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Star Wars Weekend 2009 Preview

What in the World?
A weekly peek at Walt Disney World

Monday, May 18, 2009

This is it folks. Star Wars Weekend is upon us. After a year of waiting patiently with Luke Skywalker action figure in hand, Disney’s Hollywood Studios is once again hosting Star Wars Weekend for the next four weekends. For a fan of both Star Wars and Disney, I am looking forward to what this year has to offer. And even though last year was my first time to SWW, I still learned a lot about how to effectively tour the event without overreaching.

This year, us Web 2.0 navigators were fortunate enough to receive a bit of a head’s up with the first weekend’s guide map. And after taking a look around, there are some notable differences between last year and this year that I am making a note of before I head down to park on Friday. Let’s take a look at some of these changes.

FASTPASS. Perhaps the biggest change this year is the location of the FASTPASS for autographs. Last year, at least, the FASTPASS machines were located at the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular. Lines started forming at the turnstiles the day before, and by sunrise, were sometimes hundreds of people long. As the cast members did not want to cause overcrowded in front of the turnstiles, they sent people waiting in line into the park to wait. As more people came in, the line progressed farther and farther toward the FASTPASS machines. Then about 30-45 minutes to park opening, the lines were walked to the FASTPASS machines. When 9:00 am rolled around, cast members began handing out one FASTPASS for every person with a ticket. This year, somehow the lines appear to be staying outside, and FASTPASS distribution will begin before opening. Where or how the cast members plan to wrangle the hundreds of people in line outside of the park without intimating regular guests remains a mystery to me.

To me, last year’s system worked fine, but seemed overly complicated. In essence, cast members made you wait in three separate lines: the line that started at the turnstiles, the line just inside the park, and then the pre-opening line near the FASTPASS machines. I remember thinking in Weekend Four, the FASTPASS line for autographs felt like a very cruel march, as the heat and humidity of summer made it increasingly difficult to be patient in line. This year, however, may be advantageous because of the prospect of FASTPASS distribution prior to opening. Let’s say I wanted to meet Ray Park and was 125th in line. While I want to get my autograph FASTPASS, I’m also anxious to get FASTPASSes for Toy Story Midway Mania, or want to find some characters to take pictures with before the parks get too hot and crowded. Well, assuming the FASTPASSes are distributed by 8:45 am, you could still conceivably head toward the turnstiles and make your way to whatever other destination you want at park opening. Last year’s method would have you waiting while the first 125 people slowly made their way to the FASTPASS distribution area at Indiana Jones’ Epic Stunt Spectacular. By the time you got your autograph FASTPASS, you would be lagging behind regular park guests who got to start their day promptly at 9:00 am.

I’m hopeful that this new FASTPASS distribution scheme will make my day at least a little easier in the park. In my opinion, the less I have to wait in line, the better.

The Revised Schedule. The schedule of events this year does not overlap too much with anything else in order to provide everyone has the opportunity to see everything. The only problem I saw was the scheduling of the 11:00 am presentation of Behind the Force, followed by the 11:40 am Star Wars Motorcade. Last year, I went to the first the Behind the Force presentation at 10:00 am. That show lasted a good 30 minutes and was very well done. I promised myself I would catch the first show again this year because I was able to get that out of the way quickly and still have time to see other things throughout the day. This year, however, the Behind the Force show has a bit of a different format, hosted by Ashley Eckstein, the voice actor for Ahsoka in the Clone Wars animated television series. This has pushed the start time to 11:00 am. Well assuming you also want to see the Star Wars Motorcade, you’ll need to make your way out of the Premiere Theater right when the Behind the Force presentation ends (presumably at around 11:30 am) and quickly head towards the parade route. Even then, however, you’ll most likely have a poor viewing spot. I for one like to see the 501st and the celebrities up close and personal, and will most likely have to either attend the 3:35 pm Behind the Force, or wait until the parade on Saturday. Despite this small setback, it appears as if Disney has really tried to not have any shows, presentations, or parades coincide with one another.

Merchandise. As Colin has wrote on our Star Wars Weekend site, this year feels a little bit different in terms of merchandise available. While I enjoy Star Wars The Clone Wars animated television show, I am not the biggest fan in the world. So the pins, coins, and other limited edition merchandise that involves the Clone Wars I have a bit stand-offish about. I agree with Colin when he says that items won’t sell out quickly this year. I don’t think I’ll be waiting in line for the limited edition Merchandise as I did last year on the first day of Star Wars Weekends as I’m just not that jazzed about what they are offering. Instead, I’ll probably head over there in between the Star Wars Celebrity Talk Show and the 3:35 pm showing of Behind the Force.

It will be interesting to experience Star Wars Weekends with some of these new changes and feels. In a year where there just isn’t a lot to be excited about in terms of the Star Wars Universe, I am hopeful that SWW itself will remain as fun and enjoyable as it was last year.

Interested in following along with me on the first day of Star Wars Weekends? Be sure to check out my live blog this Friday (May 22) as I hit the highlights of Star Wars Weekends, take pictures, and provide some opinions. Come back to the site this week for more information!