Disney Parks Veteran Steps Down Amid Sluggish Star Wars Land Attendance

Catherine Powell - Getty - H 2019

Catherine Powell is leaving the company after the Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge attraction launches fell flat.

Catherine Powell, who oversees the U.S. and Paris theme parks for The Walt Disney Company, is leaving the studio, The Hollywood Reporter has confirmed.

As president of Disney Parks West, Powell was in charge of Disneyland Paris, Walt Disney World and Disneyland. Powell was also in her post during the recent openings for two new Star Wars lands — Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge at Walt Disney World in Orlando and another at the California Disneyland park — that fell flat on attendance.

Disney had to follow up the turnout for the Star Wars attraction launches with discount pricing and aggressive marketing.

It's understood from sources at Disney that Powell's post has been eliminated, and she will help in the transition as her staff reports to Disney Parks, Experiences & Products, chairman Bob Chapek.

The studio had high expectations for Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge, which feature two rides — Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance and the Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run — and varied sci-fi shops and restaurants with Star Wars themes.

But hype around the new Star Wars lands appears to have dissuaded some from attending soon after the launches. Shortly after it was announced that Galaxy's Edge would open in late May, Disney revealed that a no-cost reservation (in addition to a park ticket) would be needed to access the Star Wars land from May 31 through June 23.

During a recent earnings call, Disney CEO Bob Iger was upbeat about the long-term future of the Star Wars lands attractions. "Guest satisfaction, interest in the attraction and in the land is extremely high. They're among the most popular things at the park. And so long term, and we build these things for the long term, we have no concerns whatsoever about them," he said.

"So we feel great about the product that we've created. It's just going to take some time for things to work themselves out in terms of how the marketplace is reacting," Iger added.

Powell, who has been with Disney for 15 years, joined the company in 2004 following senior management roles at BBC Worldwide covering TV sales for Central and Eastern Europe and the Middle East.

Her departure also stands in contrast to CEO Iger in a New York Times profile Sunday promising to put more women in top executive positions at the Hollywood studio, with an eye to greater gender parity.

Sept. 24, 7:30 a.m.: Updated with quote from Disney CEO Bob Iger about the Star Wars lands attractions.