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There is no doubt that two of the most powerful forces in the universe are the Force itself and the Disney brand. Surely if these two were to join their combined strength could bring order to the galaxy. Or at least Disney’s Hollywood Studios, because each year in the mid to late spring (May/June) they do join together to bring about what is one of the more fun celebrations in all of Walt Disney World – Star Wars Weekends. A geek event of epic proportions.
You may not realize it, but this event goes all the way back to the very beginnings of the Star Wars Saga, way back in 1977. That’s right in 1977 Darth Vader himself made his very first appearance in Walt Disney World at the Walt Disney World Village – today you know this as Downtown Disney. And he also appeared once more in 1980 to promote The Empire Strikes Back under an ad campaign that simply ready, “Come Meet Like Skywalker’s Dad.” And from those very simple beginnings it returned to Walt Disney World in 1997 and has been held annually since 2003 at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
One of the most popular draws at the event each year are the Celebrities, and this year there are plenty. StarWars.com has a list along with pictures of each guest. The celebrity hosts for this year both come from The Clone Wars: James Arnold Taylor (Obi-Wan Kenobi), and Ashley Eckstein (Ahsoka Tano). Additional weekly guests are:
Weekend III (June 3rd-5th)
Ray Park, Darth Maul (The Phantom Menace)
Jeremy Bulloch, Boba Fett (A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back), Captain Colton (Revenge of the Sith)
Matt Lanter, Anakin Skywalker (The Clone Wars)
Weekend IV (June 10th-12th)
Ray Park, Darth Maul (The Phantom Menace)
Peter Mayhew, Chewbacca (Revenge of the Sith, A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi)
Tom Kane, Yoda and Admiral Yularen (The Clone Wars)
Throughout the weekends there will be several autograph signing locations that the celebrities will rotate through. While you can walk to wait in standby lines for these autograph sessions, FASTPASS is available. Like any FASTPASS there is a limited number available throughout each day, but you need to get there very early each day – people will start lining up outside the park for them well before the park opens (I have been there as early as 6am). And there is no lax nature to using this FASTPASS, if you miss your time, you miss your chance to meet the guest and get a signature. Unlike other conventions where you might get a celebrities signature, there are no additional charges for these signatures.
Without a doubt you should not miss the “A Star Wars Celebrity Motorcade” event that happens each day during the weekend. For the past few years this event has started at 11:40am, and is not only a fantastic chance to get to see the weekend’s celebrities, but you’ll get to see many other characters from the Star Wars universe march by you. Including the infamous 501st Legion a.k.a. Vader’s Fist. The motorcade lasts about 20 minutes and is followed by a celebrity welcome ceremony.
The celebrity hosts will also be appearing in two events at the Premiere Theater. This theater is found in the Backlot behind MuppetVision 3-D and beyond the Streets of America. Ashley Eckstein will be hosting the ever popular “Clone Wars: Behind the Force”. As each year Star Wars Weekends falls between seasons of the Clone Wars, this event has in the past provided guests not only get a look back, but also a look forward to the upcoming season. Not to mention a pre-show that has also been hosted by the comedic stylings of Stormtroopers.
Each weekend James Arnold Taylor will star in a one-man show using the many voices he’s used throughout his career. In addition to Obi-Wan Kenobi he’s also voiced: Guy Gardener, Green Arrow, Captain Cold, Spider-Man, Hawkeye, Harry Osborne, a young version of Doc Brown, Plo Koon, Osi Sobeck, Johnny Test, Leonardo, and many others. This show will, according to Taylor himself, last 30 minutes.
In prior years, the characters of the Star Wars universe have been confined to the Star Tours area, the meet and greet areas behind Muppets and next to the Premiere Theater, occasionally on the fringes of the Streets of America, and in the vicinity of the Studio Backlot Tour. It is rumored that this year they will be participating throughout the entire park, letting the event encompass it all. There will be more than 60 Star Wars characters roaming the park prepared to sign autographs and pose with you for pictures.
An expanded version of the Jedi Training Academy will be presented to handle the increase in size of the Star Wars oriented crowd. Normally this event is only on the stage next to Star Tours, however during Star Wars Weekends it is expanded into a two level event effectively doubling the capacity throughout the day. This event occurs throughout the day but in the past few years has been held at: 9:30am, 10:20am, 12:30pm, 1:20pm, 2:10pm, 4:15pm, 5:15pm, and 6:15pm. This event is on a first come-first serve basis, and you must pre-register your younglings for it once the park opens for the day.
Also at the Jedi Training Academy Stage will be the Padawan Mind Challenge. This is a trivia challenge for younglings and has either been geared toward general Star Wars knowledge or specifically to the Clone Wars animated series. If your child participates in these trials held by Jedi and others they will become Padawan Learners. There are often other trivia contests throughout the day as well.
Now while the day begins with Stormtroopers greeting you as you pass through the turnstiles at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, a day at Star Wars weekends is never complete without the ever popular and always packed Hyperspace Hoolpa! closing event. If you like Star Wars, bad jokes, and group based dance contests than this is the event for you. My feeling is that no matter how tired you may be at the end of the day, this is an event you should not miss. This year instead of being on the Jedi Training Academy stage, a special stage will be set up in front of the Sorcerer’s Mickey Hat.
I got to ride the original Star Tours for the last time at a special D23 event on September 7, 2010. And it’s re-opening has been a much anticipated event throughout the Disney community. The official re-dedication event for what is now known as Star Tours: The Adventures Continue will be on May 20, 2011 – the first day of the first Star Wars Weekend in 2011. Our sister site StarTours2Live.com, created in conjunction with StudiosCentral.com, has been live on the scene daily tracking the movements, comings, and goings at the attraction. And May 14, 2011 the word went out on Twitter from our on the scene reporters, the first soft opening had occurred. I was able to ride 7 times, and let me tell you (without spoilers) it is beyond amazing. There is no doubt in my mind that this will be one of the most popular ride changes ever.
And finally, there will be plenty of Star Wars merchandise out there to buy both new and old. In addition to being in the various shops around the park there is always a merchandise “warehouse” of some sort. In prior years it’s been called Jabba’s Hutt, Wicket’s Warehouse, Boba’s Bounty, and Darkside Depot. This year it will be set up in a new location near the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster. In addition to some limited edition t-shirts and pins, there are often some memorabilia from the Star Wars movies found here like a carbon frozen Han Solo.
Overall, Star Wars Weekends is an event that I can’t recommend highly enough. If you’re going to be at Walt Disney World over the next few weekends, do not miss it. “May the Force be with you always.”