland bully their way across the restaurant, pushing characters aside with their spears. Accompanied by a blast of military brass, the soldiers with playing card bodies and human heads, arms, and legs march in teeter-totter fashion with a solitary target in sight.
“Buzz Lightyear,” the King of Spades barks, as every spear lowers in unison toward the spaceman. “You’re coming with us.”
Continued in "Operation Death Star"!