About a year ago, in a theme park fairly far away…
I love Walt Disney World, and I love Star Wars. Last May, I got to experience both together when I attended one day of Star Wars Weekends at Hollywood Studios.
This is the epic saga of that day, told mostly in pictures.
The day started early, by which I mean we set our wake-up call for something like 6:00AM. Hollywood Studios opened at 8:00, and we wanted to get there early for “Storming The Park”, a skit featuring two stormtroopers that happens about a half hour before the rope drop.
Each weekend features a few Star Wars celebrities. When we were there Ray Park (Darth Maul), Jeremy Bulloch (Boba Fett in the classic trilogy), and Ashley Eckstein (Ahsoka Tano in the Clone Wars TV series) were attending. James Arnold Taylor, the voice of Obi-Wan Kenobi in Clone Wars, was also there as host to some of the shows.
Fortunately, we’re not big autograph hounds. Signings were available, but we got there a little after 7:00am and the line to get Fastpasses for the autographs was already extremely long and apparently had been forming for hours. They only gave out so many Fastpasses, and there was no guarantee that anybody without one would get an autograph. The whole thing looked like madness we were glad we had no interest in.
Star Wars Weekends is sort of an “overlay” to the Hollywood Studios park. Everything that would normally be there is obviously still there, and every attraction is operating as it would on any other day, but now a lot of Star Wars-related things are happening and music from the movies is playing pretty much everywhere. There’s also a big stage set up in front of the Chinese Theater/Great Movie Ride, on which various Star Wars shows happen throughout the day, though some of these are only loosely “Star Wars” related (like a DJ playing dance music who happens to be dressed like an X-Wing pilot).
There are a lot of Star Wars characters around for meet-and-greets, as well as Disney characters dressed up in Star Wars costumes. Many of these are at specific locations, and a few have special backdrops set up for the photos. In most cases there were pretty substantial waits, so we rarely opted to stand in line for many of them. We got lucky a few times, though, so we did get to meet and greet some characters.
I do want to give special mention to the performances of the Star Wars characters, as the ones we did meet were amazing. Darth Maul never spoke, but menacingly stared as he slowly advanced on me and really captured that “scary Sith Lord” thing. Asajj Ventress had that same growly voice she has in the Clone Wars, and she sneered with disdain at our “Happily Ever After” honeymoon buttons, saying the sentiment was “quaint”. Just interacting with them was a lot of fun.
There were also some roving characters–we saw stormtroopers, Gamorrean Guards, and bounty hunter Zam Wesell. We did not encounter any Jawas, though, which was disappointing. From what I hear you can “trade” little items–paper clips, receipts, etc–for similarly random items they have.
The motorcade happened in the afternoon, and was a parade of Disney characters dressed in Star Wars costumes as well as Star Wars characters and the celebrity guests.
The Star Wars celebrities each had a show scheduled. We only saw the Ray Park one.
Another cool part of Star Wars Weekends were the special “Magic Shots” that were available. Photopass photographers are all over the park, and generally if you ask each one you’ll find a few that can do something special like add in Tinkerbell or Stitch. For Star Wars Weekends, though, there were specific Magic Shot set-ups. The photographer would pose you in a specific way in front of the background–sometimes handing you a prop–and take the picture, and when you looked at it later…
There were also some special food items for Star Wars Weekends.
Supposedly there were also R2-D2 mugs filled with frozen lemonade, but we searched and couldn’t find any. Oh well.
Sadly, one thing I have no photos of is the Hyperspace Hoopla. This show happens in the evening on the Star Wars stage, and it’s… bizarre. Also hilarious. The two hosts, Snig and Oopla, set up the “plot” of the show, which basically boils down to a dance-off between the Empire and the Rebel Alliance. Up until that point I had never seen Darth Vader dance to Michael Jackson’s Bad, and my life was emptier for that. The show has a lot of fun dancing, several obvious references to the movies, a bit of groan-inducing humor, and some subtle moments for the hardcore fans (like when Boba Fett flirtatiously taps a female dancer’s chin, just like in the Return Of The Jedi Special Edition). The whole thing was extremely silly in the best possible way.
The only real downside of the show was the visibility. The stage isn’t that high, and there’s no seating. If you’re not within that first few rows you’re surrounded by the crowd, and if you’re short like us it means a lot of jockeying for a good viewing position. We eventually realized that not far away was a large screen which was displaying the show–so kids could see it–and we found a comfortable spot to lean and watch it that way.
If you have about forty minutes, and you want to check out the 2013 show, you can do so here. This was actually the last Hyperspace Hoopla show, as they announced its cancellation amid the 2014 Star Wars Weekends information. It has been replaced with a new event, a Star Wars fireworks show. That sounds really cool, and I definitely want to get down there to see it, but I’m glad I got to see the irreverent weirdness that was the Hyperspace Hoopla before it ended.
All in all, Star Wars Weekends was an incredible experience. There was all the fun of Hollywood Studios–the rides and shows–but there was also all of this cool Star Wars stuff happening. Even my wife, who is not a Star Wars fan, was having a lot of fun with it… even if she was rolling her eyes about my excitement over meeting some of the really obscure characters (I got to meet KIT FISTO!).
We do have to go back a couple more times, though. I mean, these things work in trilogies… right?