For a period Disney’s Hollywood Studios than Disney-MGM Studios was in many ways spearheading the latest and greatest attractions at Walt Disney World. With attractions such as the infamous The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror™ that is arguably still the best all around Disney attraction at Walt Disney World, joined by the likes of Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster and Fantasmic! it is almost perplexing to walk around Disney’s Hollywood Studios today and see it in such disarray searching for a new identity that the company’s CEO Bob Iger has already told us will require yet another name for the park. Luckily the Walt Disney Company appears to be ready to take on the challenges its third major Walt Disney World theme park faces and has already announced at this past D23 Expo, Toy Story Land and a Star Wars themed land for the park. But those experiences won’t open for guests presumably for years with the Star Wars land appearing to be the one with most promise and also the furthest out from its completion date. That leaves a Walt Disney World theme park still charging steep prices while delivering a relatively mediocre experience when compared to other Disney Parks and in the midst of an Orlando theme park landscape that every day grows more competitive. With a park in transition the answer by the Walt Disney Company to this temporary problem has been themed franchise-driven overlays.
It began with an attempt to capitalize on the absolutely massive success of Walt Disney Animation’s Frozen that brought relatively inexpensive attractions to the theme park in an effort to pad its dwindling roster of must visit attractions. This included an ice skating rink, themed food options and a sing-along stage show featuring the film’s protagonist sisters. With Frozen 2 waiting in the distance and Frozen Summer Fun having long hit its peak it was time for a new theme for a Disney’s Hollywood Studios overlay, one that also carried with it a movie that too is expected to break just about every movie record ever set before this side of a galaxy far, far away. Enter Star Wars: The Force Awakens and a marketing push that knows no limits. It may also be the perfect theme, if you temper your expectations and accept it for what it is, for an overlay that provides Disney’s Hollywood Studios with just enough enhancements to make your Disney Hollywood Studios visit that much more pleasant, despite the still ever-so-obvious shortcomings of a theme park awaiting its major reawakening the likes of which we saw rather recently at Disney California Adventure as part of its major renovation at the Disneyland Resort. We did just that and found the additions of Star Wars enhancements and attractions throughout the park that amount to a “Star Wars Weekends lite” to be rather enjoyable and give the slightest of peeks at what lies ahead for a future focus on the Star Wars saga at the theme park to be named later. Join us now as we take you for a tour of these new experiences and highlight them with incredible photos that do it justice.
Star Wars Launch Bay
Certainly finding a home within the Animation Courtyard doesn’t make the most thematic sense for Star Wars Launch Bay, the grandest of the new additions that have arrived with this Star Wars overlay. But with construction on Toy Story Land and the Star Wars themed land set to begin early next year, space was needed somewhere away from that action and The Magic of Disney Animation fell victim to this current need. Despite my love for animation, the former attraction was a shell of what it once was during its glory days and Star Wars Launch Bay along with the hype surrounding Star Wars: The Force Awakens undoubtedly breathes new life into the space and ends up being a definite improvement over what was there before. It’s admittedly a low bar but one look at guests’ faces as they are surrounded by Star Wars concept art, movie props, memorabilia and character experiences and you know that Disney did its job.
There is no missing Star Wars Launch Bay. From the moment you walk under the Animation Courtyard’s archway you are greeted with oversized red First Order banners letting you know the force has awakened at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. The Star Wars Launch Bay sign itself is far from understated and definitely beckons guests, letting them know they’ve come to the right spot. But in case this was all still too new to you, it wouldn’t be long before a First Order Stormtrooper patrol would make sure you aren’t up to any resistance minded activities and send you along your way. This experience itself, while it may not seem like a tentpole feature of the Star Wars Launch Bay experience, it is and we are giving it the kudos it deserves below.
Star Wars First Order Stormtrooper Patrol
This is Star Wars land or at least what it should be. Character and story driven experiences that literally break the bounds of what is considered a theme park experience today and what it could be in the future. It isn’t that we haven’t seen Stormtroopers on patrol at Star Wars Weekends before but those felt more contrived whereas this version of the First Order’s Stormtrooper Patrols blended in with the guest experience, that is until swarms of guests hustled to get their chance to get a sight of them. It was nothing short of exhilarating to see guests so enthused about seeing these characters they’ve seen in trailers for the new Star Wars saga about to hit the big screen, alive before them, commanding them around, muttering quirky banter and behaving as Stormtroopers might with the exception that these may pose for an occasional photo. More than the new paint on the walls and even the some of the glorious movie props which I thoroughly enjoyed, it was these small character interactions that made the park feel abuzz in a way that I really haven’t seen at a Disney Park in so long because characters have been confined to their “perfectly crafted” picture spots to ensure Disney PhotoPass gets the perfect photo of your family. But that misses the point, photos are wonderful and you know how much they mean to us and the work we do but they don’t replace unforgettable memories and I’ll trade you the most amazing photo for an incredible core memory every time. That’s what these Stormtroopers and other “roaming” characters are doing at Star Wars Launch Bay and if Star Wars land delivers this concept in new and amazing ways they will transform the theme park experience with more than just great innovative rides but with fantastic ideas that we share in and live on with us.
Although guests are allowed to skip the short film playing at Launch Bay Theater showing the creators and visionary artists who are working on delivering Star Wars to a new generation of fans, my advice is watch it and perhaps repeat. This documentary-styled video that feels much like what you’d see in a Blu-ray disc extra manages to leap beyond its weight by showing a grand passion for the work that went into Star Wars and the incredible responsibility these great artists are lending to make the new works whether they be in film, animation, comics and beyond all feel grounded in the very core of what makes Star Wars so meaningful to so many around the globe. Greatness means a lot to me and this montage which shows the effort by J.J. Abrams and so many others to attempt to deliver that greatness to have an impact in people’s lives beyond what it means for the Walt Disney Company’s pocketbook struck a chord with me and the applause that ensued at its conclusion from guests enjoying the short on its opening day tells me I wasn’t alone in the sentiment. But if sentimentality alone isn’t enough to pique your interest the early concept art shown for the new Star Wars themed areas coming to Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Disneyland in California may very well do the trick. It’s no showstopper but this film serves as a great frame of reference for the experience you are about to have within the halls of Star Wars Launch Bay and if the wait isn’t too bad you should definitely catch it.