Star Wars Weekends Review and Overview of Characters, Events, Shows, And More

by josh on May 30, 2011

Star Wars Weekends is an annual event held at Disney’s Hollywood Studios during regular theme park hours.  There is no additional cost to attend, meaning the price of the ticket is the same as any other day.   Traditionally, the event occurs over four weekends (Friday, Saturday, Sunday) in May and June.  Occasionally, the event will not include any May dates, so you may want to plan a trip that includes the first full weekend in June if you’re planning a trip before the dates are announced and Star Wars Weekend is an integral part of the trip.  Disney usually announces the dates during the first week of February, with more details emerging as the first date draws near.  Star Wars Weekends are a lot of fun and you don’t necessarily need to be a die-hard Star Wars fan to enjoy many of the events.  Activities include indoor and outdoor stage shows, celebrity autograph sessions, special Star Wars character meet and greets, Star Wars Parades, limited edition Star Wars merchandise, a Star Wars themed dance-off, and celebrity hosted shows.  While past Weekends have included big name appearances, recent focus is on the Clone Wars animated series.  Many of the celebrity guests are voice-actors or directors on the show.  Let’s have a look at what you can expect.

Crowds

For many, the biggest concern regarding a Disney World vacation is the crowd level, both overall and specifically to an individual theme park on a specific day.  If you’re looking for the lowest crowds, you’ll want to avoid a Star Wars Weekend date.  Somewhat surprisingly, it may seem like less people are meandering about the Studios, but that’s only because they’re occupied with other activities.  So far in 2011, we’ve routinely seen triple digit waits at Toy Story Mania and Rock ‘N’ Roller Coaster, along with waits at Star Tours and Tower of Terror that are about 60% higher on average than recommended days during the week.  However, Disney has greatly extended the operating hours for Star Wars Weekend days, which means there are two or three good hours to tour in the morning and late evening.  The Park tends to clear out after Hyperspace Hoopla and the first Fantasmic.  Those of you who are late risers can have success if the Studios doesn’t close until 12am and you’re able to stay up that late.  You’ll be in great shape if you arrive prior to Park opening and take care of the headlining attractions or the major meet and greets first thing.  Once 10:30am hits, crowds are going to be significant, especially over Memorial Day Weekend and into the second Weekend in June when most schools are on summer break and crowds increase overall.

Sunset Boulevard at 12pm on May 29th.  Note that there are no Star Wars characters or activities down here, other than the merchandise tent.  These people are all going to Beauty and the Beast, Rock ‘N’ Roller Coaster, and Tower of Terror.  Or they’re lost.

The 11am Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show.  Almost completely full – a rarity, particularly for the early show, which is the least crowded.

These are people waiting to get into the Studios at 12:20pm.  Lines in the afternoon to enter the Studios are almost unheard of during recommended days during the week.

Touring Plan

You’ll be in better shape if you can swing two days at Hollywood Studios during your stay or whittle down your touring plan to just a few of the usual attractions.  That way, you can focus on the Star Wars characters, shows, events, Parade, etc. without having to worry about the Disney Jr. Live on Stage schedule or getting into position for the 3pm Parade.  You can certainly enjoy both Star Wars and “regular” activities in one day, but meeting the Star Wars characters takes a lot of time, as does lining up for a good spot for the Parade and other shows.  With only one day, you’ll need to plan carefully and decide which attractions, characters, and shows are more important.

Star Wars Weekends for Those That Have No Interest in Star Wars

While some sites may tell you that the increased crowds for Star Wars Weekends don’t translate into longer lines at attractions, I don’t buy it.  Over the first two Weekends in 2011, waits were about 60% longer than they were during recommended days during the week, on average.  That includes 100+ minute waits at Toy Story Mania and Rock ‘N’ Roller Coaster as well as 70+ minute waits at Star Tours and Tower of Terror.  Don’t go into a Star Wars Weekend expecting people to stay away from the major attractions.  While there are a lot of extra activities going on, most people will also be planning to ride the attractions and see the regular shows.  You’re much better off planning your Hollywood Studios day on a non-Weekend if you have absolutely no interest in Star Wars activities.  See the May and June Crowd Calendars for more details on which days will be the least crowded.

Star Wars Characters

One of the big draws of Star Wars Weekends is the bonus character meet and greets.  While characters aren’t guaranteed from year to year, the offerings stay mostly the same.  If anything, characters are added rather than taken away.  Here’s what’s available in 2011.

This is along San Francisco Street in the Streets of America.  It’s located on the opposite side of the elongated Star Tours queue, on the way to Premier Theater.  You’ll find a mixture of the Jedi Council, including Mace Windu, Anakin Skywalker, Shaak Tii, and Kit Fisto.   Kit and Shaak are pictured above.  As you can see, it’s a very precious moment when you do finally get to meet the characters.  The ones that are able to sign autographs do so and they take great pictures.  It really could be a memory that makes the whole trip.

You’ll also finding roaming Jawas and Stormtroopers in this area.

Queen Amidala is located in a nook near Sounds Dangerous.

A mixture of the Disney characters dressed up in their Star Wars’ best are located along the walkway down to the ABC Commissary. You may find Leia Minnie, Jedi Mickey, Darth Goofy, or Stormtrooper Donald. It’s very rare to see more than one or two at a time though, which is unfortunate. It would be really neat to get a picture with all four.

Chewbacca and an Ewok are located at the Speederbike across from Star Tours.

There will be various signs pointing in the general direction of the characters, but they aren’t particularly helpful.

Ruh roh, bad guys!

Darth Vader is located across from the Studio Catering Company, near the bathrooms.

I asked him who ran a moderately good Disney World website and he pointed right at me!!

Here’s Darth’s lair in context.

Jango Fett and Boba Fett meet across from the entrance to the Backlot Tour, only a little further up toward Pixar Place.

I guess this is more a picture of this fine looking couple rather than Darth Maul in the background. Darth Maul is located across the way from Boba and Jango Fett in the Backlot area.

You may also run into my future wife.  She is roaming about the area.

Just in case it doesn’t work out with her, I may hedge my bets next week with Zam Wessel, pictured here.  She’s also a roamer.

A variety of Clone Wars characters meet outside the Premier Theater in this oversized action figure box. They really play up their part, which is fun.

Jabba’s Hut is located behind Rock ‘N’ Roller Coaster in an area that usually isn’t accessible to guests.  Simply walk to Rock ‘N’ Roller Coaster and you’ll see an open gate.  You’ll find Disney’s version of Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, C3PO, and R2D2 inside as well as a ton of merchandise and scheduled signing sessions similar to the ones listed above.

Limited Edition Merchandise and Jabba’s Hutt

Speaking of merchandise, Jabba’s Hutt is a palace of Star Wars stuff for sale.  The limited edition pieces are the most popular, though most anything that says Star Wars Weekends sells well.  People have been known to camp out overnight for the limited edition Vinylmation sets and some of the other goodies.

The merchandise tent is so large that I had to take two pictures to capture it in most of its entirety.

Not only is it huge, but it’s wall to wall merchandise.  Since it’s located through a gate behind Rock ‘N’ Roller Coaster, you don’t necessarily have to let the kids know this place exists if you don’t want to purchase anything.

Star Wars Celebrity Autographs

Each Star Wars Weekend, a new set of Star Wars celebrities will be available for autographs.  The host(s) of the event will also sign autographs.  Celebrity autographs require a special kind of FASTPASS.  These FASTPASSes are available outside the entrance to Hollywood Studios and they will be distributed before the Park opens.  You are limited to one FASTPASS per person and you must have valid theme park admission to be issued a FASTPASS.  Generally speaking, it’s necessary to arrive and get in line by 6am to collect a FASTPASS for a celebrity autograph because the number issued is extremely limited.  Each autograph location will also have a standby line, but it’s uncommon for many of these people to receive autograph time.  The celebrities are booked for engagements throughout the day and they have a tight schedule.  While we can assume most of them would love to spend more time with their fans, they simply can’t.

Celebrity autograph sessions occur in select spots around the Park.  Most celebrities will sign anything you bring them, but Anthony Daniels refused to sign anything other than the provided black and white card.

Other celebrities appear outside underneath umbrella coverings like this one.

Star Wars Celebrity Motocade Parade

Another of the major events that most guests look forward to is the Star Wars Celebrity Motorcade Parade.  This Parade features all of the characters you see out and about posing for pictures, members of the 501st Legion: Vader’s Fist, members of the Rebel Legion, and the Star Wars celebrities attending the Weekend.  After the Parade, the participants gather on the large stage in front of Mickey’s Sorcerer’s Hat for a brief Welcome Show.  In 2011, the Parade begins at 12:40pm and runs for about 15 minutes.  Unfortunately, the Parade route is only from the Studios’ entrance to Mickey’s Sorcerer’s Hat at the end of Hollywood Boulevard.  This means that there is extremely limited space for people to line up and you’ll see people staking out spots well over an hour in advance.  If you’re looking down Hollywood Boulevard towards the Hat, you’ll want to stake out a spot on the left side of the street if possible.  The buildings help shade the sidewalk.  On the opposite side, the sun beams down relentlessly.

Check out this post if you’d like to see pictures of just about every character in the Parade.  There are too many to post here.

Expect crowds.

Premier Theater Shows

The Premier Theater shows are probably the most underrated events at Star Wars Weekend.  The Premier Theater is located a bit out of the way, down the road from Mama Melrose’s Ristorante Italiano on the Streets of America.  The Theater is extremely comfortable, with plush seating and generous air-conditioning.  There are also water fountains and bathrooms in the lobby.  Each show is hosted by one of the celebrities in town for the Weekend or the hosts of the overall event.  All shows are worth your time, especially because the surroundings are so pleasant.  Keep in mind that highs in May and June are in the upper-80s to low-90s.  A 30-minute air-conditioned show may be the rest that you need to get back out there and get in line for Chewbacca under the blazing sun.  My favorite part of the Premier Theater Shows is the Stormtrooper skit before the Star Wars Celebrity Talk Show.  Although the Talk Show is the one show I’d be willing to skip during the day, the opening skit is well worth your time.  Each day in 2011 you’ll also find the “Behind the Force” and” Obi-Wan and Beyond Starring James Arnold Taylor and a Galaxy of Voices” shows.  The former is a look at voice acting in the Star Wars: The Clone Wars animated series and features the vocal talent from that Weekend and Ashley Eckstein, voice of Ahsoka Tano.  I enjoyed the show immensely and found the content interesting, even though I had never seen an episode of the show.  Obi-Wan and Beyond is also excellent, though it doesn’t have all that much to do with Star Wars (which may or may not be a bad thing).  It’s still hilarious and well worth taking the time to see.  I’d try to fit in as many of the Premier Theater shows as possible.  The Theater is large enough that you can arrive 10-15 minutes before the start of the show and still get seated in the main section without a problem.  Note that you will line up across from the Theater and cast members will let people into the theater about ten minutes before it begins.  Only some of the waiting area is covered, so arrive 20-25 minutes early for the best seats and a cooler, covered waiting area.

The Premier Theater entrance from the outside.

The preshow to the Star Wars Talk Show, featuring Stormtroopers, Chewbacca, R2D2, C3Po, and other special guests.

Behind the Force hosted by Ashley Eckstein

Event Stage Shows

Disney set up a large stage in front of Mickey’s Sorcerer’s Hat at the end of Hollywood Boulevard to host Star Wars Weekends’ biggest event, Hyperspace Hoopla.  The Padawan Mind Challenge also takes place twice daily on the Event Stage.  The Padawan Mind Challenge is a short trivia content starring about 20 kids age eleven and younger from the audience.  You must sign your child up first thing in the morning if you would like them to participate.  Both shows are usually full within the first hour of operation.  In 2011, signups were held in front of Sounds Dangerous, which is down the road from American Idol Experience and on the way to Star Tours. Basically, the hosts ask the kids a variety of Star Wars related trivia questions with two possible answers and the kids hold up a colored lightsaber to indicate their choice. It isn’t a whole lot of fun unless your child is participating. It also isn’t crowded so you can show up right before it begins and get a fine spot. In 2011, there were two shows daily – one at 2:10pm and one at 6:30pm. The 6:30pm show is more crowded because people are already finding spots for Hyperspace Hoopla.

Padawan Mind Challenge hosts and participants.

Hyperspace Hoopla is probably the biggest single event of Star Wars Weekends.  The show takes place once daily, usually beginning in the evening around 7:45pm.  It features almost all of the characters that are out and about during the day in a sort of dance-off production.  Spots near the front are usually taken about 90 minutes before the show begins.  Luckily, the large screen outside American Idol Experience plays the show live in real-time if you don’t want to deal with the crowds around the stage.  The show is also loud and you may be able to get a better view by simply backing up bit toward the entrance. It’s a fun show that most people thoroughly enjoy.

Watch the entire show in HD if you like.

Good spots are hard to come by for Hoopla.  Even those of us who would normally be tall enough to see won’t be able to see over all of the kids on their parents’ shoulders.

Jedi Training Academy

Jedi Training Academy was originally a Star Wars Weekend show, but it is now scheduled every day of the week all year on a stage adjacent to Star Tours.  However, Disney has doubled the number of shows on Star Wars Weekend dates.  Still, you’ll need to head straight to the signup table (outside Sounds Dangerous in 2011) to sign your child up to participate.  Please see the Hollywood Studios Touring Overview for more information about the signup/ticket process as well as more information about what the show entails.  All shows are usually filled within the first hour of Park operation.  In 2011, shows began at 9:15am, 9:45am, 10:15am, 10:45am, 11:15am, 11:45am, 12:15pm, 1:30pm, 2:00pm, 3:45pm, 4:15pm, 4:45pm, 5:15pm, 5:45pm, 6:15pm.  Basically, there is almost always a show running other than during the major Parades.  I highly recommend trying to sign your child up if they enjoy Star Wars – it will likely be the highlight of their trip.

The “Normal” Stuff

In addition to all of the Star Wars characters, shows, events, parades, and activities, almost all of the normal stuff also occurs during Star Wars Weekends.  All of the regular attractions will be open as usual.  The normal 3pm Parade is still scheduled at 3pm, along with all of the usual shows like Disney Channel Rocks, Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular, Voyage of the Little Mermaid etc.  You could say that it’s just like any normal day at the Studios, other than all of the “bonus activities.”

Overall

Star Wars Weekends are a lot of fun, even for those who don’t necessarily love Star Wars.  I am only a casual fan and I thoroughly enjoyed “meeting” Darth Vader, taking in the Premier Theater Shows, getting celebrity autographs, watching the Star Wars Parade, and everything else that goes along with the Weekends.  It does increase crowds and wait times so you’ll want to be mindful of that fact.  Other than Memorial Day Weekend it won’t be “crazy busy,” but there will be less crowded days during the week.  As previously recommended, you may want to plan on spending one day at the Studios to enjoy the Star Wars festivities and visit on at least one other morning to take care of Toy Story Mania and the other headlining attractions.  If that isn’t possible, you’ll need to carefully plan your day and decide what activities and attractions are more important.  Whether you’re planning your vacation specifically to enjoy Star Wars Weekends or it’s merely an added benefit (or annoyance?) of visiting in May and June, I think it’ll be a lot of fun.  Of course, you can easily visit other Parks on Weekend dates if you have no interest in it.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Donna (breezy2) June 1, 2011 at 11:34 am

Excellent information and so indepth. I will likely never attend a Star wars Weekend, because I am not a big enough fan to deal with the crowds. But I really enjoyed reading about it. I never realized just how much goes on. Thanks Josh.

Keri June 4, 2011 at 11:18 am

We are heading out to Hollywood Studios tomorrow and this information covered everything I needed to we are better prepared than last year. Now, if only you could arrange for some cooler weather…Thanks!

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