Hello everyone and welcome back to the Sarlacc Pit! Normally I write about canon Star Wars content, and I hope that it has been enjoyable for everyone who has read it. This last week, however, I bought tickets to Star Wars Celebration 2017 in Orlando. That’s right, next year I will attend one of the largest annual Star Wars events, and I could not be more excited. In honor of this excitement, I have decided that this week I will write about my experience at another large Star Wars event, Walt Disney World’s Star Wars Weekend 2016. This post is 100% spoiler-free, so read without fear!
During 2015, my girlfriend Mallory was working in the Disney College Program. As such, she got a certain number of free passes every semester. So that June, I jumped on my first opportunity for a free trip to Disney during Star Wars Weekend. For those who may not know, Star Wars Weekends at Disney occurred every weekend starting after May 4th through the month of June. During these weekends, all of Hollywood Studios (the location of the Star Tours ride) houses Star Wars themed activities, characters, and events, as well as opportunities to meet actors and voice actors behind characters from the Star Wars franchise. I decided to go for June 7th and 8th, during which time actors Jeremy Bulloch (Boba Fett, “Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi”) and Ray Park (Darth Maul, “The Phantom Menace”) would be there, as well as voice actors James Arnold Taylor (Obi-Wan Kenobi and Plo Koon) and Ashley Eckstein (Ahsoka Tano). While I knew it would be cool to meet all of these extremely talented voice actors, my main target was the man behind the dented helmet, Jeremy Bulloch (fun fact: while Jeremy Bulloch was the body for Boba Fett, his voice was that of the late Jason Wingreen).
So, how do you get to meet these actors? Luckily, a good friend of mine, Jake, also worked in the Disney College Program and had experience with these events. He told me that I should plan to arrive in front of Hollywood Studios by 4 in the morning, because there was going to be a line. Yeah, right. That was never going to happen. So I set my alarm for 4 in the morning and Mallory (who was an amazing trooper through all of this) and I got to Hollywood Studios at 5 in the morning. It was then that I realized that we had made a terrible mistake. The lines were insanely long, and it was clear that some avid fans had camped out there, based on the presence of cots and sleeping bags. Mallory and I split up. I sat in the line for Jeremy Bulloch, and Mallory got in line for Ray Park. We sat separately for hours before the park opened. When it opened, Disney workers went down each line to give out different colored wristbands. One color meant that you were guaranteed to meet the actor at a certain time, while the other color meant that you would be a “standby” guest. This meant that after all the guaranteed guests for a certain time got to meet the actor, they would start calling standby numbers, when you got your number called, it was your turn.
It was a little while after the wristbands were being handed out that Mallory texted me. Ray Park was only doing two sessions because he was also doing a martial arts show during the day. Because we got there “late,” Mallory was not one of the chosen few able to get a spot, or even a standby spot, to meet Ray Park. I started to panic. I do not like giving up my sleep, and I knew that if I was not able to meet Jeremy Bulloch I would have to try again the next day. Suddenly, I saw the employee working our line. She was getting close, but she was also running low on wristbands. I kid you not, she got to me, and handed me the last standby wristband. Even though it was not a guaranteed spot, I still felt like Charlie when he got the golden ticket.
After the ordeal at the front gate, we entered the park, where the street was blocked off by a rope flanked on both sides by a pair of sassy stormtroopers, making fun of all the laser-brains held back by a tiny rope. Soon, there was a video display welcoming us to Star Wars Weekend. The rope was removed and we left to go to the first event of the day: the parade.
In true Disney fashion, the parade consisted of characters walking down the street to Star Wars music. Of course it was led by Jedi Mickey, along with Princess Minnie and Chip and Dale dressed like Ewoks. Behind them were various organizations of cosplayers such as the 501st Battalion and the Rebel Alliance. There were also Disney Star Wars character actors, as well as the actual actors who played the characters we all grew up with.
It was here that I got my first Star Wars Weekend life lesson: no matter how big of a fan you think you are, there is always going to be someone out there who will out do you, and that’s Okay. I thought I was cool with my Boba Fett hat and my Rebel Alliance tank top, but I saw people in full Jedi robes, slave Leia outfits, and even one dedicated fan who had fashioned prosthetic Twi’lek lekkus (head tails) and painted himself red. The whole time, however, everyone was excited to be a part of the festivities.
After the parade, we explored a bit. We checked out the different shops and even met a few characters (the character acting for the weekend was probably the best I’ve ever seen). But for that whole first day, only my mission to meet Jeremy Bulloch was on my mind. When the first meet and greet time slot arrived, we were there. In front of the building was a long line of people who apparently did not look up how the event worked. Instead of waiting in line early in the morning for a wristband and a ticket, many people were simply waiting in front of the door, where they found out that the only way they would meet the actors is if by some miracle they got through every guest with a wristband and then had time left over. Working the meet and greet sessions were two ladies who worked various Disney events year-round. It is here that the story gets a little sad. While all around us was a wonderful celebration of everything Star Wars, some “fans” were taking out their frustration of not being able to meet these actors on the two employees working the event. I heard people moaning about how it was not fair and how the whole system was stupid. Eventually I got up and asked the ladies working the event what the protocol was. I was particularly interested in what the chances were that I would be able to meet Jeremy Bulloch, even though I would be the last person to do so. The lady explained to me that honestly, the chances were not great. I had the last standby ticket, so unless Mr. Bulloch flew through some autographs, it was very likely that I would not meet him. This was hard for me to hear, but I understood. I should have heeded my friend’s warning about getting there earlier. That was when the employees asked me if I had been to Star Wars Weekend before. I told them that this was my first time, and although I was probably not going to meet Mr. Bulloch, that I was still having a lot of fun. I also told them that they were doing a great job, because they were and they deserved to hear that after being berated by so many angry “fans.” Both employees seemed very appreciative and one told me that I should go enjoy the park, but to return at a certain time and look for her signal. She told me that because I was so polite that she would make sure that I made it to meet Jeremy Bulloch. And sure enough, a few hours later I did!
Jeremy Bulloch was a super nice guy to meet. He also seemed genuinely excited to be a part of the Star Wars community. He commented on my Boba Fett hat, too, which was super cool for me. I want to tell you that I was strong, that I was totally not starstruck and had a totally cool, normal conversation. But that would be a lie. I totally dorked out and could barely say more than “thank you” to the man(dalorian). Still though, it was a really cool experience and I will always be thankful to the employees at Disney who made it happen. This brings me to my second and third Star Wars Weekend life lessons. Number two is that Star Wars fans are some of the most passionate fans in the galaxy, which makes for a lot of really cool moments. However, this also means that they have gained notoriety as being abrasive or rude, even to people involved in creating Star Wars content! If you love something, then let that be expressed in positive ways, don’t be rude to the ladies working Star Wars Weekend, don’t boo people off stage, don’t be an asshole. Life lesson number three is that politeness will get you places. All it took was for me to tell a couple of people that they were doing great at their jobs, and I overcame all odds and met an actor who had a big effect on my childhood.
Also: while I did not meet Ray Park, I passed him in a hallway. Dude was surrounded by ladies talking about how one time he accidentally did a front flip instead of a back flip and they had to re-shoot a scene in some movie. Seemed like a total bro.
So, I had accomplished my main mission for Star Wars Weekend and had the rest of the day and all day Sunday to enjoy all that the event had to offer. Mallory and I met up with my aforementioned buddy Jake and explored the park. We rode Star Tours a couple of times (this is my favorite ride in Disney, but you could probably assume that), and walked around meeting different Star Wars characters:
If you had any junk you wanted to get rid of, you could trade with Jawas! Utini!
Darth Vader would not take a picture with me until I covered up the Rebel Alliance logo on my shirt.
Had to get a picture with my girl Ahsoka and Commander Cody.
I had already met Jeremy Bulloch, so it felt wrong to not also meet Boba himself.
If this isn’t the happiest Wookie hug, then I don’t know what is.
We also checked out an excellent show put on my James Arnold Taylor all about the art of voice acting. I encourage you to go to YouTube and check out some of his performances, it will give you a whole new appreciation for voice actors.
Saturday night featured one of my favorite moments of the whole weekend: a Star Wars show hosted by James Arnold Taylor that ended in Star Wars themed fireworks. The actual show was awesome, but what really captured my attention was the crowd. Once again you could see everything from hardcore cosplayers to casual guests, but they were all brought together by the awesomeness that is Star Wars. This brings me to my fourth and final Star Wars Weekend life lesson: Star Wars brings people together. This event was filled with people of all ages and backgrounds, all super excited to be there and most were super friendly, after all we’re all a part of the big fandom that is Star Wars. This event was also pretty cool in that it got Mallory interested in watching more of the Star Wars canon, so afterwards we embarked on the multi-month journey of watching all the movies and both “Star Wars: The Clone Wars,” and “Star Wars: Rebels.”
Sadly, 2015 was the last Star Wars Weekend that Disney World did. However, with the new movies coming out, there has been a large focus in Hollywood Studios on Star Wars, so it’s kind of like every day is a part of Star Wars Weekend now. I have not had a chance to check out the new additions to the park, but I’ve heard great things! We also have the new Star Wars park to look forward, and based on the plans I’ve seen that’s going to be awesome!
Anyways, that’s it for this week. Star Wars Weekend was a magical experience and I was so glad I could experience it. I’m also super excited to go to Star Wars Celebration next year! Next week, we will return to our regularly scheduled program of talking about Star Wars canon. I will discuss the Death Star(s), from the Sith’s history of kyber crystal-powered superweapons, through the differences between the Empire’s Death Stars and the First Order’s Starkiller base. Furthermore, while I have quite a few topics that I am planning to talk about, I’m always interested in what other people want to learn about. So, if there are any topics you would like to see digested by the Sarlacc Pit, then let me know in the comments section! As always, thank you for reading, and may the Force be with you!