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An Open Letter to the SWW Coordinators

What in the World?
A weekly peek at Walt Disney World

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

I’m doing things a little bit differently today, folks.  This week’s What in the World is directed at the people who plan and coordinate Star Wars Weekends every year; be it from the Walt Disney Company or people from Lucas Film.

Dear Star Wars Weekend Planners,

As you know, Star Wars Weekend 2009 officially ended this past weekend.  After four consecutive weekends at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, everything from the costumes, the sets, the autograph locations, and the signage are now put away in a box somewhere on Disney property, never to see the light of day until some time in 2010.  Before you begin planning for next year Star Wars Weekend, however, I wanted to express some of my concerns, pass on a few compliments, and generally provide some biased input from a fan of both Disney and the Star Wars franchise. 

Let me start off this letter by telling you that once again I have enjoyed myself at Star Wars Weekends.  While this is only my second year attending the event, I have been to all eight weekends in 2008 and 2009.  There’s something to be said about walking into your favorite Disney park with some of the epic Star Wars music playing in the background, and seeing Stormtroopers gaze down at you as you walk through the turnstiles.  Moreover, when you are with friends and family who also enjoy the movies and Disney as much as you do, it really makes the event that much better.  I thought, as an overall experience, SWW 2009 was fun, enjoyable and perhaps even a tad better than SWW 2008.

Of the major differences between the two SWW, perhaps the most dramatic improvement was the celebrity Fastpass distribution.  As you know, in previous years guests lined up by the turnstiles for one of three celebrities. As the line grew, cast members then escorted the line into the park in order to avoid overcrowding. The line inched to the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular Fastpass distribution before the park opened. At rope drop, while the majority of guests were headed to rides or signed their kids up for the SWW parade, people in search of a Fastpass were stuck in line until they made their way to the machines at Indy. This year, however, the system was completely overhauled and improved.

The lines started next to the ticket booths on the ride side of the Studios entrance. From there, lines for a specific celebrity snaked their way toward the security check point. There was no needless shifting of the line and no inching toward the middle of the park to obtain Fastpasses. Once you got in line, you stayed there.  You also realized the inherit problem in waiting for 9 am to distribute Fastpasses, guests couldn’t get to do what they wanted at rope drop.  But you fixed that as well.  Cast members started handing out Fastpasses at 8:15 am, the idea being that people could get their Fastpasses for autographs, then get in line for park opening. This change has allowed us as guests to start the day off the way we want, and not in an never-ending line at the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular.

Another trend I like seeing is the invitation of authors of SW books and creators of SW toys and merchandise.  I, like many SW fans, have a need to consume a lot of books with the Star Wars name on it.  Whether it is the encyclopedia, the visual guides, or even just Expanded Universe novels, I enjoy reading about all things Star Wars.  Last year Troy Denning and Steve Sansweet dropped by SWW and I both had them sign copies of their books that I now proudly own.  This year, Ryder Windham was also on hand to sign copies of his books (as well as Steve Sansweet).  In fact, other authors were available to meet at Wicket’s Warehouse, as well as the designers of some Star Wars toy lines.  I think this addition to SWW is such a great opportunity for fans to meet and discuss with people who have a different perspective on the films and have made a career out of expanding on George Lucas’ six films into something we can all enjoy.  I hope in the future more authors and other individuals are invited to SWW. 

SWW was a success once again this year, but I believe there is a huge opportunity for improvement.  Let us start with the celebrities first.  I have had this conversation with a lot of people, and for us stalwart fans of the SW franchise, we would enjoy seeing some more variety in the celebrities that attend.  Even after only going to SWW for two years, half of the guests this year had come last year.  And for some who have attended several years in a row, all of the guests have appeared at some point in the past.  While I am not saying that no one from the previous years should be invited back, what I am suggesting is that perhaps a larger net should be cast when trying to find guests to come to SWW 2010.  Some actors, who have yet to make an appearance at a SWW, would be amazingly popular should you be able to book them (e.g., Ian McDiarmid, Jimmy Smits, Frank Oz, Christopher Lee, Denis Lawson).  Bringing in as many new celebrities as possible will encourage SWW veterans to return once again.  By drawing in new guests and ensuring that veterans return, SWW could be a much more successful event.

Perhaps my biggest gripe about SWW is the lack of information leading up to the event.  Once again, a celebrity list was not released until April, a mere month and a half before the start of SWW.  Moreover, a merchandise list was also not available until early May.  And for some reason none of this information made the official Disney’s Hollywood Studios website for the longest time.  Because information was so piecemeal and came out at such odd intervals, it is not hard to imagine that some people just did not end up attending.  When it comes to Walt Disney World, some people need as much of a lead time to adequately save up for, plan, and purchase all of the necessary tickets, flights, etc.  By only providing detail about the specifics of SWW a few weeks ahead of the actual event, you have, in effect, limited the amount of people who could afford to attend.  While it may be easy for me to mosey into the Studios on some random weekend due to my proximity to the parks, it is an entirely different story if you are planning to arrive from some place like California or Hawaii. By making information more readily available at an earlier date, it helps us, as guests, to more effectively plan a trip around the weekend we want to attend.

While there are more things I would like to see improved, I do realize that Rome was not built in a day.  And even though I would like to see more events to attend at SWW, I think the lack of celebrity diversity and lack of information are the biggest problems facing SWW 2010.  Addressing these two aspects could vastly improve the overall SWW experience, and ensure that SWW 2010 is an even bigger success for both the Walt Disney Company and Lucas Film. 

Your biggest Disney/SW hybrid nerd,
Glenn H. Sonoda.