Disney’s Star Wars Experience

 “…a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…”  With those words, a 5 year old boy’s life changed forever.  In that movie theatre in Brooklyn in 1977, I was awakened to the power of The Force…the force of imagination.  At 5 years old, I was already exposed to comic books and “Star Trek”, but this was different.  This was adventure on a larger scale.  This was epic space opera fantasy and I was hooked.  Being a 43 year old Special Correspondent of Geekdom is not easy.  It means I remember suffering through the ridicule of being a Geek, back before it became cool.  Everyone’s on the band wagon now.  Now that the nerds of the past have taken over the world with their technology and media outlets, it’s chic to be Geek.Paul_Star_WarsAll of those kids that grew up watching “Star Wars” in the theaters had younger siblings that watched it on television when it came on. They grew up and had kids that they bought “Star Wars” toys for and had them watch the movies on VHS, then DVDs, Blu-rays and soon, streaming online.  It’s not just for boys either. What, you thought your little sister wasn’t paying attention when “Star Wars” was on television?  You think seeing a Princess that could wear a beautiful gown one minute and shoot a blaster and fly a spaceship the next, doesn’t totally blow away their Princess doll? “Star Wars” has a little bit of everyone in it. Its themes of good vs. evil, loyalty, family and perseverance in the face of adversity are universal themes that just so happen to take place in space. Perhaps that is the key to its universal appeal and continued success and relevance.

It’s the continued success and relevance of which we now speak. After acquiring Lucasfilms several years ago, Disney has been taking the brand and “Disneying” the heck out of it Disneying means making bigger and more imaginative, with universal appeal. That’s what “Star Wars” initially did in 1977. Beyond Disney’s upcoming slate of films, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”, “Rogue One” and “Episode VIII”, Disney decided to go all in, with plans to grow beyond the significant “Star Wars” presence at its Hollywood Studios theme park, to a full-on Star Wars theme park of its own, to open in the next year or so.

Disney offered us a glimpse of what to expect in the new project with “Star Wars: The Experience” at Disney Hollywood Studios. The park was relatively empty that morning, with eager cast members waiting for the day to get started. The tour began the all-new Launch Bay.

The presentation started with a video of the many creators behind the scenes of bringing the Star Wars films to life. You get a sense that the work behind the films is difficult and taxing but rewarding on a personal level to the creators, whom many are fans of the franchise themselves. 

Next was a tour of the various props and models from the films and the animated television shows, “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” and “Star Wars: Rebels”. Why are “cartoon” props part of the presentation of models and props from the live action films, you ask? Because Disney has co-signed on the Lucasfilm declaration that the animated television show (not a mere cartoon) is “canon”. Canon, (for you non-Geek noobs out there) means that it is considered part of the official “Star Wars” universe. What happens on the TV show is considered part of the history of what happens between the films. Also, at this location is the opportunity to meet Darth Vader and Chewbacca live. With them speaking to you. Live. With photo ops.  LIVE! 

Sorry, you caught me in a moment. I was about to ask Vader about the logic of spending all of those resources on building the ultimate weapon in the Death Star but leaving an open vent that leads directly to its reactor open, but the lady next in line was throwing me serious shade. I digress.

Now over to the new short film, Star Wars: Path of the Jedi. There was a panel of people there speaking about the “Star Wars” themed cuisine, merchandising, shows and events taking place. These guys are kicking butt and taking names in making this stuff great. 

But what is this about a short film recapping all six of the Star Wars movies with a peek forward at Star Wars: The Force Awakens?  When does that start?  Oh, right now?  Okay, let me just sit back and relax and, oh. Oh my…wait was that…oh and…yeah, I remember that…and here comes the footage from SW:VII…MAGNIFICIENT!!! Is it cool to give a standing ovation on the mere recapping of films? I don’t care. That just made my day (Sorry, no cameras allowed).

Path_of_Jedi

Well, we’ve worked up an appetite.  Time for some intergalactic grub. They had some food on display at the Launch Bay at the beginning of the tour that included some chicken and waffles and a burger with a dark colored bun (not on the menu). They did have these awesome cupcakes of some “Star Wars” favorites. There was a lemon cupcake, with chocolate, multi-colored rocks decorated with new droid, BB-8. There was a Chocolate and peanut butter Chewbacca cupcake and chocolate and coconut Darth Vader cupcake. They looked too good to eat. But eat, we did!

The original “Star Wars” attraction at WDW was “Star Tours”.  I actually went on it over the summer and saw some new footage and dialogue already.  However, with the new feature film coming out, they have added even more to the attraction.  I don’t want to spoil it for you, but you know that scene in the “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” trailer where you see the Millennium Falcon flying over a desert with Tie Fighters chasing it? Imagine flying a space ship behind it. Yeah, that just happened.

Finally, there was the new and improved Jedi Training Academy. Again, I saw this over the summer. There have been changes, people!  Disney went and made this into some kind of cinematic scene out of one of films—with a message to the kids. 

padawans

The kids are still playing Jedi Padawan learners, but they are not simply learning how to handle a light saber and perform a Force push, they are learning that the greatest fight you ever face is against yourself and your own fears. Boom! Message! 

So these kids are being taught that the temple next to their light saber training area is rich with the power of the Dark side. The temple will manifest whatever fears they take with them. So of course, who are you going to immediately think of when you think of fear right? Darth Vader. But not just Vader, he brings along the female Dark side Inquisitor from the “Star Wars: Rebels” animated television show (canon, remember?). The kids get to duel with them for a while, each getting a crack (or whack) at them, until they eventually use their collective Force push to get them back into the Temple.  But not so fast, who then emerges? The most popular character from the “Star Wars” prequels, Darth Maul! 

sistah_jedi

Who has the midicholorians (just roll with it) to duke it out with Darth Maul? Wait, who’s that? Who’s that sistah with the braids brandishing the light saber? Hold up, that’s a sistah Jedi, with braids, brandishing a light saber and battling Darth Maul! She won? Oh, snap! But she wasn’t really supposed to win, because the whole point is that she had to ultimately defeat him by laying down her light saber and thus, laying down her fears (message). Still, #SistahJedi was a star. 

Fight_Scenes

I wish my 4 year old daughter was with me today. I would get a kick out of her seeing that #SistahJedi and saying, “girls can beat up the bad guys too, Daddy.” I would have said, “Yes, baby.  And girls can be a Princess, star-pilot, Jedi, bounty-hunter, smuggling, nerf-herder too.” Thank you, “Star Wars”. May the Force (of imagination) be with you too.