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]

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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