New Star Wars Experiences to Open at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in December 2015

A Star Wars-themed land at Walt Disney World is still a few years away, but there are a few new Star Wars experiences that will debut at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in December.

Star Wars Experiences to Open at Disney's Hollywood Studios

Star Wars Launch Bay will take guests into the Star Wars saga and the upcoming film, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, with special exhibits and peeks behind-the-scenes, special merchandise and opportunities to encounter Chewbacca and Darth Vader.

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Star Wars Land Announced for Disney’s Hollywood Studios at #D23 EXPO 2015

Yesterday (August 15) at the D23 EXPO 2015, The Walt Disney Company Chairman and CEO Bob Iger announced that a Star Wars-themed land will be coming to Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

Star Wars Land Announced for Disney's Hollywood Studios

The expansion will cover 14 acres, and will add two signature attractions. One of those will put guests behind the controls of the Millenium Falcon itself. Oh yeah, I can’t wait for that one.

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Walt Disney World Throws a Midnight Preview Party for Star Tours Fans

As mentioned previously, the renovated Star Tours attraction at Disney’s Hollywood Studios officially opened on Friday, May 20.

A few days prior, the Disney Parks blog gave notice there would be a sneak preview event at midnight for a select group of fans that would be determined by an online lottery of sorts. Unfortunately, I missed the cut-off, but my friend Angie made it and was kind enough to invite me along as her guest.

We arrived around 11pm on Thursday (5/19) at Blizzard Beach, got our wristbands and got on one of the shuttle busses that would take us all to DHS.

Since the park itself was closed, our bus caravan wound around backstage and deposited us right next to the Star Tours attraction at midnight. As soon as we got off the bus, Angie and her hubby went off to do the ride. I decided to go slower and photograph as much as I could.

The backstage area had a few Star Wars Imperial signage, as well as light globes that resembled multi-colored planets. Right before the entrance into the guest area of the park, a red carpet led us into a smoke filled tunnel where we exited into the Star Tours area. It was so smoky, I actually ran up upon a member of the Mos Eisley cantina band.

I was then accosted by a Jawa, who tried to trade me a space candy bar for my R2D2 phone. No trade, sorry. I tried to take a self-portrait of myself with the cantina band, but only succeeded in getting my head in at one corner of the shot.

I wandered around taking photos of other characters in attendance: Storm Troopers, Chewie, Ewoks and a Gamorrean Guard. I also watched a bit of a Q&A session with Disney Imagineeers about the newly enhanced Star Tours.

I did this for two reasons – I wanted to document the event for you readers, and I figured most people would race to get on Star Tours but once they got through, there’d be less of a crowd for the ride.

My strategy paid off. Not only was I able to walk straight on to the starspeeder, but I even was practically alone as I walked through the pre-show, taking photos. By the time I took my seat, I was the only person in the back row.

The starspeeder portion of the ride is where the biggest changes took place. The original version was a solid film from start to finish. This new version is now like a slot machine with four windows, allowing different portions of the film to come together in different combinations. I got different outcomes both times I rode.

During the two hour event, WDW served up complimentary non-alcoholic drinks and make-your-own ice cream sundaes. At the end, we danced along with the cantina band (backed by a pro-DJ) toward the exit, where we were given a parting gift of a Star Tours poster. I got Bespin; others reported Hoth, Coruscant and Naboo.

Walking to the bus, we were joined by Chewbacca, who escorted us onboard.

All in all, it was a fun event – especially being both a Star Wars and a Disney fan.

Here are some of the photos I took:

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2011 Star Wars Weekends Start May 20 at Walt Disney World

As a life-long geek, one of my favorite events at the theme parks is Star Wars Weekends at Walt Disney World.

It’s held over four consecutive weekends at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, starting the weekend before Memorial Day. This year, Star Wars weekends start May 20, 2011.

Every year, thousands of fans gather to enjoy Star Wars shows, motorcades, a Jedi training academy for the kids, and photos with the characters.

But the two main reasons legions of Star Wars fans attend are to meet actors and other important people from the films and TV show, and to ride Star Tours, the Disney attraction based on Star Wars.

Celebrity Hosts for the event this year are James Arnold Taylor (voice of Obi-Wan Kenobi on The Clone Wars) and Ashley Eckstein (voice of Ahsoka Tano on The Clone Wars). Eckstein will host “Clone Wars: Behind the Force,” a closer look inside the popular animated TV series. Taylor will present another event-first: he will star in a one-man show that showcases some of the many voices he has performed throughout his career, including those from The Clone Wars.

This year’s special guest list is as follows:

May 20-22

  • Anthony Daniels (C-3PO)
  • Daniel Logan (Young Boba Fett)
  • Dave Filoni (Supervising Director on The Clone Wars)

May 27-29

  • Anthony Daniels (C-3PO)
  • Bruce Spence (Tion Medon)
  • Dee Bradley Baker (voice of Captain Rex on The Clone Wars)

June 3-5

  • Ray Park (Darth Maul)
  • Jeremy Bulloch (Boba Fett)
  • Matt Lanter (voice of Anakin on The Clone Wars)

June 10-12

  • Ray Park (Darth Maul)
  • Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca)
  • Tom Kane (voice of Yoda on The Clone Wars)

All of the above will be available for autographs and photos for those who are lucky enough to grab a FastPass first thing each morning.

As for Star Tours, it will kick off the SW Weekends with a grand re-opening celebration to mark the updating of the attraction. Rumors are Star Wars creator George Lucas will even be in attendance. Don’t worry if you can’t get to the park, though, as the ceremony will be streamed live on the web.

If you’d like to attend Star Wars Weekends, the event is free with any Walt Disney World admission ticket or pass.

[Star Wars Weekend poster image courtesy of Walt Disney World]

Walt Disney World to Stream Star Tours Grand Re-Opening Ceremony Live on Web

Thousands of people are expected to be in attendance at Disney’s Hollywood Studios on May 20. Not just because it’s the first day of Star Wars Weekends, but because that is the day that the updated Star Tours attraction will re-open to the public.

It closed September 7, 2010, for the first renovations since the ride first opened in December of 1989. When Star Tours reopens on May 20, the actual layout inside will be similar to what it used to be, just freshened up. It’s the storyline that will have changed.

In the original version of the attraction, guests were always taken on a botched tour to the forest planet of Endor. In the updated version, there are 54 combinations of the trip, all filmed in 3-D.

Once aboard the Starspeeder 1000, guests will embark on a wild trip through the galaxy, visiting several planets made famous in the Star Wars films. Among the locations that might provide haven from the Empire’s pursuit are the icy planet of Hoth, the lush jungles of Kashyyyk and the underwater Gungan world of Naboo. And along the way guests may encounter Star Wars characters that offer to help (or hinder) their journey, including Yoda, Admiral Ackbar, Darth Vader and Boba Fett. “Skytroopers,” a legion of stormtroopers created just for the Star Tours attraction story, might even join in the chase.

This means every trip could be different from the one before it, and riders will not know which one they’ll be on until it’s done. I think that’s very cool!

The grand re-opening ceremony starts at 10am on May 20, and I’ve heard that among the galaxy’s dignitaries set to attend will be Star Wars creator, George Lucas, himself.

If you can’t attend, though, Walt Disney World has announced they will be live streaming the entire ceremony online, via their blog, Star Tours Facebook page and the Disney Parks YouTube page. All require a device that supports Flash.

If you need something to tide you over until next Friday, the Orlando Sentinel has an early peek inside Star Tours.

[All photos courtesy of Walt Disney World]

Dates Announced for 2011 Star Wars Weekends at Walt Disney World

Last month, Walt Disney World announced that the revamped Star Tours attraction at Disney’s Hollywood Studios would reopen on May 20, 2011.

Now comes word that May 20 will also be the start of the 2011 Star Wars Weekends.

This extremely popular annual event will run Friday, Saturday and Sunday through June 12.

What I’m most excited about is one of the guests for the first two weekends will be actor Anthony Daniels, who has provided the voice for C3PO in all six Star Wars films. Daniels used to be a regular guest at the event, but has been M.I.A. for the last few years.

My guess is his appearance is due to the fact that C3PO has a central role in the new version of the Star Tours attraction. But he is a great guest and has hundreds of great stories about the filming of the trilogies.

Daniels is confirmed for May 20-23 and May 27-29.

Also announced is Ashley Eckstein, who provides the voice of Ahsoka Tano in “Star Wars: The Clone Wars,” and will act as a host for a behind-the-scenes talk show “Clone Wars: Behind the Force” all four weekends.

I know I’ll probably be there for the Daniels weekends. Not sure about the last two, but I’ll know once I see the guest list. How about you?

[Photo by Michelle Snow]

Walt Disney World Announces Reopening Date for Star Tours Attraction

In a not too distant past, Walt Disney World closed down the popular Star Tours ride for rehab.

A huge closing party was held in conjunction with the world-wide Star Wars Celebration V festival that took place here in Orlando during the weekend of August 12-15, 2010. The attraction itself closed a few weeks later, after Labor Day.

At a press event yesterday at the Magic Kingdom, President Meg Crofton (flanked by the Dark Lord of the Sith, Darth Vader, and a few stormtroopers), announced that the re-imagined Star Tours attraction at Disney’s Hollywood Studios would be reopening on May 20, 2011. This will be just in time for the annual Star Wars Weekends that are held at DHS.

Not only has the storyline been reworked to include nods to the prequel trilogy (Eps I-III), but it will also feature more of C-3PO and it will be a 3D attraction. There are also rumors that it will have different destinations, as well.

Disney also released this concept art for the planet of Coruscant that may appear in the attraction.

I don’t know about you, but I am so excited to see all the new changes to the ride!

[Image © 2010 Lucasfilm Ltd.TM and Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved}

Star Tours at Walt Disney World Closes For Refurbishment

The first time I visited Walt Disney World, the first ride I went on was Star Tours at (what was then) Disney-MGM Studios.

Fast forward fifteen years, and though things have changed around the park – heck, it’s even got a new name: Disney Hollywood Studios – the ride is still the same as it was when I first rode it.

That’s soon about to change. Due to constant outcry from both Star Wars and Disney park fans, Star Tours is finally getting an update.

Star Wars creator George Lucas has filmed an entirely new adventure for riders to take. This new one takes place between the two Star Wars movie trilogies and still starts out with people boarding a shuttle to tour the galaxy. Shortly after launch, everyone becomes part of a “detour” that includes becoming part of a pod race (similar to the one shown in Star Wars: Episode 1 Phantom Menace).  The adventure is also rumored to be a 3D attraction.

Though the park, in conjunction with the Star Wars convention Celebration V, threw a “Last Tour to Endor” party at the theme park, the ride is still open for a few more days.

But if you want to enjoy the original adventure, you only have until this Tuesday, September 7.  As of September 8, Star Tours will be shut down for the renovations and will not be available to ride again until next year. No exact date has been given but I’m guessing they’ll be shooting for May 2011, just in time for next year’s annual Star Wars Weekends.

Thanks to Disney, I can share with you this teaser video for the new film that will run when Star Tours reopens. This video first aired at Celebration V.

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