Star Wars Weekends begins this Friday and for many enthusiastic fans, this will be their opportunity to experience everything Star Wars Weekends has to offer. But if you want to experience it all, there's definitely a smart way to do it all so you don't end up feeling like you were run over by a bantha. Before you feel like you can take on the whole Empire, follow these "tracks" for the optimal experience.
There's a good reason Star Wars Weekends is three days for each weekend. The smartest thing you can do is spread your visit over the tree days and focus on one of three "tracks" per day. At its core, Star Wars Weekends is comprised of celebrities, events and merchandise. Therefore, it's important to pick one of these tracks per day and focus on accomplishing that goal for the day. By spreading your trip over multiple days, you'll have tremendously more flexibility and feel less stressed.
I understand dedicating three days to Star Wars Weekends isn't practical for everyone, but even two days makes a big difference over trying to cram it all in in one day. The more time you can afford to spend at Star Wars Weekends, the easier it is to "see it all".
If events are your priority, then you're going to want to arrive at Disney's Hollywood Studios about an hour before the park officially opens (7am since the park is scheduled to open at 8). If you have kids, the first thing you'll want to do is head to the Star Wars Weekends information desk and sign them up for the Jedi Training Academy and/or the Padawan Mind Challenge. By heading here first, you'll ensure your kids get a spot in the event.
After, you'll need to consult the Star Wars Weekends schedule to look at the shows and their times. To be honest, most shows are spaced out enough that you can see them all in one day. By prioritizing the shows for one day, you'll find it tremendously easier to see them all if you aren't concenred about celebrity autographs or merchandise as well.
Most shows are only shown once and they will be popular, so if you can show up at least 30 minutes in advance, if not earlier. Many shows are in the Premier Theater, which has a high capacity (about a thousand) so it's not as tough to get into these shows as they used to be.
Without a doubt, meeting the celebrities in attendance at Star Wars Weekends is the toughest thing to do. Even if you play your cards right and show up to Disney's Hollywood Studios ridiculously early, at best you'll likely see one or two per day. Unlike other Star Wars conventions, Star Wars Weekends offers free autograph sessions, so spots for these go very quickly.
A few weeks ago I wrote a detailed column about when to arrive for Star Wars Weekends autographs, so you can consult that. By far for the autographs, it's the most important to arrive early. And when I say early, I mean EARLY. If you can manage to get out of bed and to the Studios before 5am, you will reap the benefits of no issue with getting to meet the celeb of your choice. If you're not that motivated (or crazy), then you can try for arriving 60-120 minutes prior to the park opening and hoping for the best.
A quick word about "standby FASTPASS's": In addition to the FASTPASS's that guests can receive to meet the Star Wars Weekend celebrities, there are standby tickets passed out for "if there's extra time". These tickets come with no guarantees but between guaranteed FASTPASS no-shows and just time at the end, there's usually time for people with the standby tickets to meet the celebs too. The exception has been celebs that are notoriously self-absorbed and the ones with health problems. If you were to ask me, I'd say a standby ticket has a pretty good chance at getting used so if you have the opportunity to grab one, then grab it.
When we talk about Star Wars Weekends merchandise, there's the limited edition merchandise and then there's everything else. The limited edition merchandise is the stuff that most Star Wars fans in attendance are clamoring for and it's the stuff that will generate a crazy long line on the first day of Star Wars Weekends.
If you want to purchase some of the limited edition items, I'd recommend arriving an hour before park opening at least and looking for the line for merchandise. Usually there's a line set up (organized or impromptu) and usually it's on the right side of the gates (don't quote me on that). Like it or not, a lot of the limited edition stuff ends up being eBay fodder but there's plenty of collectors who just want their piece too.
If you don't care about the limited edition merchandise and just want either generic Star Wars items or Star Wars Weekends themed stuff (i.e. shirts), then I'd recommend avoiding day one and come back any other day and enjoy a line-free shopping experience.
If all else fails
By following these tracks above, you'll be in an ideal situation but for many people that simply is not in the cards. For many people, they only have one day (or less) to experience Star Wars Weekends and if you're game plan is to arrive around 11am and be done by dinner time, enjoy just being in the park. You'll find plenty to do, just take your time and as Obi-Wan says, "learn patience".