When our summer interns go on family vacation, we can’t send them off without an assignment. So our resident Star Wars buff, Kenneth, gave us a rundown of Star Wars Weekend at Disney World.
At the age when most children began watching Aladdin, Hercules and Beauty and the Beast, I was lost in a galaxy far, far away. From those days on, my obsession has only grown. So, as you can imagine, I went to Disney World’s Star Wars Weekends years ago before Disney bought the franchise. People have voiced their opinions, which range from: “They’re ruining the series!” to “They’ll make it too kid-ish!” The list goes on. Opinions on that aside, Disney has been doing Star Wars Weekends for a while, since 1997. From what I remembered as a kid, Disney did a great job — I know I had fun.
Coming back after all of these years, with knowledge and wisdom of the series I’d acquired over the years in mind, I walked into Hollywood Studios half asleep from getting to the park so early. Needless to say, it was far more than I could’ve ever imagined. Disney has always been known for its showmanship and they really came through for this year’s festivities.
Disney had an all-star lineup of characters from the films and animated series, and fans could get autographs and watch them in different shows throughout the day. Just to name a few: Ray Park (Darth Maul), James Arnold Taylor (Obi-Wan in the animated series) Jeremy Bulloch (Boba Fett), Warwick Davis (Wicket) and Ashley Eckstein (Ahsoka Tano from the animated series). The park also had dozens of other characters guests could take pictures with during the day. It was almost guaranteed that around every corner, someone would run into a character from the universe. Whether it was Darth Vader shrouded in Storm Troopers or Tusken Raiders, it was always a treat.
The party carries on through four shows daily Friday-Sunday and change slightly each weekend (this year, the event runs every weekend May 17-June 9). There’s always a show with the special guest of the week like Warwick Davis or Jeremy Bulloch — the talks were just interesting to sit in on. The master of ceremonies and host of each show was James Arnold Taylor, voice actor extraordinaire. He even demonstrated 200 different voices he could do. Impressive, I know. Taylor hosted a talk show as well, where he interviewed the visiting star and Ray Park each day. This could range from being hilarious to quite inspiring depending on the guest. Trust me on that, hearing a story of how Boba Fett messed up his lines on his first day is something to behold.
If a taste for stunts and action are up your alley, Ray Park had his own martial arts show where he went through different fighting styles with an array of weapons. This was also where you learned to loathe the children who got the chance to go on stage and do move sets with the master himself. I’m still seething from that.
Special merchandise could be found at the one stop Star Wars shop near the back of the park: the Darth Mall (clever title if I don’t say so myself). Collectibles, helmets, toys, Disney characters in Star Wars outfits — it was all there. Guests could truly lose themselves in a place like that. If you’re an unabashed fan like myself, you can’t help but spend oodles of money there. I went in wanting something small and spent more than $90. Needless to say, it was neigh impossible to leave without some form of paraphernalia in hand.
Now, to deflect, again, the opinions I may have about Disney buying Star Wars. I have to say, Star Wars Weekends are on par with some conventions I’ve heard of. When Disney gets a hold of something, they’ll flaunt it and make it something everyone can enjoy. These weekends are comparable to a sacred gathering for fans of the series. To see people who enjoy these movies as much as I do having as much fun as me was sublime. The energy there was almost tangible, especially during Memorial Day weekend. The park’s population swelled so much, it almost reached capacity. This weekend was full of characters, big name actors, festivities, themes snacks, souvenirs and ways to immerse fans in the universe itself. Guests could make themselves Storm Troopers — it was awesome. I digress, these weekends were nothing less than magical for me and, from what I could tell, those around me. Where else at this time could you see Boba Fett dance with Princess Leia in her slave outfit?
For this Star Wars fan, Disney did a great job setting the atmosphere of my favorite series. The entire park was flooded with Star Wars music until the park closed. The employees where all nice, the characters excellent and actors incredible, I couldn’t have asked for a better time. The fireworks show was impressive, too — Disney literally ended the festivities with quite a bang.