May 25, 2011

Star Wars Weekends 2011 - Opening Weekend

Star Wars Weekends - Jedi Mickey
After years of watching friends make the trek down to Orlando for Disney's annual Star Wars Weekends, my wife and I finally took the opportunity to attend the event this year. Every summer, Disney puts on a series of weekends where Star Wars fans, celebrities and members of the 501st Legion converge on Orlando where Disney's Hollywood Studios is transformed into a Galaxy Far, Far Away.  
This year was Clone Wars heavy and featured George Lucas who attended the opening ceremonies.  

When you enter the park, you'll see the transformation with signs and Star Wars music playing.  Above the entrance are a couple of Disney stormtroopers, acting out a brief pre-scripted skit with Star Wars banter.  Their comments are piped over the speakers at the gates for everyone to hear.  Signs with Star Wars characters are seen on every post and the Disney Star Wars swag is available to purchase right inside the gates (and various kiosks and gift shops around the park).  All content is (as expected) family oriented for fans of all ages.  

The biggest draw this year was the grand reopening of Star Tours, the virtual reality ride that closed in 2010 during Star Wars Celebration's "Last Tour to Endor."  You will have to sport 3D glasses for the new experience.  The new ride sports an all new story that changes each time you ride and a new pre-ride experience.  The ride has a 2 different beginnings, 3 planets to visit first, 3 messages from Rebellion leaders, and 3 closing planets to visit.  It took me about 10 rides to see every planet - Coruscant never came up for me.  During the day, the lines were longer (about 45 minutes).  One night Hollywood Studios had extended hours; late night there was virtually no line.  Line or not, the new ride is greatly improved and worth any wait.  

Video plays before you board
My personal favorite part of the new ride was the inclusion of both a red R2 unit and a rebel troop carrier.  Get in line for the ride and you might have to wait outside under the Ewok village and AT-AT walker.  If the line isn't bad, you'll quickly find yourself in the air-conditioned building where you will receive "flight information" and watch travel videos for the various planets.  These videos are a mix of live action and 3D animation.  In these videos are some 3D animated astromech droids.  One of those droids is red and white, just like mine.  In the video that plays  just before you board, an animated troop carrier drives around your transport.  Be on the lookout at the end of the ride, that Red R2 is featured front and center in 3D at the end of one of the scenarios you might encounter.
501st on Parade at Star Wars Weekends

In addition to the ride and decorations, the 501st Legion is part of a daily parade.  Special celebrity guests ride along waving at the crowd and Disney characters have special themed floats.  

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