Last Thursday I stepped off a plane and cursed under my breath. I’d landed in Florida and the humidity is so pervasive that it pushed through the cracks of the jet bridge and made its presence known. Humidity is rude like that. I was in Orlando to attend Star Wars Weekends at Disney’s Hollywood Studios for the first time, and I was already questioning my decision. The event takes place on weekends in May and June, and heat and humidity were the big reasons I hadn’t made the trip before. I know that sounds extreme, but I’m convinced my body doesn’t process heat properly. I all but shut down if it’s too warm. But what would Leia do if she really wanted to attend an event centered on her most beloved fandom with her friends? She would suck it up, pack a water bottle and sunscreen, put her hair up in elegant braids, and say screw it.
And yes, I do ask myself what Leia would do on a regular basis.
I eased myself in. I went to Hollywood Studios Thursday evening. The sun was low, and there was a pleasant breeze. Most of the Star Wars activities didn’t start until the next day, but I had reservations for Jedi Mickey’s Star Wars Dine at Hollywood & Vine. The dining experience promised character interactions and themed food and didn’t disappoint on either count. When Minnie Mouse dressed as Princess Leia stopped by the table for a photo, I fangirled. I had no idea this moment would be so exciting to me, but I nearly hug tackled Minnie (pro-tip: Do not hug-tackle Minnie or anyone else unless you want a fast pass out of the park). I was home.
After stuffing myself full of entrees like Ahsoka’s Orange Chicken and desserts like Donald Duck Darth Maul tarts, I roamed the park so I would know how to get everywhere the next day. I’m one of those people. As it turns out, it didn’t help because I got lost repeatedly over the weekend, but it seemed like a good plan at the time. I noticed photo op spots with backdrops depicting Coruscant and the Tantive IV as I strolled around, and my excitement reached peak levels.
On Friday morning, I filled my water bottle, layered on an incredible amount of 50 SPF sunscreen, braided my hair, and headed out early for a media tour. Did I sweat profusely? Yep. In fact, I probably smelled worse than the inside or outside of a tauntaun by the end of the day. But you know what? It didn’t matter. Every new thing I experienced at Star Wars Weekends refilled my energy reserves, and when I was feeling cranky and tired, I took refuge in air conditioned places—of which there were thankfully many. I conquered the beast that is heat, and I felt like I could take on the whole Empire myself.
Not really knowing what to expect, I was pleased to learn Star Wars Weekends is a lot like Celebration. I saw Star Wars t-shirts, costumes, and accessories constantly and not just in Disney’s Hollywood Studios either. Fans were at the hotel and at Magic Kingdom and EPCOT. You could get autographs from special guests and attend shows that are similar to panels. I heard Tiya Sircar (voice of Sabine Wren) tell stories about working on Star Wars Rebels, I listened to Amy Allen (Aayla Secura) discuss how she got the role of the blue Twi’lek Jedi, and I watched Ian McDiarmid (Emperor Palpatine) put on Mickey Mouse ears. James Arnold Taylor (voice of Obi-Wan Kenobi) hosted events with all the wit and energy he displayed as the main stage host at Celebration.
Over the course of three days, I attempted to have the entire Star Wars Weekends experience. I made a list of all the shows I wanted to attend, the merchandise I wanted purchase, and the food and drinks I needed to consume. Reference the part where I’m one of those people. Even with a long checklist, I took a casual approach to the weekend—no getting up at 6:00am or earlier to get in line for autographs, no rushing around—and that worked well. The only event I had a Fast Pass for was the Stars of the Saga talk show one day, but the theater the show was held in was big enough to fit most of the standby line. I had reservations for the Rebel Hangar Friday night (I took tons of photos) and liked it so much that I went back Saturday for more small plates and drinks. Our party of four put our names in soon after the lounge opened and were seated outside almost immediately.
And the lines for Darth’s Mall, home of most of the exclusive Star Wars Weekends merchandise? Check them later in the day. The longest I waited was 20 minutes, but I was able to walk right in on a couple of occasions. A serious pro tip: If you’re searching for The Force Awakens t-shirt featuring a Stormtrooper (it’s the first merchandise to feature a character from Episode VII), go to Tatooine Traders outside of Star Tours. The shirts were in stock there in all sizes and cuts, and there’s no wait at all.
Though you might feel worn out after a day of seeing shows, meeting Disney’s many costumed Star Wars characters, and standing in the sun to watch the Legacy of the Force parade, do not leave before DJ Lobot takes the main event stage. I saw his table being set up Friday night and not being much of a dancer myself, I didn’t give it further thought. Then I wandered back by while Lobot, also known as DJ Elliot, was playing tunes and realized that DJ Lobot is utterly fabulous. He played remixes with a touch of Star Wars sprinkled in and something about his understated enthusiasm was captivating and hilarious. The crowd around the stage kept expanding and while some were dancing, most of us were just staring at DJ Lobot.
A video posted by Amy Ratcliffe (@amy_geek) on
The DJ Lobot Dance Party leads into an equally impressive event, Symphony in the Stars. James Arnold Taylor took the stage to introduce a host of Star Wars characters from both trilogies and the animated television series, as well as Stormtroopers from The Force Awakens, before fireworks set to the music of John Williams started. Magnificent is the best word to describe them.
When it came time to leave on Sunday afternoon, I wasn’t ready to go. I had just channeled my inner Jedi by posing with Kit Fisto and Shaak Ti and then watched a couple of Stormtroopers go through a comedy routine on the event stage. I reluctantly shuffled out of the park, the last remnants of a fruity drink with a Millennium Falcon glow cube in my hand, and headed home. My first Star Wars Weekends was over, but it won’t be my last.