Welcome to those of you joining me from Disney on Wheels and those of you who have just hopped aboard. I am the 3rd stop on our Magical Blogorail.
When Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope opened in theatres in 1977, its studio saw it as another low budget sci-fi film, a western in space; they certainly didn’t expect what happened next. That little film, with its untested cast and its sometimes “creative” effects changed the world. It won the hearts of a generation and opened the door to 5 more films and an ongoing animated series. Star Wars has become a part of global culture. It has inspired millions of viewers and become a passion shared across generations. Few other things are as dearly cherished across lines of age, gender, and ethnicity. George Lucas’s original story drew on the deep mythic connections that Joseph Campbell believed were common across all peoples, and in a way it illustrated Campbell’s point.
Tapping into the underlying themes of mythology, Star Wars was about good, evil, coming of age, love, and friendship. It showed good triumphing over evil, true love triumphing over impossible odds, and belief in a dream overcoming differences and disagreements. With those themes running so prominently through the films, Star Wars was a natural fit for Disney.
Walt often expressed that his goal was to touch the hearts of his audiences, and in the mid 1980s, imaginer Tony Baxter recognized that Star Wars supported that ideal, pursuing the Star Wars attraction that would become Star Tours because “Disneyland needs to have an attraction based on characters that children today are growing up with. We need a mythology that really touches people’s heart, like Walt used to do.” Star Tours opened in Disneyland in 1987, quickly followed by a similar attraction in Hollywood Studios in 1989, and Disney’s partnership with George Lucas was given physical form.
That connection, both financial and ideological, surfaced again in 1997 as Lucas premiered the first “Special Editions” of his original Trilogy. A special event was planned in Hollywood Studios allowing guests to interact with Star Wars characters, and the first Star Wars Weekends was born. That idea re-emerged in 2000, coinciding with the release of Episode I, and it has been an annual event every year since. Although the essential idea of Star Wars Weekends has remained the same – character meet and greets, celebrity presence, and a themed parade – the event has expanded each year and has become a much anticipated part of the Disney event calendar for many.
The thing that makes Star Wars Weekends so special is its sense of joy and fun. Star Wars has become a cultural phenomenon, and people from 3 to 83 enjoy it and share a love for its characters and themes. The event embraces everyone from the die-hard fans dressed as Star Wars Universe characters to the tank-top clad who have a passing familiarity with the films. Visitors come into the park with something in common – they love Star Wars – and that somehow gives them a sense of community you find at few other times. That easy going attitude creates an overall sense of good will at even the most crowded Star Wars weekend.
The event itself comprises numerous special offerings. In fact, most weekends, two separate park guides are distributed – one for Hollywood Studios, and one for Star Wars Weekends (SWW).
The guest experience begins with the storm troopers atop the turnstiles heckling the crowd below. Their banter is not only a welcome distraction, it sets a tone for the event. It gets people smiling, even in the hot Florida sun, and when they enter the park, those smiles stay with them.
Inside the park, areas are delineated for dark side, light side, and Disney side character interactions. (Yes, the fab five have their own Star Wars personas, and you haven’t lived until you’ve seen Darth Goofy’s shorts. Really.) Characters often change throughout the day, and, as with all Disney character interactions, magical memories are made as young and old alike get to meet their heroes. There are also “streetmosphere” characters – clone troopers, Jawas, and bounty hunters – who patrol the streets, interacting with the guests, and subtly doing crowd control, making sure that tight corners and walkways remain open. If you have a camera, you can spend your day here; there are a plethora of photo ops, not only with characters but in the enthusiastic crowd as well.
And then there are the celebrities. Star Wars Weekends has a host each year, but additional celebrities appear each weekend. If you arrive early enough, you can get a fastpass for a free autograph and the opportunity to meet someone directly involved in creating Star Wars. If not, you can always see the actors in one of two daily panel discussions, talking about their experiences. Those panels are far from dry question and answer sessions. Like the day at the park, they usually start with storm trooper mayhem and blossom into truly amazing experiences. The actors who come to Star Wars Weekends are dedicated to the fun and joy of the event, and they do their best to make the panels memorable. For example, Ray Park (AKA Darth Maul) has been known to demonstrate his stunt fighting skills, and Matthew Wood has sung Disney songs as General Grievous.
SWW shows are also worth scheduling into your day (both available for preview on youtube). The Jedi Training Academy pits pint sized Jedi against Darth Vader and Storm Troopers. And, frankly, even if you don’t have a little Jedi of your own, watching is well worth your time. The Hyperspace Hoopla, scheduled at the end of the day, has become one of the obligatory parts of the event. A dance off with the star-wars-stars, it bears witness to one of Lucas’s best characteristics – his understanding that letting people have fun with his franchise only strengthens its standing. The hyperspace hoopla pits “teams” of Star Wars characters against one another, dancing to pop tunes…and the Empire always wins. It’s pure joy.
There is far more to Star Wars Weekends, a parade, a special shop selling collectible merchandise, and in 2011, the launch of Star Tours 2.0, renovating the venerable motion simulator into a 3-D ride including characters from all 6 films. But in the end, Star Wars Weekends are about sharing a love of Lucas’s saga, and enjoying a day celebrating heroes and villains in a galaxy far away…
Stay tuned to www.yourhighwayinthesky.com for a series of posts on Star Wars Weekends 2011 events and getting you ready for your own journey!
Thank you for joining me today. Your next stop on the Magical Blogorail Loop is Cooking with Mickey.
Here is the map of our Magical Blogorail should you happen to have to make a stop along the way and want to reboard:
And, if the force guides you to seek out more Disney blogs and entertainment, feel free to visit the Magical Blogorail website and check out our other blogorail lines!