Tag Archives: walt disney world

Star Tours Flight 1138 to Star Wars Land boarding soon

Earlier today, while reloading my Twitter feed regarding the D23 Expo, I learned the best news of all: Disney is making a Star Wars Land at Disneyland and (more important to me geographically) at Disney’s Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World.

Concept drawing of the Star Wars Land, from StarWars.com
Concept drawing of the Star Wars Land, from StarWars.com

I did all I could to not make the sound of a Krayt dragon. The first version.

Ever since the Star Wars films have blasted their way onto the big screen, I’ve always wanted to experience that world firsthand. I finally got that chance in the early 1990s when our family went on vacation to Disney World. I’m sure upon entering the Disney-MGM Studios, I made a beeline to Star Tours (or clamored my parents to let us go there first). I had seen behind-the-scenes footage on the Disney Channel, but now I was here in the flesh, watching Artoo and Threepio in the first waiting area. I was especially gobsmacked upon taking that wild ride in the Starspeeder. Then, as I walked down the long hallway and entered the merchandising area (Endor Vendors at first, now Tatooine Traders) I gawked at all the cool stuff, wondering if I should get the T-shirt or the keychain.

With Star Tours: The Adventures Continue, which I only first experienced last year, the Star Wars experience was now in 3-D, and you didn’t know where in the galaxy far, far away you were going next. Tatooine? Hoth? Would I ever see Han Solo in the opening portion?

And now comes today’s news. A whole area in the park devoted to Star Wars. A chance to fly the Millennium Falcon? Sign me up! Going into a Cantina? I’ll keep my lightsaber handy, in case any scum and villainy cause trouble. The folks at Disney Imagineering are pretty good at that whole immersive experience thing at the parks, so I’m sure they’ll create something amazing with Star Wars Land.

This would definitely give Disney’s Hollywood Studios the shot in the arm it needs. I’ve always enjoyed going to this park, but despite all the things you can do there, it still felt like there wasn’t a lot to do. Sounded weird in my head, too. And with all the various attractions closing the past few months, I wondered what the heck they had in store.

Perhaps I found my answer.

I’ve never been to the Harry Potter worlds at Universal Orlando, but from what I’ve seen and heard from commercials and such, I have a feeling the Star Wars land will replicate that: the idea of being in the world. Sure, your imagination can conjure all kinds of things after watching the movies or reading the books or playing the video games. But there’s something special about being in a location, soaking all the senses and processing them in your brain.

Whenever this land opens, I will be able to bring a childhood dream to life: to experience more of the Star Wars universe in the real world.

Did that Rodian look at me funny?


Feeding the nostalgic beast

We are living in a golden age of sorts. The world has shrunk, everything is connected, comments sections are a cesspool. Glorious times, these are.

But it wasn’t always this way. Way back in the 1980s, living in ruralish northeastern Florida, news may have traveled fast, but only through the television airwaves or through slower methods in magazines. I wouldn’t experience the Internet until the mid-1990s. Add to the fact I didn’t actively seek out any and all information about a particular subject, and I was not very information-savvy.

Example A: The Transformers.

Back when those robots in disguise burst onto the scene in 1984, I don’t remember which medium I had encountered them first — comics, cartoon, or toys — but I know that I concentrated on the last two in the beginning. I probably knew of the comics but didn’t pay much attention to them.

Once the Transformers got cooking, I did pick up a few issues of the Marvel comic. I noticed right away the continuities between the cartoon and the comic book were vastly different.

As the cartoon faded away, the comic soldiered on, which was around the time Simon Furman took over writing duties. While this was going on, I had no clue that across the pond, the Brits were treated to their own Transformers comic in addition to the American stories, many of them written by Furman.

marvel TF TPBs

Recently, IDW Publishing has been re-printing these Marvel and Marvel UK stories in trade paperback form, giving me the chance to read many of these stories for the first time, especially the UK tales. Reading these stories with grown-up eyes, some are still great, some are worse than cosmic rust.

Along the same lines, IDW has created a new continuity for the Transformers universe, which are, in some respects, a heck of a lot better in terms of story and art than what came before. And yet,  if it weren’t for those old issues, we wouldn’t have gotten the new issues.

Then there’s those Michael Bay Transformers movies. I saw the first movie in the theater, and I felt goosebumps as Optimus Prime drove down that alley to meet Shia LaBeouf. But upon a second viewing, the movie grated at me (maybe because it wasn’t that great a movie). All it took was one viewing for the second movie for me to be disgusted. My wife fell asleep about halfway through it. She was the lucky one. The third one was ever-so-slightly better than the second, but that’s saying a lot. I haven’t seen the fourth movie yet.

Nostalgia is a strange beast.

Which leads me to something completely different: Walt Disney World.

The Happiest Place on Earth is a strange vortex of nostalgia. On the one hand, it seeks to create new memories for kids and relive those memories for adults, but then it has to stay current with just about every experience.

Because it seems everything in my life is connected to each other, let’s use as an example Star Tours, the Star Wars thrill ride at Disney’s Hollywood Studios (or MGM Studios, for those of a certain age). I probably went on that ride for the first time in the mid-1990s (high school-age) and thought it was absolutely brilliant. But as the years went on, I started noticing things. The biggest nit to pick: it seemed like the soundtrack was about a half-second behind the film projection. Drove me NUTS.

Star Tours, circa 2004
Star Tours, circa 2004 (photo by Michael Fortuna)

When I heard the folks at Disney were refurbishing the ride a few years back, I was sad, yet hopeful. Sure, there was a part of me that loved the old version, but I was eager to see what they’d do in the new version.

In June, I finally got the chance to ride Star Tours 2.0, and I loved it. It’s still Star Tours, but now you’ve got the added fun of not having the same ride twice, although with my luck I probably will.

You could apply that to the Haunted Mansion. The original ride at the Magic Kingdom was hauntingly wonderful, but the enhancements are just as mind-blowing.

At the same time, a smile gets plastered on my face when I ride the WEDWay PeopleMover. As far as I know, it’s pretty much the same ride as it was back in the 1970s. I do wish I could see the original Journey into Imagination ride at Epcot again, and sometimes I miss Walter Cronkite narrating Spaceship Earth.

Maybe it’s the kid in me (or everyone, for that matter) longing for those olden days while living through these chaotic adult years. Maybe that’s why I turn to stuff from my childhood like the Transformers and Star Wars and Disney. But, I also long to see what new things these respective companies have got up their sleeves. I also get a kick out of finding new stories in various media to devour.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to watch Transformers: The Movie. The one with Orson Welles and Eric Idle.

Mark Hamill goes to Star Wars Weekends; I go as well

Seven years.

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.

Problem solved.

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.

(The Official Star Wars Blog has several in-depth posts about Disney and Star Tours. Go here and here to start with.)

In all, it was a day long remembered at the park.