The First Annual Star Wars Weekend

The internet can do alot to change the path of your life, or as according to Qui-gon, your destiny… anyway, originally the holiday to Florida was planned for September until one day and I was browsing the good old Official Star Wars website trying to find out who the latest Anakin was going to be, I think by then it was probably going to be Jim Carrey at that point with Drew Carrey playing Jar Jar Binks…. or something.

A news item popped up that stated that Disney-MGM were hosting some Star Wars weekends with lots of Star Warsy stuff going on with a few guest stars appearing. So we decided to change our plans, bring the holiday forward and hit Florida before the hurricanes and we found ourselves taking in the full Star Wars experience in Disney.

In 2000 Disney started the first annual Star Wars Weekends. They were a celebration of everything Star Wars with celebrity guests, parades, and merchadising. These occured on the Friday, Saturday and Sunday throughout May. The first we attended was on Friday the 19th of May 2000. There was a brief version in 1997, but this was the first year it lasted for 15 years continuously.

At that time the only real connection Disney had to Star Wars was the fabulous Star Tours motion ride which became the backdrop with it’s towering AT-AT looming over the guests and the attendees.

Star Wars Episode I had been out for a year by this time and for the younger fans especially it was a great opportunity to see guests from across the range of “classic” trilogy and the first episode.

The first weekends guests in 2000, were Jake Lloyd (Anakin Skywalker), Hugh Quarshie (Captain Panaka), David Prowse (Darth Vader), Ian McCaig (Illustrator and Conceptual Designer), Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia), Jeremy Bulloch (Boba Fett) and Kenny Baker (R2D2).

We managed to attend the weekends of the 20th May with Jake Lloyd and Dave Prowse and the 26th with Jeremy Bulloch and Carrie Fisher.

All of the guests during the weekends talked and finished their days immortalising their hand prints in cement to be displayed later near Star Tours.

We had only arrived a couple of days before and I can remember stepping out of the cool air conditioned “Air 2000” plane in to the tunnel taking us through Orlando’s airport. The dry heat hit us square on, as we dragged our baggage to the shuttle bus, taking us to our International Drive hotel. That first weekend the weather was hot, really hot. It was a month of 100 degree temperatures and the smell of burning wood when you opened your hotel room door to the ‘fresh’ Florida air.

We’d placed ourselves on International Drive where the free shuttles would take us to both the Disney and Universal parks.

Today we would attend our first of two Star Wars weekends. Wearing my Star Park t-shirt, typical tourist type combat shorts and wrap around sunglasses, with my Star Wars mad wife we made our way to the entrance of the Disney-MGM Studios, as it was called at that time. Cantina music was playing as we exited the bus and made our way towards the gates. Stormtroopers were spying the guests as they piled through the turnstiles occasionally through their comms discussing the movements of these strange creatures below.

Today was Jake Lloyd and Dave Prowse’s turn at being the resident celebrities, so we nabbed our park guides and the wife dragged me kicking and screaming towards Star Tours.

Star Tours was in fact her favourite ride as she decided this holiday she was avoiding scary coasters.

Which was my fault….

This was after she had a bad experience on Space Mountain at Disneyland Paris when I recall, I mentioned about it “not going upside down or looping, just like Space Mountain in Florida”. I was wrong on so many points.

Memories of her screaming and my laughing whilst asteroids whizzed by our heads, on our honeymoon, during the Paris Space Mountain has always been a sore point to this day.

This was also the first time that we had heard Star Tours in English as Disneyland Paris’s version was all in French.

Exiting the ride we made our way into Tatooine traders. It was time pick up the first of many items of merchandise from the experience, Star Wars weekend t-shirts, badges, baseball caps, ‘My other vehicle is an Xwing’ stickers, button badges and other things…. well, you never know…. they might sell out.

Fan Solo!

Upon exiting the traders with bags in hand, we were greeted by various autograph and photograph queues. If you wanted your picture taken with a wookiee and a guy that didn’t look anything like Han/Luke/Leia/Darth Maul/Queen Amidala you could, and their were plenty of people who wanted that opportunity.

You could, on the other hand, take in the unusual Star Wars comedy coming from two Jedi hosts telling very bad “dad” jokes. For example, ‘How does Han travel around the moon of Endor?’…… ‘Ewoks’ 🙂

At 11.00am it was time for the motorcade down mainstreet. Star Wars characters of all shapes and sizes walked to the beat of the Cantina Music again. It started with a rather dodgy looking Imperial officer at the front, wearing far too many buttons on his uniform at the time before the critical costuming eyes, this guy looked like an imperial officer. The hat was right but the belt was off and he had too many buttons. It does remind me of a cross between an imperial officer and the bell boy from Tower of Terror or a Keystone Cop.

This “officer” was followed by Jawas, Chewy, the Cantina band, Jedi, Greedo, Admiral Ackbar, Boba Fett, and various Stormtroopers and Darth Vader. Again, due to the fact that I’ve worn an authentic Stormtrooper outfit, looking back on these old 20 year old photos shows that those Stormtroopers are showing way too much thigh and would never pass muster with todays 501st Legion. I suppose it makes it easier to walk, but Stormtrooper generally can’t walk, can’t see and struggle to go up and down stairs.

Between various characters were the cars carrying the guests. First came Dave Prowse with few stormtroopers and later Jake Lloyd with Queen Amidala lookalike as his companion.

Once various photos were taken we ran up towards the ‘Doug’ stage steps for more photos. The music playing in the background was the Cantina theme mixed with the Episode 1 end celebration music.

That’s one thing I love about theme parks…. theme music. Wherever you stand you will hear music coming out of large speakers, small rocks and other hidden places. You are having a meal and you need your theme. Even the restrooms have music. I love this stuff. Music for me connects with memories and I always try to get the CD or download of theme park music were I can. Sounds like a blog in itself. Listening back to the music from rides and locations brings back the emotions, the smells, the temperatures all part of the memory of the experience. I love the classic Disney ride soundtracks.

Anyway, back to MGM Studios. The motorcade came to a halt by the Star Tours area. A stage had been erected next to the downed Snowspeeder and Desert Skiff. Dave and Jake took to their seats and prepared themselves for questions. Some of these included asking what sports Jake Lloyd liked to play with and additional nugget that Dave pointed out he was the same build and looks as Jake before he got into weight lifting.

Following the questions it came the time for Jake and Dave to have their hands placed in cement. The main host pushed Jake’s hands into cement, crushing them in the process. Dave pointed out that in the previous day’s cement impressions he missed the ‘t’ out of Darth when he was writing Darth Vader. So if you see that one anywhere you’ll know he did it on the 19th May 2000. Once they had completed signing the slabs properly today, everyone gave them a huge round of applause and they disappeared behind the scenes through a ‘cast members only’ door.

Once things had settled down it was time for all the parents to drag their sons and daughters and their $10 sabres to the Jedi Training School. …. and to think todays Galaxies Edge sabres are $200. How times have changed.

My wife then decided it was time for Star Tours again. Today, if you visited a Disney park from about 2011 you ride the Starspeeder 2000, a strangely cleaner prequel/sequel version in 3D CGI piloted by C3PO. In these earlier days of Star Tours, launched in 1987, you were supposed to be taking a quick trip to Endor piloted by REX, voiced by Paul Reubens, he of Pee Wee Herman fame. In 2000 it was all flat screen, no alternate shots, no CGI, just beautifully produced models and motion controlled camera movements.

The queue to the ride kept your senses busy with an array of trashed old droids, broken bits of tubes and other paraphernalia which fit in the used Star Wars Universe and in this version you would ride the Starspeeder 3000. C3PO would be telling R2 to fix the hyperdrive motivator and they would have general conversations about the destination adverts playing on a screen opposite.

If you don’t know the history of the ride it can be rather confusing. The original ride from the late 80s was based on the original trilogy. With the relaunch, the new ride was based on the prequel trilogy, so you were supposed to be riding an earlier version of the transport, hence the Starspeeder 2000.

On the 30th October 2012, Disney bought Star Wars, Lucasfilm and other Lucas properties and started to develop the new Star Wars sequels from The Force Awakens (2015) and beyond. The new 3D ride was designed to be updated with new quests travelling to different planets so when the sequel trilogy was being made and new characters were introduced they HAD to feature them in the ride. So it’s all rather a confusing history, but just forget about that and enjoy the ride. In the new version my favourite ending has to be ending up skimming the water and getting impaled by a Naboo starfighter.

Anyway, where were we? Yes, in the year 2000. So, the wife loved the original ride and I loved the props and old Disney goose animatronics left over from another Disney Attraction “America Sings”. Yes, Disney likes to reuse things to save money. These geese were now repurposed to look like droids by removing the feathers and outer shell and leaving them on their bare metal skeletons and hydraulics/pneumatics.

So, she didn’t go on many exciting rides and I let her go on Star Tours as much as we could. I did mention I scared her on Space Mountain and I do recall forgetting to tell my wife about the doors at the top of the Tower of Terror when they open up to the world before dropping down. She doesn’t like heights either.

I did spend much of the holiday in the single line rows whilst my dearest tucked into her newly acquired Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Jedi Apprentice books.

So just under a week later after various other Florida Theme Park visits we returned to Disney-MGM Studios for our second visit.

The same Stormtroopers that eyed us up less than a week before were still hovering above the queues. At this point on our visit, I’d just about adjusted to the heat, whilst the wife had bought a large hat which subsequently turned up on every photo of her for the rest of the holiday. I’ve worn Stormtrooper kits before and I can imagine what it’s like in 100 degree temperatures. Hopefully they had some air conditioning.

We picked up our maps and scanned the print to find out that Carrie Fisher was only there during the Saturday and Sunday, so we decided to leave. Well, not exactly, the wife wanted another go on Star Tours. We passed the Jedi’s again telling bad jokes. This ride, I decided I’d watch the wife, instead of the visual effects on the screen. I was fascinated to find out why she had to keep going on this thing. I’m not saying I don’t enjoy it, it’s just that once you’ve jarred your back crashing through the same ice asteroid previous times before, you aren’t really bothered about popping a few more discs when repeating the same experience. Her mouth was open with a smile and her teeth were showing so I guess she loved it.

We passed the motorcade with Jeremy Bulloch as we made our way out, for that day.

Sunday morning came and after another trip through the ice asteroid and down a particularly familiar trench again, we made our way to the ‘Doug’ stage vantage point for the motorcade.

I took some photos of the crowd as they passed by and the motorcade made their way past the Chinese Theatre “Great Movie Ride” at that time. Interesting it’s fun to see Jawas adjusting Chewys underwear, whilst Greedo, Stormtroopers, cantina band members, more Stormtroopers, Darth Vader and the guest cars. This time they contained Carrie Fisher with resident Ewok as a companion and unfortunately, Jeremy Bulloch was alone with his driver. I suspected that Bib Fortuna might have fallen out at the start.

Once the parade had passed, we made our way towards the stage at the Star Tours ride area. This was slightly different to the last talking area with pictures of both Boba and the Princess standing behind the guests. We threw any and all kids out of our path as everyone was fighting for a good vantage point for photos. In those days it was celluloid film. No one had a digital camera, so it was terrible to see a woman who asked her husband whether the film was finished yet, clearly showing her partner the fully exposed film in the back of the open camera. That was bad news for those photos.

So the question session started and a couple of fun questions stuck in my mind. One small boy spoke in the microphone and looking up at the towering AT-AT, he asked Jeremy and Carrie how long it took to build it. They said they finished it over a couple of weekends. One other question rose in which another boy asked Jeremy what his favourite weapon was. Having met Jeremy in person a few times, he has always prepared himself for these kinds of questions. He knows the full ins and outs of the Boba Fett character.

Now, usually guests who have played characters in films know little about their characters Jeremy came out with something you would have easily found word for word in a Star Wars technical manual. He went into detail about Fett’s ‘Blastech’ weapons. I’m sure the kid loved it and the rest of the crowd appreciated it too.

The session ended with another couple of hand prints. These prints would later go up for auction, and I would love to see the house of the Star Wars fan who bought Jeremy Bulloch’s hand prints for $250,000.

We hung around Disney-MGM for the rest of the day, going on Star Tours a few more times, not sure how many as they all kind of merged together. We departed the park and headed back to the hotel healing our blisters from the week before and prepping ourselves for the other parks and shopping to come. Though we did do some Weekend shopping in the park.

We both had a great time experiencing Star Wars on Disney soil with a heap of Star Tours and classic Star Wars guests. This was also the first of only two times I ever saw Carrie Fisher live, the second was at Celebration Europe in 2016.

The Star Wars weekends ran until 2015 when The Force Awakens opened and development started on Star Wars Galaxies Edge.

Star Wars Changed My Life – I – The First Memories and Old Disney

Straight away some of you might scoff at any magic in or about Star Wars, but hear me out. It has literally changed my life. Without Star Wars, my life would be totally different, it’s the absolute truth.

Listen… or read…. you get the idea.

It started a long time ago in a little town called Ashton Under Lyne. My mum and grandma would regularly take me to the cinema to see films, so I remember. They are very vague memories but this is the kind of way my young brain has interpreted the random images and sounds from my childhood.

My local cinema at the time was the Odeon, mentioned in my intro blog. This cinema, in the 70s, had one screen, like all cinemas at that time.

Post Star Wars I also remember seeing E.T. the Extra Terrestrial, Krull and Hawk the Slayer at that very same place.

Now closed my last memory of this place was playing Marble Madness when it was Slotworld.

Sadly it close down completely in 2011.

A few of the films that I do kind of remember prior to 1977, when everything changed, were The Absent Minded Professor (1961) and Island at the Top of the World (1974) and “At The Earth’s Core” (1976). My film watching childhood memories seemed to be very Disney based. The Absent Minded Professor was first released in 1961, a few years before I was born so I’ve no idea how or why I would have been at the cinema to watch this. I may even have seen it on TV, I can’t quite remember it. Starring Fred MacMurray as Professor Ned Brainard, who invents “Flubber”… flying rubber and ends up doing some strange things with it. Yes, they did make “Flubber” into a remake starring Robin Williams in the late 90s.

One particular scene I remember was the basketball scene where teams of basketball players bounced around the court.

“There’s nothing in the rule book that says one team can’t jump higher than the other.”

First referee

A strange early memory that I somehow think that this may even have been my first film I saw at a cinema. But it was a long, long time ago.

One of the other films, “Island at the Top of the Earth” (1974) I do remember going to see, specifically. It had an iconic balloon which I remember distinctly, I was sad to see the balloon get destroyed by fire. I vaguely remember it being featured on Blue Peter. I loved this film, it was a little scary and loud but it was great fun.

[Pulling Sir Anthony Ross off the ladder] “Gentlemen! May I remind you that I am in command here. Only an idiot would attempt such a thing. I will do it myself.”

captain brieux (off to change a PROPELLER mid flight)

A recreation of the the balloon itself, The Hyperion, became the centre piece of Discoveryland at Disneyland Paris when it first opened in 1992 and is there to this day.

Inside the Cafe Hyperion

One of the last films prior to Star Wars was “At The Earth’s Core” (1976) and it may have been at this film when there was that turning point in my life, when I first experienced Star Wars.

“The Mahar is limited vocally but has been endowed with mesmeric powers and a high degree of telepathy. Hmm. That’s quite the combination for a bird.”

Dr. Abner Perry (Peter cushing)

This film featured spectacular special effects, models and blue screen work based on an Edgar Rice Burroughs novel, that guy that wrote Tarzan. It starred Doug McClure and Peter Cushing prior to his significant Star Wars role and also featured the future Bond girl and model, Caroline Munro to get the parents to bring their kids. Cushing played his role very much like his old doddering version of Dr. Who from the Dalek films, 10 years earlier.

The Earth’s Core Trailer (1976)

A great fun film with rubbery monsters, spectacular rubber sets, fire, more fire and explosions. Just what an eight year old requires.

As it was just over a the year before Star Wars was released, this film fits into the logic of my memories quite well. It was likely that it was when I got my very earliest memory of Star Wars. Particularly the scene were Luke and Leia swing across the chasm and that big black suited bloke makes his first appearance.

Star Wars Teaser Trailer (1976)

I remember seeing the trailer and asking my mother if we could go and see it. She said it depended on the rating. That is one memory I’ve never forgotten.