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It's an early, early morning to visit a galaxy far, far away for Disney's Star Wars Weekends

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Published: May 22, 2013 at 7:31 PM

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away...I went to my first ever Star Wars Weekend at the Disney Hollywood Studios. Our hopes and dreams were to meet the man that made the double lightsaber so awesome. The man who went on to play two more iconic characters in the land of geekdom. We are talking about the man known as Darth Maul, aka Snake Eyes, aka the Toad...Ray Park. I had read on many websites that if you wanted to meet one of the stars from the Star Wars galaxy, then you had to line up outside the entrance of DHS before the break of dawn. So, in order for us to have an easy time on opening day, I planned our entire trip around this weekend. We decided to arrive on Thursday, May 16th, and stay until Monday, May 20th. I even booked our room for the Boardwalk since it has easy walking access to the Disney Hollywood Studios. We were prepared to do battle and do all that we could to meet Ray Park.

Princess Leia in security
Forget the Empire. It's Disney security that's putting the real heat on the Rebel Alliance.

When we arrived Thursday morning, we quickly checked into our resort and began to grill the concierge on what time we should arrive. Sadly to say, they were no help. Obviously these folks were not Star Wars fans. We then left these sad, uninformed people and went directly to Epcot to exchange our Annual Passes for the new ones that work with the new RFID technology. We grabbed a quick lunch in the World Showcase, then headed to DHS to see and talk with people concerning what time we should attempt to get in line. When we got through security, we noticed that they had the lines already divided and set up. Each line had the name of the actor and even one separate line for just the merchandise from Darth Mall. Now, it was at 2pm when we looked at these lines. And there was a woman with a tent and chair already set up. Needless to say, this scared us a little. We aren't big enough fans to camp out for this, especially when we have a beautiful room, soft bed, air conditioning, and bathroom waiting for us at the Boardwalk. We then went and talked to the people at Guest Relations. They told us that if we wanted autographs of stars, then we needed to get in line a few hours before opening. The lady already camping out was one who does it every year. Guest Relations has a running pool each year to pick what time she will arrive to camp out. The one we talked to said that he had lost since he had picked the 4:00-4:30am time slot. Since this lady obviously knew something that we didn't know (or else she just really enjoys camping out at DHS), we went to ask her opinion on what time we should arrive to be able to get Ray Park's autograph. She said to get there between 3am and 5am to get a Fastpass for his autograph. Or, we could just camp out. She already had everyone's autograph, she was just in line for merchandise. We wished her luck and went on our way. We decided to get up at 3am, and walk to DHS and get in line.

I just want to point out that if you do decide to get up that early, you probably don't want to spend the evening park-hopping, like we did. When you do this, you wind up staying out until close to midnight. Three in the morning will come rather quickly with no sleep. We got up, got ready, and left the room around 3:30. It was a peaceful, beautiful walk to DHS along the Boardwalk. As we got closer to DHS, we could hear music and people. There were already a bunch of people in the lines. The longest line at the beginning was for the merchandise! We quickly got into the Ray Park's line which had about 25 people waiting. Our line was against the railing, and as I began to sit down on the concrete, my husband pulled me back up and pointed at the bottom of the streetlight. There was a snake moving across it. I'm proud to say that I didn't scream like a little girl (which I would normally have done with the proper amount of sleep and lack of audience).

People began to continue to stream in steadily. A man from Disney Security at the Magic Kingdom lined up behind us. He shared some stories of crowds at the parks and then told us how many people usually get the Fastpasses for autographs. One story that was interesting to us since we were staying at the Boardwalk, was that a few weeks ago, a guest jumped off the dock and into the water over by the Swan and Dolphin resort. This guest was then banned from every Disney-owned park. He was asked to leave and never return. So as a word of caution...if you want to continue to visit the parks, don't jump into the lagoons.

After many, many conversations about how cool Ray Park is, Star Wars, possible upcoming Star Wars storylines for the new movies, possible Marvel movies and park rides (I was wearing an Agent Caulson shirt), and how the security guard said there were already rumblings of Universal getting ready to release their Marvel rights soon; the hours began to go by and the sun came up. The park was set to open at 8am, so around 7, I began to look for stormtroopers to come out and entertain us. I had seen the videos of the stormtroopers standing on top of the ticket building. They never came. The reason for this is that they now are on raised platforms inside the park, along Hollywood Blvd. A little after seven, the castmembers began to come and hand out the Star Wars Weekends brochure. We then saw that Mr. Park was only doing one autograph session. This caused quite a panic in our line. We began to wonder if our waiting in line all these hours would be enough to meet him. Around 7:30am. They came out with wristbands. Once you received a wrist band, you stayed in line to get a Fastpass. You had to have both in order to meet the one you were in line for. As we waited with baited breath, we got our wristbands! Then the Fastpasses came out with our time stamped for our return. Ray Park was doing an autograph session at 1:45p.m. Our return time was for 2:00-2:15p.m. We would find out later during the day that only 75 people were issued the wristbands and Fastpasses to meet Ray Park. We were part of this lucky group! Once we entered in, two stormtroopers were on raised platforms heckling the crowd. This was one of our favorite parts. The jokes were so funny. One of our favorites was that they were ribbing the crowd over letting a little rope keep us from entering in the park. "No true Sith would let a little thin rope stop him from his goal." After the rope, or "force field", dropped we began to look at all the Star Wars points of interest. The stage set up over by the sorcerer's hat had Han Solo encased in carbonite. Sometimes there would be stormtroopers guarding it, Bobba Fett, etc. Each would have things to say to the crowd. Here again, the stormtroopers were the funniest. They would accuse the crowd of using Jedi mind tricks, and would threaten to slap the dark side out of each other.

Stormtrooper

We headed over to the Darth Mall tent. There was a line at 8:02am that had a four- to five-hour wait time. We decided that we didn't really need anything at that moment, and walked onto Rock'n'Roller Coaster. After a ride and some breakfast, we found ourselves in our favorite part of the galaxy, the Empire's side of the park. My husband turned into a little boy and we had to get some pictures with Darth Vader, Darth Maul and some stormtroopers. Okay, okay, I had to get some pictures with the stormtroopers. The stormtroopers, along with bounty hunters, clone troopers and guards were moving constantly through the back lot near Toy Story Midway Mania. They would pause and give autographs, pose for pictures, and arrest people. When you asked an Empire character for an autograph, they really acted like they were being put out by doing so. We missed the Star Wars parade for wandering around this area and getting pictures. After getting some lunch and checking out the line at Darth Mall's (still about three hours), we went over to the Republic's side of the park. We saw some Jedi, Chip and Dale as Ewoks, and such. Star Tours and Tatooine Traders had extreme crowds. Soon it was time to head to Echo Lake and meet (cue cool music) Ray Park.

With Ray Park

He was without a doubt the nicest actor I have ever met. He was humble, had a wonderful sense of humor, and was a big fan of my Agent Caulson shirt. He was very appreciative of us wanting to meet him and spent some time talking with us while autographing a book for our young sons and husband. On a side note, we found out he was staying at our resort, even on the same floor. We didn't see him, since we spent so much time at the parks, but it was still something to know he was there. After being in geek heaven for a few moments, we then headed back to the tent of the never-ending line. It was only about an hour wait. By now our curiosity was so peaked that we had to see what on earth was in this place to draw such a large group of people. Did this large tent named Darth Mall contain the lost ark of George Lucas? Was there a portal to another galaxy filled with Fastpasses? People were starting to come out with giant bags, big smiles, and saying how happy they were that their items were going to be shipped home. We walked slowly but steadily through the line. It was an incredibly hot day with no breeze. The humidity was high and we were in the back between the Tower of Terror and Rock'n'Roller Coaster. There is no shade there. It would have been a prime place to set up a kiosk of bottled drinks and ice cream. Sadly, no one had thought of that. We finally made it into the tent. It was incredibly crowded but there was a large selection of items that were limited addition and many others that weren't. There were photo ops with C3PO and R2-D2, a rancor, and a celebrity autograph place. I unfortunately became quite sick from the heat and left after a few minutes to find some shade and a seat. I left my husband with the credit cards and let him shop. We had been going now for about 14 hours now on less than three hours of sleep. We knew that our day needed to end before seeing the Hyperspace Hoopla. We began to make our way towards the exit to catch a friendship back to the Boardwalk.

Our day at the Star Wars Weekends was a blast. Will we do this again? You bet your Millennium Falcon we will. I highly recommend this for anyone who is a fan. You will thoroughly enjoy yourself surrounded by the sights and sounds of a galaxy far, far away.

Star Wars Weekends continue Fridays and Saturdays until June 8 at Disney's Hollywood Studios.

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Readers' Opinions

From Dominick D on May 22, 2013 at 7:40 PM
Glad you had a great time! I admit I'm a bit surprised Ray only had one session last weekend (not sure if it's changed for this weekend) seeing ow popular he is.
From Rob Pastor on May 22, 2013 at 8:18 PM
Beautiful article. We accidently attended Hollywood Studios for the opening of Star Tours II. We had already rode it during softs earlier that week, and I didn't know that Friday would be the grand opening. Wow, what a mistake. So many people that you literally couldn't move. I like HS, but that's too many people in a small park for me......Glad you had a great time, though.
From Johnathan Ramey on May 22, 2013 at 8:37 PM
HAHAHA! Oh poor Leia...she has no luck with authorities. First it was Hijacking as Mugsy now its smuggling in Plans in a fuzzy Chewbacca
From Amanda Jenkins on May 22, 2013 at 8:50 PM
When I saw Disney security going through Chewbacca, I began to laugh and said I have to get a picture before he finishes. I thought it was priceless and a great beginning to the day. This past weekend there was so much fun.
From 98.227.60.180 on May 22, 2013 at 11:42 PM
I LOVED every word of this report. It was so fun, and you right so well that I felt like I was there too! Your one of the best writers on this site and I wish you did more columns! It is my dream to go to Star Wars Weekends one year and I am saving up to do it!
From 70.118.3.160 on May 23, 2013 at 1:44 AM
Better than security was an hour earlier when a girl came up to me and said "princess, would you like a donut?" and then yelled back (triumphantly) to her friends "I just gave Leia our extra donut".
From Don Neal on May 23, 2013 at 5:11 AM
Great article and story. Thanks for sharing. :)
From 209.156.160.90 on May 23, 2013 at 5:55 AM
Great read, we were there too for opening day. We didn't know about the early line for the shopping, got to the park at 7:30 (gates were scheduled at 8:00) found the gates already open and by the time we got back there before 8AM we ended up waiting 4 hours.

However we were okay with this because we got all of the limited edition items we wanted (even a 1 of 200 item) as well as some really cool other stuff (the B movie style art is amazing) and eveyone in line and the cast members working the line are just amazing!

It's awesome that you got to meet Ray Park, we didn't even try for autographs (I'm the only real star wars geek in the family) but had just the best time.

From Tracy Bates on May 23, 2013 at 8:29 AM
How many cash registers were open for those buying merchandise?

I went to the 'May the 4th be with you' event and it was so poorly organized. 2.5 hour wait standing in line in the rain for the special Tshirts. Only 3 registers open, so it moved slowly. No organization so people had to walk through the line to look at the merchandise, and then too top it off, the Tshirts were crappy quality. they are really thin and the 3X shirts are smaller than the 2X shirts that are normally sold in the park even though they cost more.

From 75.64.40.38 on May 23, 2013 at 10:41 AM
There were two sets of cash registers in different areas. I believe there were about 5-8 per area. Like I said, I became way over-heated and had to find somewhere to cool off, so I only glanced towards the registers. I hated that I was unable to explore this store more. It definitely had some interesting pieces.
From TH Creative on May 26, 2013 at 1:04 PM
Amanda rockin' DHS with her signature bangs! Outstanding report!

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