Disney has been rushing to capitalize on their new control over the ‘Star Wars’ universe by bringing Jedi fandom to their theme parks. I recently visited what is becoming the east coast’s ‘Star Wars’ mecca—Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Here is my review. It contains minor spoilers, if you can spoil a location.
I came to Orlando as a newb. Much of the ‘Star Wars’ goodness featured at Disney’s Hollywood Studios is brand new, erected just last month in December 2015, but even the old stuff was new to me. Star Tours, for example, is a well-established ride featuring an animatronic C3-PO guiding tourists in a spaceship that tilts and rocks with the action of a 3D, first-person movie. If you’ve been on this before, you know. What you might not know is that it’s been updated! ‘The Force Awakens’ fan favorite droid BB-8 makes a holographic appearance as does another new character I don’t want to spoil. The ship itself travels through space wreckage on a desert planet which may sound familiar if you’ve seen the new film.
Star Tours is next to a new interactive show called ‘Jedi Training: Trials of the Temple.’ Kids get in on the action dressing in Obi-wan-esque cloaks and engaging in lightsaber duels. They are coached up by Jedi trainers to get a chance to briefly fight either Darth Vader or Darth Maul. I’ve heard that the ‘Star Wars Rebels’ baddie the Seventh Sister is also a combatant, but I didn’t see her on stage. After each child gets a crack at the villains, a trainer fights Vader with too much anger and acts as an example of what not to do. The show closes with the kids being prompted to chant that they are not afraid and they all Force Push the bad guys off the stage. In this way, the Force fits in with Disney’s greater theme used in other shows that dreams and positivity can trump evil and fear. Corny? Maybe, but it works at a theme park. Oh, it should be mentioned that the Star Tours gift shop received an upgrade too. It looks like a legit trading structure from Tatooine and features a lightsaber customizing bay and a miniature droid building station. Honestly, both sound cooler than they are, but both are fun nevertheless.
Located away from Star Tours is a new section called the Star Wars: Launch Bay. It’s a kind of museum for the franchise displaying vehicles and costumes either used in the movie or replicated for tourists. Outside you may find Stormtroopers (the new kind) walking around. Feel free to interact with them, but you can’t just ask for a picture like you can with Disney princesses. Like Snow White, they are in character, but unlike Snow White, they aren’t automatically friendly. The Stormtroopers suspect you are Resistance sympathizers and will more likely tell you to buzz off. Just remember what has a strong influence on the wweak-minded as Inside the Launch Bay, you might run into a Jawa. These guys will probably take a photo if you ask, but more interesting is that they will rummage through your bag. You can trade stuff with them. Pens, pins, napkins–whatever. In return, you get droid parts. It’s probably a cheaper way to build a droid than taking the gift shop route, depending on what you trade and how generous your Jawa is Once you get to the center of the Launch Bay you can meet Chewie and Vader, if you stand in line, that is. The wait times are posted and they tend to be shorter than the girls from Frozen.
Speaking of Frozen, it’s worth noting that Disney is sprinkling Star Wars content all over Hollywood Studios. I went to the Frozen Sing-Along show (with my four-year-old twins, mind you) and they referenced the Skywalker story on a couple occasions. Walking through the park at night I came to a dance party that mashed-up the hip-hop tune ‘Turn Down For What’ with the Imperial March making me a fan of Lil’-John-Williams. The nightly firework show is set to Star Wars music as well–an epic way to end the night.
Rounding out my coverage we have ‘Star Wars: Path of the Jedi’, a new viewing experience that retells the ‘Star Wars’ saga thus far and gives a peek at what is to come, and ‘Watto’s Grotto’, yet another gift shop. The merchandise is good, but redundant. Most the stores carry the same shirts and toys so if you’ve been to one, you’ve pretty much been to them all. Being strangely out of the way, currently by some low-traffic Pixar stuff, the Grotto is the best place to build a lightsaber considering that the Star Tours shop always has a line. The Grotto seems isolated now because this is the area that Disney is expanding to meet the fandom. The Pixar Cars spot and most of their back-lot buildings are going away, much like some attractions in California’s Disneyland, to make room.
I hope for a chance to return to Disney to witness the power of that fully operational Star Wars park. When I do, I’ll be sure to report back.