I was an early teen in 1977 When Star Wars was first released I was right at the age where I was too cool to admit that I liked the film. Not many years later, though, I stood in line on two different opening nights when The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi were released in the early 1980s.
In just the last couple of years my boys, 8-year-old Allan and 5-year-old Michael, have really begun to enjoy the Star Wars stories and characters, too. In fact, Allan and Michael now have Star Wars toys, enjoy playing Star Wars video games (on both the family Gamecube and Allan's Gameboy), and have watched five of the six movies so many times that they know the plots by heart along with most of the dialog. I've not allowed them to see Revenge of the Sith as of yet because I think the latest (hopefully not the last) of the movies is too violent for them to deal with yet. Even so, they know much of the movie's plot (via that Gameboy game) and quite a bit about Anakin's horrible behavior that both leads him to the dark side and transforms him into Darth Vader.
So given all of the hoopla from Episode III coming out and the boys' excitement about the Star Wars universe, it seemed that this would be a good year to check out the Star Wars weekends that are held annually over at the Disney-MGM Studios. We had intended to get over early in May, but we didn't actually make it until late in June. It's fortunate for us that the Star Wars weekends were extended this year or we might have missed them yet again.
So, here's a little taste, from a dad's perspective, of what Star Wars weekend is all about for the younger Star Wars fans among us.
First, it wasn't really a surprise, but it certainly added some anticipation to the day to see the park entrance guarded by a pair of Imperial Stormtroopers.
Imperial Storm Troopers guart the park entrance. Photo by Brian Bennett.
Our first stop in the park was all the way back next to the Star Tours entrance. The atmosphere around this part of the park is a lot of fun, with Imperial ATATs guarding the attraction entryway. There wasn't anything new about the attraction, of course, but a stage was set up next to the entrance over to the left.
A menacing ATAT guards the entrance to Star Tours at the Studios. Photo by Brian Bennett.
Once there, Allan decided to participate (at least if he was selected to do so) in the Jedi Training Academy. We were fortunate--Although we were among the first people to arrive at the area, Allan was one of the very last of the kids selected to participate. Michael decided to pass on this one. It was a surprise because Michael usually tends to be the more adventurous of the two boys, but just this one time Allan was a bit more brave (or curious) to try it out.
The Jedi Training Academy started with some basic instruction from a Jedi Master.
The Jedi Master gives instruction at the Jedi Training Academy. Photo by Brian Bennett.
A Jedi Knight also helped out. Allan was located down on the lower level, so his direct instruction came from the Knight. The Master worked with the kids up on the platform.
Allan and a Jedi Night listen to the Jedi Master's instructions at the Jedi Training Academy. Photo by Brian Bennett.
Of course, what would Jedi training be without lightsabers? These practice lightsabers, which look very much like the toy ones that you can buy in the Star Wars shop at the Star Tours exit, were handed out so every trainee had one.
Training lightsabers are distributed at the Jedi Training Academy. Photo by Brian Bennett.
After practicing a few standard lightsaber defensive moves, everyone in the Academy was shocked to see some Stormtroopers come in with some rather unsavory and unexpected guests.
Unexpected, and unwanted guests, arrive at the Jedi Training Academy. Photo by Brian Bennett.
Darth Vader appeared up on the platform
Lord Vader does his best to intimidate the trainees at the Jedi Training Academy. Photo by Brian Bennett.
and Darth Maul showed up down below.
Darth Maul is a foe not to be taken lightly at the Jedi Training Academy. Photo by Brian Bennett.
Each and every trainee was put through the wringer by one of the two Siths.
Darth Vader tests trainees at the Jedi Training Academy. Photo by Brian Bennett.
Allan, being down on the lower level, would have to face Darth Maul.
Darth Maul tests trainees at the Jedi Training Academy. Photo by Brian Bennett.
When he first figured that out, I'm sure the thing that came to mind was, What in the world have I gotten myself into?"
Allan (center) wonders, What have I gotten myself into? as he awaits his turn to duel with Darth Maul. Photo by Brian Bennett.
After seeing Darth Maul perform a flying dervish move on one of the other trainees
Darth Maul performs a flying stunt as he tests trainees at the Jedi Training Academy. Photo by Brian Bennett.
Allan's confidence moved down another notch or two.
As Darth Maul exercises his duel-edged lightsaber, Allan wonders, Is there a helmet sewn into this cloak? Photo by Brian Bennett.
Bravely, though, my son took on the evil Maul and fought him to a standstill (as did all of the other trainees).
Darth Maul tests trainees at the Jedi Training Academy. Photo by Brian Bennett.
In fact, neither Vader nor Maul scored on any of the kids. They all did a great job and were proclaimed Jedi Padawan learners by the Master.
We had a brief opportunity to take photographs of the whole group of kids before the lightsabers and cloaks were gathered up and Jedi Training Academy diplomas handed out. The Disney folks even threw in a Star Wars toy for each participant--a very nice and unexpected surprise.
New padawans pose after successfully defeating either Darth Vader or Darth Maul at the Jedi Training Academy. Photo by Brian Bennett.
After the Acadamy was done, we strolled around the park to see what else there was to enjoy that was specific to the Star Wars weekend events. Having our pictures taken with Darth Vader was one thing we did.
Allan was willing to pose with the big guy, but Michael wanted to keep his distance.
Allan poses with Darth Vader. Photo by Brian Bennett.
Later in the day when we went in to see Jedi Mickey, Michael had no such fear. Instead, he jumped right up and provided this pose (along with Allan) with the Jedi Mouster.
Allan and Michael pose with Jedi Mickey. Photo by Brian Bennett.
One thing on our list of must dos for the weekend was to see the Star Wars Edition of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? This was a fun twist on the popular attraction. Not surprisingly, all of the questions revolved around Star Wars in some fashion or another. One of my favorite twists of the game, though, was when the lifeline Phone a Complete Stranger was turned into Phone a Stormtrooper. We only saw that exercised once, and after giving the man in the hot seat a difficult time about calling the secured line, the storm trooper handed the phone over to, yep, a complete stranger. Very fun.
The very first player in the game turned out to be a Jawa from Tatoonine. He was allowed to answer a few of the easier questions before being tossed out when he wouldn't admit that the Jawas were responsible for holding C3PO and R2D2 hostage in Episode IV.
Who Wants to be a Millionaire, Star Wars Edition is a fun event during Star Wars Weekend. Photo by Brian Bennett.
The next contestant was a man. I don't recall where he was from, but he was not a Star Wars fan and couldn't answer the most basic Star Wars questions. Obviously, he didn't last long in the hot seat, but the host had a lot of fun with him until he left.
The third contestant was a young man from Florida who was dressed in Padawan garb. Really, the kid was a dead wringer for what Anakin Skywalker probably looked like at about age 14. The kid was obviously a rabid Star Wars fan and had been coming to the Star Wars weekends and specifically to every showing of Star Wars edition of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? that he could get into. His stated goal was to win a cruise for his family.
Alas, the questions were very, very difficult. I knew some of the answers, and Allan and Michael knew a few more, but a lot of the questions were quite obscure and the teen contestant wasn't able to get to the 1,000,000-point level either.
After we left the show, we took a couple of trench runs on the Death Star before the next scheduled event that we wanted to see.
At 1:00 p.m., there was a scheduled talk show with a couple of Star Wars notables. Today's guests were Warren Fu and Jake Lloyd.
Before the show, a group of Storm Troopers guarded the audience. They were really amusing as they told Storm Trooper knock-knock jokes, teased one of the Storm Troopers for hitting his head on a blaster door on the Death Star in Episode IV (and they showed the outtake on screen I haven't yet checked to see if it made the final cut or if the editors found it). Eventually the Imperial banter stopped and the interviews began.
Stormtrooper guards the auditorium before the Star Wars Talk Show. Photo by Brian Bennett.
Warren Fu is a concept artist at Industrial Light and Magic (ILM), George Lucas' design and special effects shop. He was the designer of General Grievous from Episode III, among other things. He is really a talented artist. The Disney folks showed a lot of his work on screen as he discussed his ILM career.
Warren Fu, concept artist from Industrial Light & Magic, is interviewed. Photo by Brian Bennett.
Jake Lloyd played Anakin Skywalker in Episode I. Young Lloyd told us the story of his auditioning for the role (he said it took over two years from initial reading to actually being given the part). Other than that, the conversation basically showed that Jake Lloyd is what he is a teenaged kid. He hasn't had any major roles since his first one and the majority of his pay for playing young Anakin has been wisely stashed away for college.
Jake Lloyd, the young actor that played young Anakin Skywalker in Episode I, is interviewed. Photo by Brian Bennett.
Besides the things that I've shown you, we could have enjoyed a Star Wars parade, but it conflicted with the Star Wars Edition of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? There were a handful of other Star Wars characters around for photos and autographs--Chewbacca, Princess Leia, and Luke were among the ones that I saw. There was also the opportunity to take pictures with C3PO and R2D2. The droids weren't animated, but the photos came out OK, as you can see.
Brian and the boys with C3PO and R2D2. Photo by Brian Bennett.
We also had the opportunity to watch a documentary film about the making of the newer Star Wars films. It was fun to see, but I suspect that it will be on the Episode III DVD when it comes out in a few months.
I must admit that I went in to this weekend expecting to see a lot more hard-core Star Wars stuffmore special events based on Star Wars. Looking back, though, I'm not disappointed with what we did and saw. The Jedi Training Acadamy was fun and the character meets were, too. The special events turned out to keep a good balance between providing enough information for die hard Star Wars fans and keeping those folks interested that are less familar with the films interested. I think the ages of our boys really highlight the minimal ages to enjoy these events. Michael was just a bit too young, but Allan was just about old enough.
So, what's my conclusion?
Let's just say we'll be back next year.
(Send an email to Brian Bennett)
One of the original editors at MousePlanet, Brian Bennett has written an encyclopedia's worth of online resources on Walt Disney World. Enduring freezing winters in Michigan with thoughts of trips to Orlando and staying at Disney Vacation Club resorts, Brian had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to move to Orlando with his wife and sons.