Hello fellow riders and welcome back to the WDW Ride Guide. I’m your host Ben Crain. This is it, the week we have all been waiting for! This week Star Wars The Force Awakens, the seventh installment of Star Wars films, hits theaters. Hopefully you secured those tickets weeks ago. If you are excited about the new movie, you will also be excited about today’s ride! We are exploring the NEW Star Wars Launch Bay. Let’s get started with our know before you go essential facts:
- The exhibit is located in Disney’s Hollywood Studios
- Fastpass + is not available
- The fright factor is 0 out of 5
- Guests can be any height
- This exhibit opened on Dec. 1st, 2015
Those are the facts. Now time for the fun!
Yes, a Jedi’s strength flows from the Force. But beware of the dark side. Anger, fear, aggression; the dark side of the Force are they. Easily they flow, quick to join you in a fight. If once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will, as it did Obi-Wan’s apprentice.
So said Yoda, at the wise old age of 900. He believed the dark side would forever dominate your path. Well, fortunately he was wrong. When Luke Skywalker was faced with his choice to follow the dark side or stay in the light, he chose to remain a Jedi like his father before him. In doing so, he saved his father and proved Yoda wrong. It was possible for Anakin to give into the dark side, but still be brought back by his son’s faith in him. Fortunately for him, the dark side did not dominate his destiny forever.
Well, today you have the same choice to make as you enter the Star Wars Launch Bay at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. This brand NEW exhibit is home to an amazing collection of Star Wars artwork, props, models, and characters. Inside there are two paths you can choose from, the dark side or the light side. Don’t worry though, it is safe to explore both paths. You won’t be turned into a Sith Lord if you explore the dark side gallery. However, you could come face to face with Lord Vader himself! On the flip side, you can see the ships, weapons, and costumes of the rebel alliance. Stay on this path and you can meet one of the rebellions greatest heroes, Chewbacca!
Either way, you begin your journey by making your way to the old animation courtyard at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Along the way you may encounter some real life First Order Stormtroopers patrolling the area as they look for members of the resistance. Be prepared to either show your i.d. or use that old Jedi mind trick to convince them they don’t need to see your identification. If you make it safely pass these patrols, you will see the new facade with the giant sign reading Star Wars Launch Bay.
If you have been to Hollywood Studios before, or remember back to the days of Disney’s MGM Studios, you will recognize this building as the former home of The Magic of Disney Animation. I have to pause here for a moment of silence to this lost hero of attractions. When I was a younger, this was my absolute favorite part of all Walt Disney World. When the studios were still producing animated films by hand, you could walk through this building and look through large glass windows to see animators actually creating the next Disney animated film right before your eyes. My childhood dream was to be on the other side of that glass, crafting characters and stories as a Disney animator. I can still remember seeing those animated cells being brought to life by the talented artists working below. Unfortunately, as time went on things changed and all animation was moved back to the West coast. This once vibrant home of working artists became a gallery of history. The windows were covered up, the process of animation changed, and the public interest in this dying art was lost. In its final days, the tour was turned into a character photo op, featuring the likes of the Incredibles and Wreck-it-Ralph. There was a short film covering the animation process, but it starred Mushu from Mulan, and needless to say was pretty dated. So, while I’m sad to see The Magic of Disney Animation go, its time had come. Plus, if there is one thing I love almost as much as animation it’s Star Wars!
So, let’s get back to the Star Wars Launch Bay. When you first enter the exhibit you will pass by a series of backlit paintings. Each work of art is about 3 feet tall and 4 feet wide and features scenes from all across the Star Wars universe. You can see a stylized recreation of C-3PO walking the dessert of Tatooine, Ezra Bridger and the Star Wars Rebels crew in flight, a study of BB-8, and Anakin Skywalker taking on destroyer droids, just to name a few. Each piece is really beautiful and a great way to get you in the Star Wars frame of mind as you enter the Launch Bay.
Inside the main building you will see life size replicas of an X-Wing fighter pilot costume and a Tie Interceptor pilot costume. They are all behind glass and beautifully lit from above. Within each case there is also a group of models of some of the films’ most famous ships. You will see ships like a Star Destroyer, B-Wing, Y-Wing, and of course Boba Fett’s Slave 1. The Launch Bay really is a gallery of the most iconic pieces from the Star Wars universe. As a grown adult who still proudly displays his 1977 Star Wars action figures, I can say this is collector’s dream come true!
The further in you go, the larger the models become! There are life size replicas of Anakin’s pod racer and my personal favorite, the 74-Z speeder bike from Return of the Jedi. Next, you will come to a makeshift cantina. I say makeshift because the room is not filled with the strange aliens found in Episode IV, nor can you actually walk up to the bar and place an order for some blue Bantha milk. Hopefully we will get all of this when the new Star Wars land opens in a few years. For now, you can interact with some real life Jawas in this spot. Here is a great tip: The Jawas are notorious traders and the little hooded guys in the Launch Bay are ready to make you a deal. If you bring along something to trade, you can walk out with something cool like a Star Wars themed button. I suggest bringing a writing pin or cheap pair of sunglasses to barter with. Of course, they will be happy to take your iPhone, but I doubt you will get something of equivalent value in return. They are out to make a profit after all!
If video games are more your speed, just move along and you will find a room full of monitors hooked up to Disney Infinity game systems. These feature the newest Disney Infinity edition and even include a toy box created exclusively for the Star Wars Launch Bay.
After satisfying your inner gamer, the galleries keep coming and even include items from the new film Star Wars The Force Awakens! There is a super cool First Order Flame Trooper who is toting a giant flame thrower. Nearby you can get an up close and personal look at Kylo Ren’s lightsaber as well as some other weapons used by the First Order troopers. Across the room is a scaled down version of the Millennium Falcon as well as some weapons from the Resistance.
Among my favorites in the new Launch Bay are the cases which house helmets and lightsabers. On the dark side you have a Clone Trooper helmet, Stormtrooper helmet, AT-AT driver helmet, and a new First Order Stormtrooper helmet. In the lightsaber case you can find the unique weapons of Darth Sidious, Count Dooku, Darth Vader, the Inquisitor, and Darth Maul. Their counterparts can be found on the light side gallery and include helmets from Luke Skywalker, Sabin Wren, and Poe Dameron from the new film. In the lightsaber case you will see weapons from your favorite Jedi like Master Yoda, Mace Windu, Ahsoka Tano, and Ezra Bridger. The detail in all of these props is so amazing! I wish I could add them all to my personal collection.
Well, that isn’t possible. Or is it? But wait, I’m getting ahead of myself. First let’s talk about what awaits you at the end of the dark side and light side galleries. As I said before, this is your chance to meet Darth Vader and Chewbacca! Not only can you meet them, but you will be able to actually interact and take pictures. Chewie is most welcoming and invites you in with his adorable roar. The 7’6” wookie is a big fur ball eager to give a hug. On the other hand, Lord Vader is slightly less friendly. You may think he wouldn’t have much to say, but when you meet Darth Vader you will find he has many words of warning and direction for you. Feel free to talk to the cloaked figure, but be prepared for a trademark force choke if you get out of hand.
Now these two character meets are a ton of fun, which is why they are so popular. Be prepared to wait an hour or more for each character, as the lines for these two can grow pretty long. Unfortunately, there is no Fastpass + option, so you will have to practice the patience of a Jedi Master if you want that photo.
There is one way you can get your picture without the long wait. For those of you that have a Disney Visa credit card, you can visit the Imperial Meet ’n’ Greet inside the Star Wars Launch Bay from 11am-4pm. Be sure to have your card with you as you must present it to enjoy the exclusive privilege.
Regardless of how you do it, I think you will highly enjoy meeting Darth Vader and Chewbacca. This is a unique opportunity and the perfect way to cap off your Star Wars Launch Bay experience. Well, actually the perfect way to wind down your experience. To cap it off you will want to check out Launch Bay Cargo, the retail store for all things Star Wars. When I say all things, I mean ALL things. There are numerous pieces of art and prints for sale. And as you would expect, there are action figures, shirts, lightsabers and lots of BB-8 merchandise. What you might not expect are the life size replica costumes available to order. They include a $700 Darth Vader helmet, an $1800 complete Stormtrooper costume, a $4000 Darth Vader costume, and more!
If wearing the costume seems silly, don’t worry. You can buy life size statues of certain characters that will look just lovely in your living room. The Stormtrooper statue only runs $9000. So, if your bank account equals the size of your Star Wars fandom, this might just be the thing for you. The only bad news is that you can’t take it with you same day. The costumes and statues are all special order and will take a minimum of 6 weeks to arrive on your doorstep.
If instant gratification sounds better, you can customize a Magic Band or cell phone case with your favorite Star Wars imagery here in the Launch Bay Cargo store. You can even have your name imprinted on the Magic Band and choose either English or Aurebush, the language of the outer rim. The Aurebush symbols are pretty cool looking and can be found all throughout the Star Wars Launch Bay.
Well, there is a lot more cool merchandise I could drone on about, but suffice to say this is a great spot to get your collecting on!
With so many great things to see at the Star Wars Launch Bay, you will want to dedicate a couple of hours to this new exhibit. Seeing the two characters alone could take up that much time, so don’t sell yourself short when planning this part of your Disney trip. As we discussed last week there is also the new Jedi Training: Trials of the Temple over by Star Tours-The Adventures Continue. Before we go I want to at least mention the film Star Wars Path of the Jedi and the new fireworks show Symphony in the Stars: A Galactic Spectacular.
Star Wars Path of the Jedi is a 10 minute film that was created exclusively for the Disney parks. The film is a masterful compilation of the best scenes from episodes I-VI. You begin by hearing the voice of old Obi-Wan Kenobi. As he retells the story of the Jedi, corresponding images from the different films fill the screen. The blending of his thoughtful, reflective narration with scenes from all six films brings the whole story together. If you aren’t a big fan of the prequels, then this is the film for you. You will see all the relative scenes from those 3 movies and Jar-Jar is nowhere to be found! Star Wars Path of the Jedi pulls into focus the ongoing fight between the light side and the dark side. You see the evolution of the series through this lens and it is pretty stirring. Towards the end of the film, the attention shifts from Return of the Jedi to The Force Awakens. A trailer for the new movie concludes this film and I must admit, it gets me pretty excited! I don’t normally like to recommend viewing things from within the park via the internet. However, I am making an exception in this case. If you haven’t seen the new movie, The Force Awakens, go google Star Wars Path of the Jedi and watch this 10 minute masterpiece. I guarantee you will be even more excited about the new movie after you finish watching it.
As for the essential facts with Star Wars Path of the Jedi, the film is being shown inside the ABC Sound Studio, former home to Sounds Dangerous. This space has more recently been hosting previews of Disney films or showing behind the scenes footage of the company’s most popular movies. Fastpass + is offered for Star Wars Path of the Jedi, but given its short running time it is unlikely you will need to reserve a Fastpass + for this show. Given the temporary nature of viewings in this building, it is hard to say how long Star Wars Path of the Jedi will stick around. If you will be in the parks in the near future be sure and check it out while you can!
The other exciting new offering is Symphony in the Stars: A Galactic Spectacular. This nighttime fireworks show takes place over the Chinese Theater, home of The Great Movie Ride. On select evenings you can feast your eyes on the fireworks and let your ears take in music from all of the movies, including music from The Force Awakens. This Star Wars themed show is the perfect ending credits for your getaway to the galaxy far far away!
Well, as usual I could go on and on when talking about Star Wars, but I will stop there. I’m so excited about the new movie and the new ways fans can celebrate this beloved universe at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. I think Disney has done a spectacular job of brining us lots of new experiences as we wait for the more permanent Star Wars land to be constructed in the park. If you get out to see the Star Wars Launch Bay, Jedi Training: Trials of the Temple, updated Star Tours – the Adventures Continue, or any of the other fun experiences I would love to hear what you think. Please send me an e-mail to email@example.com.
For now that will not only wrap up this week, but it will also wrap up 2015 here at the WDW Ride Guide Podcast. Next week will be Christmas followed by New Year’s. If you listened to our very first episode you may remember I am a retail manager by day. So, the next couple of weeks will be among my busiest of the year. When I do get off work I plan to spend as much time with my family as possible. That means we will not have any new episodes for the next couple of weeks. We will in early January, ready for 2016, so keep updating that podcast feed or come by our Facebook page to learn when the next podcast is up!
As we wrap up our first year of podcasting I want to say thank you! Sitting down to talk to you each week has enriched my life this year. I love sharing my passion for Disney with you, and it means so much to me that you take the time to listen. I truly hope that at least one of our episodes has helped to inform you in such a way that you have a more magical vacation the next time you get to go to Walt Disney World.
I also want to thank my friend Darrell over at Pro Podcast Solutions for editing our episodes every week and making them sound better than I could ever hope for. Without his help we would not be here today. Finally, a big thanks to my wife Rachel. She has taken time every week to preview each episode. Her attention to detail and creative input have contributed to our podcast more than you will ever know. Thanks sweetie!
Now, go enjoy some time with your family. Maybe sit down and start planning that next big Disney trip while you are all together over the holiday season! Remember, if I can help, I’m eagerly waiting to hear from you. Please
Until next year, make each day a ride worth taking, Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year!