Looking Back at Star Wars Weekends 2011

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Time:  Early May 2000.  The Place:  Disney MGM Studios.  It was an early morning and I decided to get to the park before it opened.  We parked our rental car in the theme park lot and took the tram to the front gate.  As we approached the front gate I couldn’t help but notice something very unusual walking around and speaking to guests at the top of the iconic MGM Studios marquee.  “What are those?” I said.  Wait!  "Storm Troopers?"  I wasn’t sure why they were there, but I found it to be pretty exciting and very clever.  I just figured they were there as part of the park’s overall theme of movies.  Little did I know something special was going on that weekend.  It was Star Wars Weekends.  For as much as I love to plan Disney vacations I should have had some clue there was a special event going on at the theme park that day.  The first Star Wars Weekends occurred in early 1997 with little publicity.  They didn’t pick back up again until 2000 and have grown in popularity ever since. 

Walt Disney World is highly acclaimed for hosting several special events throughout the year.  But, arguably the best special event they host year over year is their very popular Star Wars Weekends held at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.  This special event brings several visitors to Central Florida, especially those fans who are very connected to the Star Wars brand and saga.  I must admit, I’m not a huge Star Wars fan.  On a scale from 1 to 10 I’m probably a 7, but when you take something I enjoy and stick it into an Orlando theme park now I’m very passionate about it.  If you've never visited a Star Wars Weekends before and want to know more about this event be sure to visit our Star Wars Weekends frequently asked questions page and our very detailed touring tips

Storm Troopers take over Hollywood Studios as the sun rises over another Star Wars Weekend.

Star Wars Weekends is held 4 consecutive weekends each year usually at the end of May and into early June.  I haven’t attended every Star Wars Weekends, but I have been to most of them.  I’ve seen this event grow in scale and popularity over the past 11 years.  This past year I was fortunate enough to be able to attend weekends 3 and 4.  Before our vacation began I did my usual research to see what was planned and what was happening at this years SWW event right here at studioscentral.com.  I already knew this years event was going to be extra special because of the refurbishment and reopening of the Star Tours 2 attraction.  In fact, the attraction’s reopening seemed to be the central point of focus for this years Star Wars Weekends event.  It was certainly a reason to get you excited and motivated to visit the theme park, but this excitement seemed to carry-over into the entire event in general.  Disney certainly capitalized on the attraction’s reopening by holding an elaborate attraction and event opening ceremony at the main stage in the center of the park starring Darth Vader, Disney CEO Bob Iger, and Star Wars Creator George Lucas.  You can see highlights from the opening ceremony here

Jedi Master Yoda welcomes guests to another Star Wars Weekends 

One of the first things I noticed about this years Star Wars Weekends besides the opening ceremony and Star Tours 2 reopening was how it seemed more of the event’s activities were spread-out throughout the park.  This was a huge plus in my mind because more of the park was immersed in the Star Wars theme.  No matter what part of the park you visited you were greeted by some form of the Star Wars themed activity.  In the early years of Star Wars Weekends most of the event’s activities seemed to be centered around the Star Tours attraction.  Additionally, with event activities spread throughout the park so were the event crowds.  Gone are the days of huge crowds gathering at the Star Tours stage or around the Star Tours attraction.  You can now find Star Wars Weekend crowds near the Coaster Courtyard or near the Streets of America where some of the Star Wars characters hung out for pictures and autographs. 

Darth Goofy and Princess Minnie Leia walk along Hollywood Blvd. during the Star Wars parade and motorcade. 

Another huge upgrade this year was the addition of ‘Jabba’s Hut’, the very large merchandise tent located in the Coaster Courtyard.  For those of you who have visited the Star Wars Weekends merchandise locations in the past you have to agree this was a much nicer location.  In my opinion I found the selection of merchandise to be a big hit and much better than previous years.  Our family spent more time in the merchandise location this year than any other year.  I also appreciated the fact it was air conditioned and was loaded with extra space to walk and browse around without constantly bumping into other guests. 

Jabba's Hut.  The very large and spacious Star Wars Weekends merchandise tent located in the Coaster Courtyard.

What was all of the “Hoopla” about this year?  Well, Disney heard us loud and clear after last years Star Wars Weekends and decided to move the "Hyperspace Hoopla", one of the event’s premier shows, to the main event stage in the center of the park.  As you probably recall in previous years the “Hyperspace Hoopla” was located at the Jedi Training Academy stage next to Star Tours.  It was very difficult to see this show if you were towards the back of the crowd.  In fact, you could argue it wasn’t worth viewing at all from the center to the back of the crowd unless you brought stilts or were an unusual 6 feet 6 inches tall.  Thank goodness we didn’t have to fight those conditions this year.  I for one appreciated the move to the center stage. 

What about the food!?!  When you take a trip to Walt Disney World you know food has to be involved.  Star Wars Weekends was no exception.  This years specialty food line-up included a Darth Vader cupcake, an R2-D2 carmel corn themed bucket along with an R2-D2 souvenir sundae cup.  Adding more themed food items to this event can only make things better.  I wouldn't suggest eating these food items outside in the Orlando heat or else you may not be able to grip your light saber. 

The very popular Darth Vader peanut butter and chocolate cupcake.  Eat a few of these and you could easily turn to a dark side food coma. 

Finally, and this could have just been my poor observation from years past, but it seemed there were more Star Wars costumed characters throughout the park this year than ever before.  I can’t tell you how many times we stopped to take pictures and get autographs from Star Wars characters each of the two weekends we attended.  It made the event more lively and entertaining for our family.  Wherever we walked throughout the park a costumed character was either stationed at a specific location or just walking around interacting with guests.  As I mentioned before it gave you the feeling the entire park was fully immersed in the Star Wars theme. 

Whoootini!!! 

Darth Vader is always the most popular character to meet at each and every Star Wars Weekend.

Let me go on record by saying I felt this years Star Wars Weekends was the best one I’ve attended over the past 11 years.  Of course, there were a few aspects of the event I thought could have been better like the Star Wars motorcade and parade.  It seemed shorter this year.  When you wait 30 minutes in the Orlando heat and humidity for a 10 minute parade it does sort of disatisfy you.  I wasn’t a big fan of the stage show following the parade either.  However, considering the other improvements I saw and experienced this year I’m hopeful next years Star Wars Weekends will continue to grow and improve.  Those were my feelings about this years Star Wars Weekends.  What did you think of the event this year?  Did it exceed your expectations?  I’m sure we all know the potential for Star Wars related attractions at Hollywood Studios is huge considering part of the park is already dedicated to the Star Wars saga.  We can always hope for more from Disney and George Lucas in the future.  In the words of some of our Star Wars friends near the Endor Moon “I’ve got a GOOD FEELING ABOUT THIS!!!” 

You can see more photos from this years Star Wars Weekends here

Next Up:  Drinking with friends as we stroll around the world. 

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About this column

Aaron DelPrince looks at the various activities you and your family can experience at Walt Disney World


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