Driving Force Behind Disney's Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser Leaves WDI for Gensler, Joining Former Chief Bob Weis

Jun 12, 2024 in "Star Wars Galactic Starcruiser"

Posted: Wednesday June 12, 2024 8:15pm ET by WDWMAGIC Staff

Ann Morrow Johnson, former Global Head of Creative Development at Walt Disney Imagineering (WDI), has joined the prominent architecture and design firm Gensler. Johnson will serve as Design Director and Global Entertainment Leader for Gensler's Entertainment and Experience Design Practice, partnering with Lexi Barry as co-leaders of the practice globally.

This announcement marks the latest high-profile transition of creative talent from Disney to Gensler, following the earlier move of Bob Weis, former head of WDI.

Gensler is a global design and architecture firm with a broad portfolio, ranging from office buildings to urban planning. Established in 1965, it has over 6,000 employees working in more than 100 countries. The firm's work spans multiple sectors, including entertainment, commercial, and residential projects.

Johnson's time at Disney was most notable for work on Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser. The immersive two-night experience, designed to simulate a voyage aboard the starship Halcyon, allowed guests to live out their own Star Wars adventure. The project was praised for its innovative approach to storytelling, combining live-action role-play with interactive elements and detailed set designs.

However, despite the initial excitement and positive early reviews, the Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser experienced a sudden closure less than two years after its opening. The decision to shut down the Starcruiser so soon was unexpected, leading to speculation about the factors behind it. A lofty price tag of around $5200 for the two-day, two-night experience, combined with high operational costs and the challenge of maintaining such a highly immersive and staff-intensive experience, are thought to be among the reasons for its demise. The closure left many fans disappointed, marking a bittersweet chapter in Disney's efforts to push the boundaries of themed entertainment.

Bob Weis, Entertainment Leader at Gensler, expressed enthusiasm for Johnson's appointment, stating, "Ann Morrow Johnson is the creative leader the Gensler Entertainment Practice needs at this moment as we continue to see exciting growth and momentum. Her extensive global experience in immersive experience design and storytelling, coupled with a solid foundation in development strategy and architecture makes her one of the industry's most sought-after leaders."

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SirwalterraleighJun 12, 2024

Well since I lived the pressler era…I’ll just throw out what the old memory can muster: Pressler - which he actually admits today even on D+ documentaries - was chasing the consumer reality of the 90s (which was really from the 80s…retail is always a decade behind)… Flawed and misguided…but alot of it did work. The park decisions are misrepresented. DCA was a mistake because they didn’t have the land…Michael tried to do “mini wdw” and that didn’t work due to the scale reduction. Paris they had no choice…euro was a boondoggle and they had to do the second or the whole thing probably goes under. Cheap was the only call. Hong Kong was just ill advised. So was Shanghai. Those are just figureheads. Dak was the “last” of the Disney parks…but everybody’s hero Joe was burning through cash to clip never really acknowledged. At the end of the day…Michael was burnt and around too long. Hint hint But his exit has now turned out to be less volatile/more gracious for the company than his little weasel. Who had that on their bingo card?

SourcererMark79Jun 12, 2024

Hold my beer.

ChrisFLJun 12, 2024

Yeah, it's tough because the Pressler era was really bad too. I feel like the difference is that they were cheap across the board back then (see DCA, Studios Paris, maintenance issues leading to accidents) and now it's cheap in some places and way overspending in others and no balance. In other words, yes, there's some nice E-tickets but a lot of other stuff is just crap and the small touches that made Disney special compared to the competition is practically gone.

HauntedPirateJun 12, 2024

Oh, do tell. :D

TP2000Jun 12, 2024

Oh, her? I'm thrilled to see her leave start the next chapter in her career. 🥳 The word cringe doesn't even begin to describe the emotions she created for us.

hopemaxJun 12, 2024

I suspect that park & resort operations have put their fingers on the scales. They don't want the ongoing maintenance costs associated with bells & whistles. It also requires labor that isn't available. Everything has to be simple to maintain and easy to replace.

SirwalterraleighJun 12, 2024

I just love that for 15 years people pumped bobs tires and said just how awful Eisner got (to make themselves feel better…I’ll never know why that was the trick?)…and we are probably objectively at a lower point across “the brand” now… Unfolding cluster

Tha RealestJun 12, 2024

Even worse- it’s a revolving door to/from Gensler. It’s no wonder the recent Imagineering builds have been so soulless and bereft of charm and theme - people are building out their portfolio for their higher paying job.

SirwalterraleighJun 12, 2024

I sad that they should do half Star Wars/half tangled (or a collection)… It would be booked solid… The problem? All stars and pop would not be…and you’re paying for those too. But beyond that…they abandoned the “value” and even “moderate” idea long ago… That doesn’t mean people don’t think of them that way - However - as occupancy has bleed lower from just the deluxes Wanna bet what the feedback is? My money is on “what am I paying this much for?” Oh Bob

SirwalterraleighJun 12, 2024

The talent is bottoming out similar to the pressler/ovitz era

Smiley/OCDJun 12, 2024

I suggested that over a year maybe 2 years ago…I had said a moderate or even a POP value resort would probably have close to 100% bookings. In with you 100% even though I’m NOT a SW fan…it doesn’t take a genius (or even an imagineer to figure that out.

DCLcruiserJun 12, 2024

They should connect Starcruiser to DCL Star Wars sailings. Land/Sea combos. 2 nights on Starcruiser and 3 nights on DCL. DCL has the real Disney Whales (not me).

BocabearJun 12, 2024

Siobhan is now handling the Resorts division....

FigmentFan82Jun 12, 2024

Not now Roman!