The opening weekend of Star Wars Weekend always holds great excitement for me, especially after a particularly hectic week of flying around the galaxy, well, Planet Earth. I met up with Meghan and Kim for a quick dinner at the new BurgerFi in Altamonte Springs before we headed down the Disney’s Hollywood Studios for something I haven’t done in over a decade: an overnight camp out for tickets, or in this case, FastPasses for an autograph signing with Peter Mayhew, known to many as the beloved Chewbacca. We set up camp with yoga mats and blankets around 8:30PM and settled in to watch the Symphony in the Stars Fireworks Show.
Around 5:45AM, Kim roused me from my sleep, so we could start packing up our yoga mats and blankets. The rustling of fans waking and breaking down their camps snapped me awake. At six, the cast members worked the lines passing out wristbands for the respective autograph sessions, however, it was well over another hour before the FastPasses were distributed. I couldn’t figure out what the reasoning behind the delay was because honestly, I wanted to get my gear back to the car and prepare for the day ahead.
After we finally got our paper accompaniment to our wristbands, we hauled our camp back to the cars and freshened up. We returned to the gates prior to the rope drop, and enjoyed a little gentle taunting by the Stormtroopers. With two hours to kill prior to our audience with Peter Mayhew, we hit up Darth’s Mall before the frenzied masses made our shopping experience akin to Black Friday.
Darth’s Mall received a massively glorious facelift this year. Based on last year’s heat wave and the surge of guest complaints, SWW did the smartest thing possible: they moved DM into the building next to Pixar Place instead of the back lot asphalt by Tower of Terror. Last year, I nearly fainted from standing outside in the heat for well over an hour an a half just to get a foot in the door. The biggest things I took home were a sun burn, dehydration, and sweaty pits.
Truth be told, one of the biggest selling points for this year’s SWW Name Tags were that they were not just orange and blue, but Florida Orange and Blue! Thankfully the annual pass holder version was a blue tag with orange engraving. The inverse of the orange tag with blue writing was quite difficult to read. The line was far shorter than we expected, so before the queue grew any further, we hopped in and submitted our customization orders. While they were engraved we looped around to the merchandise and art gallery.
The art available on Disney property is nothing short of breathtaking, but the purchasing process can be overwhelming. I was upset when a cast member pulled a piece out of my hands because he had a buyer on the telephone. It initially put me off from wanting to invest in a piece all together. I appreciate sales associates desiring to do an exemplary job, but leaving pieces unattended makes them fair game for the other consumers unless a notation or placard is displayed.
By far, I am still mooning over Tsuneo Sanda’s “Labyrinth“, but I need to get a giclee print as the canvas is way out of my price range. Contemplating my design scheme for my home office, Kim helped me narrow my decision to two options, but in the end, I selected Louis Solis’ “Kessel Run Qualifiers” fine art lithograph. To my surprise, when I got to hotel later, I discovered that it was a signed version. Now that my art monster was sated, we hit Ackbar’s Snack Bar!
Only on certain occasions, do I justify having a cocktail before brunch appropriate hours, but a Death Star glow globe waved me over. Though many wag a finger at a $14.50 cocktail, but those imbibing on property will be relieved to know that like at the resorts, the pours are heavy and comparable to night clubs or hotel lounges. I had to nurse my beverage longer than I’m willing to admit, but The Dark Side was deliciously fruity, but undeniably strong.
We wandered around the familiar trails of DHS, and snagged a photo with Queen Amidala which helped shave off some time prior to meeting Peter Mayhew. When the report time arrived for our FastPasses, we headed over to the ABC Sound Studio and were quickly ushered inside. The process was quick, and we were out within ten minutes. Mayhew is a lovely gentleman and he was in great spirits, talking with us as he signed photographs and posed for pictures. I had heard that he disliked exceptionally personal questions, so I kept it simple and merely thanked him for the opportunity to finally meet someone I admired from childhood.
Stars of The Saga hosted by James Arnold Taylor and featuring Peter Mayhew and Ahmed Best. We had FastPasses for this event and queued up nearly 45 minutes prior. The biggest issue I had with the use of MagicBands for this panel was that show standbys were allowed into the theatre at the same time as those with FPs. The scanning process of MagicBands was time consuming, leading to those expecting special seat accommodations to a little flustered. We lucked out, scoring two seats at the end of the second row, but there were people nearby expressing their discontent to cast members. I have a feeling that this might be remedied by allowing those with FPs admission prior to the standbys. This may require a slightly greater staggering of the stage entertainment, but it may alleviate some headaches.
Social media has played an interesting part within my SWW experience. At every live event throughout the day, the promotion of event specific hashtags were touted left and right. During Stars of the Saga, emcee James Arnold Taylor got me lassoed me into the SWW hashtag (#SWWFinale) melee by snapping a SWW Selfie (#SWWSelfie) with members of the audience, right in front of where we were sitting. Not only did I immediately start following him and guests Ahmed Best and Peter Mayhew on Twitter, but no sooner did the event conclude, I went back onto Instagram, tagging my photographic adventure throughout the day. “Your photos could end up in the finale… May the Force be with you!”
After a little more shopping, a trip to Star Tours, and some moseying, we decided to check into our off property hotel to recharge away from the heat and sweaty fandom masses. Having attended SWW last year, we tackled most of the character greetings previously, and being annual pass holders, we were in no hurry to ride the standard attractions. Plus, after spending the night sleeping outside under the stars and all day in the Florida heat, we were ripe for showers. I refused to put on my brand new HerUniverse racerback while all dirty. I wanted to be fresh-faced for Symphony in the Sky and back in time to stake a claim for a primo viewing vantage point.
Symphony in the Stars
I gained a surprising number of followers later that night following Symphony in the Stars! The rather awesome photo of Kim and I with Chewbacca and one of the Ewoks popped up in the montage prior to the fireworks celebration. Yes, we unabashedly squealed like ‘tweens at a boy band concert. How else would one celebrate? By claiming bragging rights on the very social media responsible for putting the photos there in the first place! The happiest part was knowing that my photo helped others have a keepsake of their experience as they didn’t have a clean shot of the screen or time to snap a shot.
After a very long day, we showered and collapsed into our beds. My head swam from all the excitement, but I needed more. I knew this weekend would be my only guaranteed chance to truly enjoy the event, so I decided to maximize my time while in the area.