183. Some thinking on how Disney’s Galactic Starcruiser might have been a bigger success — and some hopeful thought on the future of commercial larps

Claus Raasted
10 min readMay 20, 2023


Hello immersive designers!

Whether you worked on the Galactic Starcruiser, design immersive experiences for a living or are an IP holder considering whether the Starcruiser was a failure or not, this article is for you.

My blog has been dormant for 1.5 years, but I’m pulling it out of its retirement to write this — because if just one of you out there finds it useful, the time I put into writing it has done some good.

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, this article isn’t for you :-)

First off, I’m assuming you know what Disney’s Galactic Starcruiser is/was (depending on when you read this). Second, if you have no clue as to who I am and why I feel I can say something meaningful about this, here’s a short intro.

I used to be one of the world’s leading pioneers in the live action role play (larp) space, and am the founder and former CEO of (arguably) the world’s largest larp design studio; Dziobak Larp Studios.

I’ve lectured on larp design at Disney Imagineering, I’ve had several Imagineers with key roles on the Starcruiser visit my projects on study trips, and I’ve done some rather spectacular things with other IPs that are quite similar to the Galactic Starcruiser (albeit with MUCH smaller budgets!). ;-)

I have written about the Starcruiser before

Back in 2017, long before the Starcruiser opened for business, I wrote an article about it:

Now, as Disney has just announced that it will be closing down this fall due to falling attendence numbers, I feel it makes sense to revisit some of my 2017 analysis — and add some fresh thoughts to the mix.

Before I dive into it, I want to make it clear that this is just me musing, though. I have no position in regard to the project (apart from having been part of things that hopefully served as a bit of inspiration) and since Dziobak Larp Studios is no more, I no longer organise larps professionally.

I do, however, still have a rather unique perspective on this, and am still a firebrand preacher for the potentials of larp; be it in education, entertainment or empowerment.

So what could have been done differently?

In 2017, I shared 20 points on the project, but while it is tempting, I’m not going to go through them one by one and judge my then-reflections against reality. There are two reasons for this.

  1. I have only limited info, so a lot of my analysis would be mere guesswork.
  2. I’m reasonably sure the only one who would find this interesting would be myself! :-)

Instead, I’ll look at some of the key points made then, and some of the things I see as being major contributing factors now.

The production value was high and the atmosphere impressive — no arguing there!

I had some worries back then — I still do

Scripting. Honestly, I don’t know how scripted the Starcruiser experience was. In 2017, I worried that those designing the experience would be thinking in terms of scripts and actors, rather than in terms of characters, possibilities and larpers. From what I’ve heard and read, there was some attempt to change that mindset, but I am also certain that it could have gone much, much farther. The Starcruiser (from what I know!) was an experience with lots of room for improvisation, but still didn’t have anything like the freedom of larps created by larp designers.

Activities rather than agency. It was obvious that guests got some amazing experiences while onboard. Lightsaber duels. Sci-fi food. Walking around in something that looked and felt like a spaceship. But it was also quite clear, that there was more focus on activities than on meaningful choices. As I wrote in 2017,

“I’d have loved to be in the Mos Eisley cantina and watched Obi-Wan cut off that alien’s arm, but it would be a hundred times more impactul if I had been playing Obi-Wan and had made the decision to do so myself. Again, scripts and planned activities make for low agency, even though they can be a lot of fun.”

Lightsaber practice: very cool, but the 77 shirt doesn’t do much for the immersion of others!

Superfans meeting casual fans. This is a risk whenever people meet, but with larp it is even more of a risk. If one guest thinks that it’s fun to walk around smiling at it all and calling themselves Luke Skywalker, that’s great. It’s less great if another guest is deeply into the fiction and is there for deep immersion and assumes that everyone knows what a gundark looks like. In a classic Disney ride, guests don’t interact much with other (random) guests, so it’s ok to have varying levels of engagement. In a larp where part of the magic happens between participants (and without staff present!), it’s VERY important to make sure everyone is on the same page. Did Disney manage this? I don’t know. But if they didn’t, it would have mattered quite a bit.

A Thousand Heroes With A Thousand Faces. Yes, I’m reframing Campbell, and there’s a reason for that. In 2017 I wrote the following;

Having many heroes simultaneously is hard. Han Solo saves Luke during the attack on the first Death Star, gets tortured by the most iconic villain and gets the princess at the end. Awesome experience. But if you want 500 people to have that during a two-day stay at the hotel, you’re going to need a lot of princesses and torture chambers!

This is one of the hardest things about designing a larp. Making everyone feel like the hero in their own story is not easy — and setting and overall design choices have huge impact on whether this is achievable or not. Our Harry Potter inspired larp College of Wizardry was never about Harry or Ron or Hermione. It was asking “What would it feel like to be a student at a magical school like Hogwarts if there was no earth-shattering plotline going on?”. One of the reasons that schools, academies and training centers do so well in larps is that these settings lend themselves well to the goal of making everyone be a hero in their own story (without all focus being on them!). Did Disney manage this? My guess is no, but of course that’s a guess and not a judgement, since I never got to visit the Starcruiser myself.

A picture for our old Harry Potter inspired larp “College of Wizardry”

But most of all, I think it was about something else

I had these worries back then (and more!). I’m sure that Disney put some of my worries to shame, and managed less well on others. Of course! It was pioneer project, and pioneer projects are HARD.

Still, with that said, here are three areas, where I think the designers behind the Starcruiser made some big choices that would come back to haunt them (even if they seemed like good ideas at the time)

Impressive scenography, but the supporting cast looks more like random guests (because they are!)
  1. The visit to the park was a mistake (in my opinion). Disneyland is amazing. I have no doubt that the Star Wars land Disney built is even more more amazing. But I am also 100% sure that it is not a larp, even though elements of larp have been integrated into the design. And while it is easy to see why it was tempting to include a park visit in the Starcruiser experience, I think that was a mistake — and not a small one. A fully-developed larp has a level of immersion that is insane. A visit to Black Spire Outpost might be cool, but even though the environment there looks impressive, it is not the 360 degree illustion that a great larp offers — and that’s BEFORE we’ve mentioned the non-larp guests to the park. If I was to advise Disney on how to do a possible remake, then this is one thing I’d have strong opinions on. Keep the larpers at the larp.
  2. The price point was perhaps too high (for now). When we ran similar-sized events at Dziobak Larp Studios, we were too cheap. Way too cheap, in fact, which is one of the reasons, the company collapsed. 500€ for a 72-hour experience at a Polish castle with all meals included? 700€ for a 96-hour one on three wooden sailing ships in the Baltic? Our prices were ridiculous, and as the owner, I ended up paying the price for that by landing myself in massive debt trying to subsidise the operation as we slowly raised prices. No argument there. But there is a huge leap from 500€ for 72 hours to 2500$ for 48 hours. And when we were doing our events, we didn’t have our own location — we rented locations and ran only 15–20 events pr year. Had we had our own location, a more solid brand behind us and 1500€ price tags, then things would have been very different. I’m not saying there wasn’t room for larps in the 2500$ range. There obviously was! I’m just saying that doing something less grand might have had more longevity. A Jedi training camp in the desert would have been much cheaper to produce, for example, while still providing the majority of the magic. And then, a year or two later, something grander could have been attempted, with all the teething troubles out of the way.
  3. The term “Star Wars Hotel” didn’t help. When I first heard about the project, I heard people talking about how Disney was (secretly) planning a Star Wars hotel that would feature larp elements. It later turned out to be not just larp elements, but a full-on larp, and that made me happy indeed. However… hearing it talked about as a Star Wars hotel made me less happy. Because if you’re thinking hotel, you have certain expectations and ideas, and if you’re thinking larp (even one that takes place AT a hotel), you’re thinking something else completely. I even applied for a job on the Starcruiser; the job of Hotel Director. Even I am not cocky enough to believe that things would have gone better if I had gotten the job. That would be hubris on a galactic scale. I am quite sure they would have gone differently if I had been involved in the core design, though. Better? Worse? Who knows? But differently? Definitely. One of the reasons for this is that I don’t think the Star Wars hotel was ever a hotel, in the same way that our larp experiences never were hotel experiences — even though some of them took place at hotels (and very nice ones at that!). And the fact that there even was a Hotel Director as part of the staff shows me that this thinking was there both internally and externally; and while I fully understand why it seemed logical, I also think that this was a mistake. I didn’t say that in my application, but I did state quite clearly that they should hire me for my hotel qualities. This is a quote from that application.

When I saw that this position existed (via Linkedin) I thought to myself:

”If they want a candidate with massive hotel experience, a background in hospitality and an impressive pedigree in those spaces, I don’t stand a chance.”

Then a second thought hit me:

”If they want someone to be in charge of their most immersive experience to date, and are looking for a candidate who has 20+ years of experience with the veryconcepts they are inspired by? Then suddenly I’m one of the most qualified people on the planet.”

This isn’t Downton Abbey. This is our larp Fairweather Manor from 2016. It’s even being run again in 2023.

So where does this leave us all now?

When my company crashed, there were many in the larp world, who said “The crash of Dziobak Larp Studios proves that it’s impossible to make larps professionally — so we’d better stick to doing volunteer projects.”

I disagreed with them then (even though my bank account saw some merit to what they said!), and I disagree with them now. I also disagree with those who see the closing of the Galactic Starcruiser as a sign that larp doesn’t have mainstream appeal.

Instead, I think that this was an amazing first try by a big corporation trying to bring larp to the big stage. If others (both with Disney and beyond) learn from this experiment, then there is plenty of hope.

Will the next big larp project by a major IP owner be a truly immersive Avengers training camp larp? Will we see a grand larp adaptation of Game of Thrones or Westworld anytime soon? Or will someone walk in our footsteps and create a wizard school that blows people’s minds?

I don’t know, but I know that the Galactic Starcruiser was anything but a failure. I have only the deepest respect for those who brought it into the world, and while I wasn’t directly involved, I’ve always been proud of the small part I personally played in the journey that led to its creation.

And just as I can’t wait to see what comes next, I will admit that I still fantasize about the phone ringing, and someone on the other end wants to create the next big larp thing.

Because I am still 110% certain that it can be done, and I think the Galactic Starcruiser has paved the way for others who have the courage to pick up the baton…

Claus Raasted is an overpaid rockstar consultant with Viking roots and a big smile. He serves as the Director of the College of Extraordinary Experiences, is an External Advisor at McKinsey & Company and has 37 books to his name. He also has a past in reality TV, but these days, who hasn’t?




Claus Raasted

Director at The College of Extraordinary Experiences & Author of 45 books