Star Wars fan that I am, I have to say that I was thrilled to learn that new Star Wars-related experiences would be starting in Disney’s Hollywood Studios on December 1, just in time for my holiday trip to Walt Disney World. I was even happier to find out that there would be a media preview of the new experiences the day after my arrival. How convenient!
The only catch was that I had to be AT the Studios by 7 a.m. that morning. That directive, harsh as it was must have come from Lord Vader himself! In any case, there I was at 7 a.m. along with AllEars.Net Feature Writer Alice Miller, and we were treated to all the Star Wars we could handle in one short morning.
Our experience started as we approached the Animation Courtyard, which is now home to the new Star Wars Launch Bay, billed as the home base of all things Star Wars in the theme park.
White-uniformed First Order Stormtroopers greeted us and other guests asking to see our identity cards. What was really cool was that they could actually talk — no more mute Stormtroopers!
We entered the Launch Bay and noted that the old outdoor queue for the Animation Tour has been fully re-themed. Walls are lined with posters and artwork from all of the films in the Star Wars saga.
After a short wait, we entered the small Launch Bay Theater to watch a 10-minute, behind-the-scenes film, featuring interviews with directors, writers, producers and others who are or have been part of the Star Wars universe. It was especially interesting to me to hear from new Star Wars director J.J. Abrams.
From there, we had plenty of time to browse the different galleries of the Launch Bay, which are filled with replicas of props, starships, weapons, costumes and more from the first six Star Wars films, as well as some from the newest entry to the saga, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”
I started in the Celebration Gallery, walking under the famous tagline: “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…” In this first room there are ships from the Rebel and Imperial fleets from all the films. From there, I took a walk down the Celebration Hallway, which features life-size replicas of such iconic movie vehicles as a speeder bike and a pod-racer.
As both mom to a Star Wars fan and a fan in my own right, I spent the better part of an hour examining all the exhibits, thinking, “Yeah, I made that speeder bike out of Legos, we did that TIE fighter as a model, we have that Slave 1 toy… ” In other words, they really have a lot of cool stuff!
Finally, there is a Preview Gallery that features artwork and props from The Force Awakens.
From there you enter the area known as The Cantina, which has elements pulled directly from the Mos Eisley cantina scene in the original 1977 film, Star Wars: A New Hope. For those who don’t know, the cantina is sort of a dive bar populated with a mixture of unsavory aliens — and it’s the place where Luke and Obi-Wan famously meet Han Solo and Chewbacca. Appropriately, you can meet up with a variety of characters in this themed area — our encounter that morning was with a Jawa, a short, burlap-robed creature whose pinpoint eyes glow out from under its oversized hood. Jawas are known to scavenge the desert, and this little guy tried to persuade us (without talking) to give up our watches, rings, phones and camera before moving on to the next visitor. (On a visit to the Launch Bay the next day, I had the chance to pose with the bounty hunter Greedo — I’m not sure what other characters you might encounter there.)
Be sure to check out all the little scenes, including the one on the far wall, the Lost and Found, which has some cool props hidden there.
Just beyond the Lost and Found is the Star Wars Game Center, where you can play current and upcoming video games, including new Disney Infinity 3.0 with content created exclusively for the Launch Bay.
In the area just below The Cantina (in the space that used to have the character meet-and-greets in the old Animation Building), you have a choice to make: Do you want to visit Chewbacca, the 7+ foot tall hairy Wookiee who is a hero of the Rebellion? Or do you want to take a walk down the Dark path and pay a visit to Darth Vader? I chose Chewie because I only had limited time that morning (and also because “once down the dark parth you start, forever will it dominate your destiny!”)
After meeting up with the Wookiee, we entered the Launch Bay Cargo area, which, of course, is the home for all manner of Rebel Alliance and Imperial merchandise. From mass-market toys to high-end collectibles, if it’s related to Star Wars, you can probably find it here.
This is also the place you can find all sorts of special Star Wars-themed MagicBands, and a D-Tech on Demand spot where you can customize your cell phone cases.
We eventually had to tear ourselves away from the Launch Bay and head across the park to the ABC Sound Studio, former home of the Sounds Dangerous attraction. The theater now houses “The Path of the Jedi,” a short film that mashes up the storylines of the first six films in an effort to bring those unfamiliar with the Star Wars saga (what do you mean there are people who have never seen these movies?!) up to speed.
The film does a fair job with the material — let’s face it, it’s not easy to cram a couple dozen years of film history into 10 minutes. But if you have never seen any of the movies, or if it’s been a while and you need a refresher, this film does the job.
After viewing The Path of the Jedi, we sat in on a Q & A session with some of the Imagineers and others involved in bringing these multi-layered Star Wars experiences to fruition.
Creative Director for Walt Disney Imagineering Brent Strong spoke with enthusiasm about the project, and how he feels there’s never been a better time to be a Star Wars fan.
We also had a chance to hear from Tony Giordano, show director, who was involved in the revamped Jedi Training Academy and talked about the new fireworks show, “Symphony in the Stars: A Galactic Spectacular.”
In addition, Executive Chef Christine Weissman was there to talk about the Star Wars-themed food and beverage offerings, and Steven Miller from Walt Disney World Merchandising spoke about all the cool, new Star Wars merchandise.
(I also had the chance to see some of the food up close, and I’ll have a separate post devoted to the Star Wars-themed food and beverage offerings later.)
After the Q & A, we had a short break and were treated to a taste of some of the cupcakes. Alice found that as evil as Darth Vader can be, she could sense the good in him… or in the chocolatey-peanut butter goodness of his cupcake, at least.
The last part of the morning’s festivities was a visit to the renamed “Jedi Training: Trials of the Temple.” The show is largely the same as before — children ages 4-12 are given the chance to battle with enemies from the Dark Side in a cute 20-minute interactive show. The chief differences are the new set, a new villain (the Seventh Sister from the Disney XD Series, Star Wars Rebels) and a new underlying storyline — that the villains are not real, so that the children understand what they are really fighting against are merely reflections of their own fears. It’s a nice idea, but I’m sure if you asked the youngest kids among the group I saw, they would tell you that they were really using their light sabers to hack away at the REAL Darth Vader.
Unfortunately, there was no way for us to see the new fireworks show, since it only just debuted last Friday, on December 18, when The Force Awakens opened in theaters.
Even without the fireworks, all of these new Star Wars experiences certainly satisfied the Star Wars fan in me — and I definitely plan to revisit the Launch Bay a few more times to catch all the little details I’m sure I missed. I have to say, though, that this taste of what Disney has done so far leaves me hungrier than ever for the promised “Star Wars Land” that is not even breaking ground in Walt Disney World until 2016!
I hope The Force is strong with me, because otherwise I don’t know how I’m going to wait!