That’s how long it’s been since I last attended Star Wars Weekends at Walt Disney World.
Thanks to our tax refund check, we bought three-day passes for the Happiest Place on Earth. First came Epcot, then the Magic Kingdom. So for the last day, we would go to Hollywood Studios for one of the Star Wars Weekends.
But which one?
When the folks at Disney announced the guests, I had narrowed down the dates (the tickets expired June 6, so the last weekend was out). Then a special guest was added.
Mark Hamill. Luke Skywalker. June 6-8.
Like many people who grew up in the late 1970s, early 1980s, Star Wars was a tremendous part of my childhood days. I can remember watching that movie on TV while hoisting my toy X-Wing fighter and re-creating the Death Star trench run. Luke was probably one of my favorite characters, especially when we get to Return of the Jedi and we see Luke go from wide-eyed farm boy to kick-butt Jedi. The scene of Luke looking at the twin sunset on Tatooine gets me every time.
Jump ahead to the early 1990s when Batman: The Animated Series was on TV. Mr. Hamill voiced one of my favorite villains: the Joker. And boy howdy, was he great at it. (He also did a version of this maniacal character as the Trickster in The Flash)
So here was Mark Hamill, making his first appearance at Star Wars Weekends. To miss this would have been like not going after Artoo when he ran off to find Obi-Wan Kenobi. OK, maybe not quite like that, because I don’t think I would have been killed for not going, but still.
Joining me on this journey was my wife and my 4-year-old and 6-year-old daughters. To make things a little more interesting, the 4-year-old was a bit under the weather. We hoped she would feel better, but she had her moments. Thankfully, she met Sofia the First as well as Jedi Mickey and Princess Minnie without any problems.
We waited in the baking Florida sun for the 11:30 parade to start. I fanned the 6-year-old with a map guide and hid the sun with my Indiana Jones hat. She saw the parade from ground-level, while I snapped pictures of the 501st in their Imperial best.
Then the stars of Star Wars for the weekend came down the road, waving and smiling at the adoring crowd. Appearing were Ashley Eckstein, the voice of Ahsoka Tano in The Clone Wars, Ray Park, who played Darth Maul, Taylor Gray, the voice of Ezra from the upcoming Star Wars Rebels, James Arnold Taylor, the voice of Obi-Wan in The Clone Wars, Billy Dee Williams, who played Lando Calrissian. And Mark Hamill.
I was in Star Wars heaven.
Later in the day, Taylor interviewed Hamill for a special conversation. We didn’t make it to the theater where it was happening, so we went to the American Idol Experience theater to watch a simulcast. I could almost hear Ryan Seacrest say, “THIS…is a conversation with Mark Hamill!” and Randy Jackson say, “Mark is in it to win it!”
The 500-pound Rancor in the room was brought up right off the bat — Episode VII — but the only thing Hamill talked about was his newly grown beard. He told the audience he liked having surprises walking into a movie instead of knowing everything beforehand. I wholeheartedly agree with you, sir.
Hamill was incredibly funny and gracious during the conversation, which veered from the audition process for the first Star Wars film to doing an impression of Harrison Ford to talking about voiceover acting to giving an impromptu dialogue between the Joker and Luke Skywalker. Classic stuff. (It’s probably up on YouTube somewhere)
Of course, it wouldn’t be a trip to Hollywood Studios without going on Star Tours. I was especially looking forward to this because I hadn’t gone on the new version of the thrill ride. I was sad to see the old one go, but I’m in love with the new version. But the old one hasn’t completely disappeared. When you walk through the queue and get to the second room, you’ll spot Captain Rex from the original ride sitting in an open cargo crate.
The ride itself: Wow. We ended up in the front row; I was dead center. One of the new things about the ride is the myriad of combinations you’ll experience. We started out in a dogfight along side the Millennium Falcon, flew to Tatooine to find ourselves in a podrace, flew to Geonosis’ asteroid field, only to find ourselves BY THE DEATH STAR. AND it was in 3-D. I wanted to go back on the ride almost immediately. My 6-year-old wouldn’t have been amused with that.
In all, it was a day long remembered at the park.