A Star Wars Fan visits the Launch Bay

by Todd King, contributing writer

Let's take some inventory really quickly

We are in hyperspace now. Star Wars is now a much more regular thing these days. Disney's Star Wars Rebels continues to gain success, especially now that Darth Vader himself is appearing and bringing with him a much-desired continuity from Clone Wars. The comic books continue to add to the stories of even our most cherished characters.

More novels are coming out. The Force Awakens just came out on digital download as well as Blu-ray Disc along with its extra content of behind-the-scenes documentaries. And just a few days after that, the first trailer for Rogue One was released, and it received 29 million views in only four days. All the while, Disneyland and Walt Disney World have begun construction on their Star Wars Land (rumored to be named "Star Wars Experience," but we will wait for an official announcement from Disney) section of their theme parks (WDW also hosted its inaugural Star Wars Half Marathon this past weekend). Without even mentioning all the merchandising everywhere and the general hype at all times, this has got to be one of the wildest times to be a fan of Star Wars.

Star Wars is becoming bigger than itself, bigger than anything I could have imagined—and like Han, "I can imagine quite a bit." Is there anything missing? What hasn't been tapped by the executives at Disney and Lucasfilm? There are smartphone applications, so that's covered. Video games? Check. LEGO tie-ins? Been going for quite a while now. A big drive for charitysee "Force for Change." Spin-off/standalone movies? Coming this year. So what's left?

Are there any Star Wars restaurants? Well, Star Wars Land is set to have two: some kind of high-end one, plus a cantina-themed one. But is there any Star Wars-brand food? There used to be "C-3POs" cereal. And it was darn good! No need for marshmallow spongy tidbits, this was a classic breakfast cereal—if memory serves, it was very similar to "Alpha-Bits." Has there been any others? We've seen plenty of Star Wars imagery on food products like potato chips and yogurt, fruit snacks and graham crackers, and cans and liters of soda. What can we do here? Blue milk? Jabba frogs? Dagobah granola links? Rey's instant portions? There really is so little food references in the movies that this is a pretty wide open area. Wookie cookies, anyone?

As a Star Wars fan basically from birth, I'm wondering if I should be tapping into all these things from the comic books to the Rebels show. When I was a younger whippersnapper, it wasn't too difficult to keep up with most of the products since there were fewer things—action figures, playsets, comic books, and a few books here and there. Video games always went hand-in-hand with Star Wars; it's always been a perfect match.

This new century brings an explosion of materials out there on the web and on store shelves. There is so much already that I have no time to get into it all. And I'm not sure if that's the point of it all. It's n ot just that there is a plethora of things, but that there is a great variety of things—something not just for all ages but for all interests. Into collecting? Pick up those figures. Into video games? Battlefront for serious gamers, LEGO games for the light-hearted approach.

Into collecting and video games? No better place than Disney Infinity 3.0. Do you want to delve deeper into the galaxy and its stories? Comic books and novels. Or are you like me, and it's all about the movies? Looks like we're going to get one about every year for the foreseeable future. It's an all-you-can-consume Star Wars buffet that's moving on a conveyer belt. Some of it may pass you by if you're not quick enough. Is there any danger of fatigue? Let's just say I'm in denial about that.

A ride through the Star Tours gift shop

It's more than four years since I've been to Walt Disney World but during my family's spring break, we managed to make the journey to Florida and spend three days in the resort. I set out to experience as much Star Wars stuff as I could, and we certainly did just that. Here is my report.

Star Wars merchandise display at Walt Disney World resort gift shop. Photo by Todd King.

Our first of three days was in the Magic Kingdom and there is not too many Star Wars things going on there, but I wasn't expecting it there, anyway. The day began a little damp with a light rain just as the park was opening. The crowd was already very large as my hopes for a smaller crowd during this time were dashed. I knew some families would be there for Spring Break, but I figured ours was an earlier break than most.

What I didn't take into account were the other spring events going on. The cheerleaders were just finishing up their competition so many competitors and families were still there. Then there were softball and baseball teams all over the place. On top of that, there were several high school bands either for competition or being part of the Magic Kingdom parade, or both. The resort was crawling with teens; that was neither good nor bad, except that it made the park, at least the Magic Kingdom, more crowded than I thought it would be.

Boba Fett and Imperial Officer hats (not too easy to find elsewhere) on sale at Walt Disney World. Photo by Todd King.

Anyway, as far as Star Wars things there, it was found mostly in the gift shops with T-shirts, toys, R2-D2 and BB-8 Mickey Ears, and so on. The magic was still there with my favorite attractions like the Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean (both of which were operating and looking quite well), Splash Mountain, and "it's a small world." However, the abundance of teens made for some very talkative guests on the rides—our mortal hosts in the Haunted Mansion even had to ask them to "leave the talking to the dead."

None of our fun was spoiled, but I must urge guests who are planning their trips to Walt Disney World, to at least allow two days to experience the Magic Kingdom. We did a marathon on our one day there to try and hit all the rides we could, but we couldn't hit them all. For instance, when the park opened, we headed for Peter Pan, but the crowds ahead of us seemed to go straight there, too, and by the time we hit the queue, the wait was already at 45 minutes! It wasn't a great start, but things got better when we got to the new Seven Dwarfs Mine Train which I must say is absolutely wonderful ride, just perfectly made and executed. Do not miss that one.

Star Tours Gift Shop. Video by Todd King.

Our second day held the real treats for Star Wars adventures. We went to Disney's Hollywood Studios, and our first ride was Star Tours. To all outward appearances, nothing had changed with this ride since our last visit, but on the ride, we were treated with a ride through the Jakku scene taken from The Force Awakens—a scene which, I believe, is programmed to run first for every ride and has been doing so since December. It was a good choice to do that since most guests would probably want to see something from the new movie, especially if they only got to ride this once. The second scene was the flight through Naboo and the underwater cities. My favorite part is the thrilling dive from the sky and down into the sea. Overall, it was great. We returned later in the day only to experience the exact same scene, which was slightly disappointing since there are so many others to go through. I'll just have to return someday, huh?

At Star Tours, you can build your own astromech droid action figure using parts for the body, head, legs, and ... hat?. Photo by Todd King.

I expected the gift shop to be filled with all kinds of new stuff they've not had before (at least since the last time I was there four years ago), and I was not disappointed. The first thing that caught my eye was a station to build-your-own astromech droid action figure! This was actually really cool. We got to pick from the different body parts of droids like R2 to make a unique one all our own. You choose from heads, legs (including a third "middle" leg), bodies, and a hat. Yes, you add a hat to your R2 unit from ones like cowboy hats, baseball caps, and Mickey Ears. Once you get all the parts and put it together, a cast member will place it in an action figure card with a blister pack, just like classic figures you find at retail. The cost is $13, which to me is only a little bit high, but worth it for its uniqueness and the fact you build it yourself.

Heads up! Parts for building your own astromech droid action figure. Photo by Todd King.

Other merchandise there included wiffle ball and bat sets made to look like lightsabers—quite clever if you ask me. T-shirts were everywhere, as well as some snazzy hoodies like one that resembled Boba Fett's armor—I wished I had picked that up, but the $60 price tag scared me off. I was glad to see the shop still had the build-your-own lightsaber station, which included parts resembling Kylo Ren's blade and hilt from the new movie. I saw some pretty wild and impractical designs from some of the younger guests—but it was all cool to have your own unique/personalized lightsaber toy (this same station is at a gift shop in Magic Kingdom's Tomorrowland). We spent far too long in this shop, but we couldn't resist.

There are now Star Wars wiffle bats resembling lightsabers. Photo by Todd King.

A visit to Launch Bay

Later in the day, we made it to Star Wars Launch Bay, at the old Art of Animation's location. It began in a line for the introductory short film but in that queue were hung lots of great works of art from the Star Wars franchise including movie posters, concept drawings, and production pieces that I could have stood looking at for an hour. The film we viewed was short but sweet, with a great focus on the new movie, and the production team discussing the entire saga and its impact on their lives, on the movie industry, and on the plans moving forward with the franchise. I enjoy this stuff so the film was much too short for my tastes and it would be great if they offered this short film on a DVD in the gift shop with some extras on the disc, but I may be asking for a lot there. Oh, and they briefly mentioned the Star Wars Experience coming to the parks. Nothing new or amazing revealed here but it was good to add the hype.

We then stepped into the Launch Bay itself, which is little more than a museum's exhibit. It is tastefully done, well laid-out, and hosts a great collection of Star Wars costumes, props, and set pieces. We saw one of the models of the Millennium Falcon, a life-size speeder bike, Rey's desert speeder, many costumes, and even Kylo Ren's lightsaber from The Force Awakens—I was sure to take a very close look at that one to try and divine any clues from it about Ren's character. Why was it constructed in its manner? Why did it look unstable and hastily built? Good questions, for a later time.

Star Wars Launch Bay. Video by Todd King.

As all great attractions do, Lauch Bay emptied into a gift shop. And as I had hoped, this was no ordinary gift shop. On display and available for purchase, were officially licensed character costumes, including an AT-AT driver, a First Order Stormtrooper, and even a Darth Vader with two-piece helmet/mask. All these were for sale but in the thousands of dollars (I believe Vader's was the most expensive at a cool $4,000). These were amazing to look at and also startling to realize that they were actually for sale. I ended up buying three—in my dreams. I may have actually been somewhat tempted if they had one of my favorites, a Biker Scout Stormtrooper costume from Return of the Jedi.

There was a life-size, well actually blown-up size Boba Fett action figure—it was the original Boba Fett action figure from Empire Strikes Back but it was over five feet tall! They also had extra large action figures packaged like the old toys such as Wicket the Ewok and also Admiral Ackbar, both a couple feet tall. I guess they're thinking bigger is better—I don't particularly agree with that, but they are great novelties. There were also books, mugs, and really tons of other stuff too long to list here. Let me simply add another piece of advice for Star Wars fans going to Launch Bay: bring some extra cash and splurge a little. But now I truly wonder what will be in store for us at the gift shops in the coming Star Wars Land. Need any ideas, Disney? Let's talk.

Star Wars Launch Bay Gift Shop. Video by Todd King.

Outside Star Tours, we also witnessed a Jedi training show with the little padawans looking so cute. They were trained by both a male and female Jedi preparing them for their face-off against Darth Vader as well as the female Inquisitor from Star Wars Rebels—that is one awesome costume to see in person! Not only that, but the younglings also had to face Kylo Ren, which makes the experience complete, having characters from the original trilogy, from the current TV show, and from the new feature film. I applaud Disney for including it all and making it fun. They have since taken ideas from this interactive show and are putting them into the new stage show in the center of Disney's Hollywood Studios. Read about that more here at MousePlanet: The brand-new stage show debuted on April 4 called "Star Wars: A Galaxy Far, Far Away" at the theme park. It incorporates characters from the original saga and from recent releases. Darth Vader, Kylo Ren, Chewbacca, and Darth Maul all feature in the new show, which takes place on the Center Stage in front of the Chinese Theater several times each day.

Things to Come

With updates to Star Tours, the Launch Bay, the Jedi padawan shows, the fireworks, the shops(!), and everything else Star Wars-related at the parks, there are many signs of things to come for the Experience. As a long-time fan, I'm pretty happy with all the things leading up to the new themed land. It feels like it is in good hands and perhaps some of my generation is there working behind the scenes and thinking the same things I'm thinking about all the things we dreamed up as kids when we "played" Star Wars in our living rooms and backyards. We were just kids and we were just pretending, but there was, and is, something real created in those times. I don't know what it is—a connection, perhaps, or some affinity to the source material, the stories, the characters that stay with you. I want the Star Wars Experience to harness the power of that linkage to our childhood imaginations. And since Disney parks have been in the business of doing just that for decades, I think we're in for more than an adventure; we'll be in for a happening that will make the Star Wars of our imaginations into something tangible. I mean, I always wanted something as simple as an Ewok toy, now it's reality.

Ewok dolls on sale at Walt Disney World. Photo by Todd King.