My SW Weekends Report!

Reposted from my LiveJournal.

All week, I’d been keeping a nervous eye on weather reports for the Orlando area. While Miami got its rain, there was even more of it further up the state. I knew that while they wouldn’t cancel SW Weekends festivities per se if the weather was bad, a lot of the things that make the event special, like the roaming characters and the parade/motorcade, would be canceled. And since I’d already paid gobs of dollars to go to this thing on a single day, Sunday, canceling that stuff would really suck. But I also know that all-day washouts are rare. The usual pattern for those thunder-filled Florida summers is sunny in the morning, storms in the late afternoon/early evening. I hoped that if it had to rain, it would fall under that pattern.

When we flew into Orlando on early Saturday evening, within an hour after arriving, it rained heavily. We were staying at the Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort, chosen because it was one of the hotels closest to Disney’s Hollywood Studios that wasn’t already sold out or didn’t cost $400 a night. The grounds looked really nice and the complex is massive. We were told it has the largest acreage in the world. Each cluster of rooms was an “island” with slightly different exteriors. We were assigned to “Jamaica.” There were two problems though. One, while I’m sure it’s perfectly pleasant to walk over to a central area with a food court, big pool, and a merch shop when it’s a nice day, it kind of sucks having to do so in damp, humid weather. The guy who brought our luggage told us it was a three minute walk but it was more like three minutes if you were at a dead run. Since it was like nine o’ clock at that point, it was also really dark in some areas along the walk. Once at the indoor food court, there were rugrats running amok and aggravated parents lining up at the stands. Maybe the rain kept a lot of people from coming to eat until then, but I was amazed at how many small children there were, still not in bed. After eating, poking around the merch shop and buying some rain ponchos for just in case, we headed back for the hotel room. The other problem with the resort was the hotel room wasn’t nearly as nice as the well-kept grounds would lead you to believe. Granted, we’d stayed at a really nice place in South Beach so anything short of the Grand Floridian was going to be a bit of a come-down, but the room was small and not big on amenities. Even the room t.v. was outdated. As my dad put it, it was basically a motel room.

Sunday morning was bright and sunny. Woo hoo! Unfortunately, it took a while for everyone to get ready and out to the bus stop, so we got to Hollywood Studios at 9:30 a.m.. I know by reading others’ accounts of SW Weekends that autograph passes run out quickly and I’d been hoping to get one for Jay Laga’aia. Why not as long as it’s covered by your admission price, right? Unfortunately, the passes were already gone by the time I got there. Oh well, I’m sure he’ll end up at a Comic Con or Celebration in the future.

SW music was blaring over the loudspeakers as stormtroopers stood guard over people entering the park. Banners and signs advertising SW Weekends were all over the place. While an awful lot of people there were attending for this specific reason, there were plenty of people who had no idea what they’d stumbled into. Heh heh. We walked past the autograph tents guarded by Disney cast members. My dad snapped pix of the various actors signing while this lady complained to me that people were breaking the rule to have one item signed left and right and the Disney employees weren’t doing anything about it. After that, we went over to Star Tours and saw a few minutes of the padawan training show. Then we went on Star Tours, a requirement for SW Weekends, and went into the insanely crowded Tatooine Traders shop. It was so crazy it was hard to think. I decided to hold off any purchases before checking out Wicket’s Warehouse, where they had all of the exclusive SW Weekends merch.

I noticed there was a line outside of Star Tours and I asked someone what the line was for. It was to sit on a speeder bike and have somebody take a picture of you. I was also told that’s where the costume characters appear. Sure enough, Chewbacca appeared a few minutes later.

We decided to stake out a place early for the parade, but as we walked toward the building where they had the American Idol show, I saw that there was a Queen Amidala at a Naboo-esque stand posing for pictures. The line didn’t look too long, so I thought, what the hey. My dad said, “Why? It’s not like it’s really them.” Sure, they resurrected her from the dead and flew her all of the way from the GFFA to Orlando. I pointed out that it’s part of the fun. While my mom went off in search of good seats for the parade, we stood in this deceptively short line in the hot sun for what seemed to be ages. Families sent their little Avas and Madisons and Tylers one at a time for pictures and autographs instead of sending the whole crew up all at once. Then the parents had to take like 20 pictures for each kid. When we were about three groups away from the front, a Disney employee announced that the Queen had to have a quick meeting with the Senate and would be back in five minutes. My dad joked that she probably had to go to the bathroom.

The Queen returns and my dad noticed right away that it wasn’t the same one as before. Aha, the ol’ handmaiden trick! I finally get to the front of the line and before taking pictures, Her Highness took a few moments to say hello and chat. I will say that the people they pick for these things are really good with people and excel at staying in character. I said it was really hot and the Queen noted that it wasn’t as hot as Tatooine. Her costume looked great by the way, almost as good as the real thing, and I’ve seen it.

After that, we found my mom sitting on the steps in front of the American Idol thing. A Disney employee told me that they’re supposed to reserve that area for parents of kids in the parade, but it was okay if we sat there. Well, fine by me. It was a nice location because it was in the shade. Finally at 11:40 sharp, the parade got underway. It was really fantastic, even with the guy next to me sticking his arm out whenever I tried to take a picture. The 501st and Rebel Legion participated as well as Disney characters like Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, and Donald Duck in SW gear and various costumed SW characters, many of which are the same ones who pose for pics. This was followed by the various guests in the motorcade.

By this time, the park was an absolute zoo. People, people everywhere. And let me tell you, moms use strollers as weapons. Just as they use minivans as their personal tanks. We figured we’d try to eat lunch before going to see the Stars of the Saga celebrity chat at 1:15 p.m.. Unfortunately, we forgot that at Disney World, you can never get a seat at a sit-down restaurant without a reservation unless it’s during a very slow day. And they never have carts or small stands selling basics like burgers and hot dogs. We thought we’d found a solution at the ABC Commissary, a faster food place with dishes that are vaguely inspired by various ABC t.v. shows. I get connecting fried fish with “Lost,” but I don’t get matching cheeseburgers with “Ugly Betty.” Wouldn’t a burrito make more sense? Ditto for the “Grey’s Anatomy” curry. We decided to get Asian salads, whose show I don’t remember.

If there’s any word of warning I have for you, it’s this. DON’T EAT AT THE ABC COMMISSARY. I stood in the line from hell for over 45 minutes and waited an ungodly slow time for the dim bulbs to serve our salads, which require no cooking. I realize it was crowded but this was the slowest and dumbest crew of people I’d ever seen work a line. Seriously, I was ready to punch somebody, especially since the prospects of making the 1:15 show looked increasingly dim. We ate our salads and finished around 1:20. I suggested we swing by the theater where they were holding Stars of the Saga and see if we can get in anyway. Fortunately for us, they hadn’t started yet and there were still seats to be had in the bleacher bum section. Maybe Warwick Davis and Ray Park got stuck in that line too. Stormtroopers were entertaining the audience by having everyone cheer for the Rebels or the Empire, and then they gave a quiz to a dimwitted stormie who couldn’t identify the major characters. When Chewbacca’s picture came up and the dumb stormie couldn’t come up with an answer, some little kid yelled out, “It’s Chewie! Chewbacca!”

Before everyone came on stage, they ran an amusing short intro video with clips from all of the movies. There’s one funny part where you see edited together several shots of the characters looking down and off to the side in the same way. I’d never noticed that before. Hee hee. Then Jay Laga’aia came out.

The first SW alum to be interviewed was Ray Park. Park entered the stage and leapt effortlessly over the couch. Park chatted about his experiences filming TPM and about his other films, including his role in the upcoming “G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra.” Then Warwick Davis came out. I’d never seen Davis chat before, but he’s a trip. The first thing he did was climb over a chair, not quite able to pull off Park’s impressive leap. He talked about his SW days and about Willow, among his other films. He recently worked on the latest Harry Potter flicks, so he led the audience in how to swish and flick their wands and create a spell. Park and Davis answered questions submitted earlier by the audience, then they, along with Laga’aia, acted out the final lightsaber battle from TPM, with Park as Maul, Laga’aia as Qui-Gon, and Davis as Obi-Wan. They had some kids stand on stage with Saran Wrap to make the energy fields as they battled away with lightsabers. It was pretty funny, particularly when Davis was dangling off the stage and instead of using the Force to leap up at Maul, two guys in the audience had to help him up.

After that, we went back out and saw that Ahsoka was taking pictures in a life-sized Clone Wars action figure box. I happened to be wearing a CW tee, so she said, “Oh look, there’s me on your shirt!” After I was done with Ahsoka, I saw that Anakin was posing for pics nearby. In the time it took for me to stand in line, my mom went to the restroom and back, while my dad took a picture of Lightning McQueen from “Cars” and ate one of those mouse ears ice cream pops. It was really hot by that point, so I took out my umbrella to shield me from the sun. This little girl in line in front of me asked her dad in a cute Southern drawl, “Daddy, if Darth Vader’s over there taking pictures, then why is Anakin here?” Heh heh. I was getting a little worried I may not make it up there in time, since we were told that Anakin had to go at 2:40 and the line was creeping along. So were two young women and a middle aged woman in line behind me who also wanted pictures with Ani. Glad to see I wasn’t the only slobbering fangirl in line. But I made it up there and boy is this Anakin a playa. He’d give Lando a run for his money. He asked me if I was a queen and what planet I was from. When I told him, “California,” he said, “Are all the ladies on your planet as lovely as you are?” I told him, “You are too much.” When my mom seemed to be taking too long with the camera he said, “If you’re having any trouble, I am good at fixing things.” Before I left, he said that if I had any problems with anyone, I could let him know and he’d take care of it. How about the employees of the ABC Commissary for starters?

After that I got something to drink and we rested for a bit before heading back to the theater (yes, the same one) for Behind The Force, the Clone Wars presentation with Ashley Eckstein and James Arnold Taylor, who voices Obi-Wan among other characters on the show. Eckstein came out on stage with her Rotta the Hutt backpack and yes, she called Rotta “Stinky.” She and Taylor talked about working as voice actors. Taylor does a lot of ADR for actors whose schedules cannot allow them the time to re-record dialogue or work on trailers, as well as the usual work for cartoons and video games. This guy is pretty amazing. He imitated various celebrities like Jack Nicholson, Nicholas Cage, and Christopher Walken. At another point, Eckstein did the Brady Bunch girls talking about Marcia dating that dreamy new boy at school, Anakin. Then they did a demonstration of recording voices for Clone Wars and did the same thing with a couple of kids they chose as volunteers from the audience. The most awesome part was of course the super duper exclusive sneak peek at Season Two!

Some of it was similar to what we saw at the end of Season One, with the cool zero-g fighting and more fun with Cad and Aurra. But there was quite a bit of new footage too. For instance, Darth Sidious hires Cad Bane to steal the Jedi Holocron, the first time a Holocron is mentioned outside of the books and comics. Then there appears to be a new character, the Duchess of Theed, who appears to have been abducted and it seems that Obi-Wan attempts to rescue her. I believe this is the character Anakin was referencing when he teased Obi-Wan about going to save “his girlfriend.” There’s some new battle footage and I believe I caught a glimpse of a Mandalorian. Of course recording the trailer was strictly prohibited but I’m sure someone on YouTube already has it up for all to see.

After the trailer, Jay Laga’aia and Jedi Mickey Mouse came out to welcome Taylor and Eckstein to the family so to speak by giving them each personalized Mickey Mouse ear hats. They even made one for Stinky.

Once that was over, we made our way over to Wicket’s Warehouse, where you can find all of the exclusive SW Weekends merch. I was primarily interested in the exclusive pins and t-shirts. When I called my friend Debbie earlier to see what she wanted, she’d told me that the new wave of figures weren’t out yet so don’t worry about picking up anything for her. Ah well, I guess I’ll have to get those figs on eBay because the Slave Leia Minnie was too wrong to pass up.

On the way over to Wicket’s Warehouse we passed a huge line for Darth Vader, by far the most popular character with the kids and not-so-little fans and another stand where you could pose with Jango Fett and later, with Boba Fett. I did get some pix with a pair of stormtroopers and tried to take a picture with some Tusken Raiders, but they ran away from me. Maybe they were tipped off I’d been hanging out with Anakin.

It took forever to find this place. There were no signs and when we made it through Pixar Land, I knew we’d somehow passed it. I asked a Disney employee who barely spoke English (!) and had no idea what the heck I was talking about. I asked a second employee who didn’t know either. A tourist overheard me and thought I was asking about Tatooine Traders. Grrr. So we retraced our steps and sure enough, there it was, right across from where the bounty hunters were doing their photo ops. It was marked by a big marquee. Boy did I feel like a moron.

Remarkably, Wicket’s Warehouse was quiet and calm, with a few people perusing the goods. The total opposite of Tatooine Traders. I ended up buying a SW Weekends 2009 tee and the cool Japanese-style Darth Vader tee. I also got a magnet for my desk file cabinet at work as well as three of the exclusive pins. I was told the pins were going like crazy and attendees in the next weekend or so were going to be disappointed. I would have bought more of them, but they were 13 bucks apiece! I was sorely tempted to buy an exclusive Clone Wars pin set for $45 but decided against it. I was also tempted to buy the stuffed Mickey and Minnie set, mostly for the Minnie dressed as Princess Leia, but I felt that at $30, it was a bit pricey. My mom loved the Jedi Mickey backpack but for $30, there was very little room in the backpack for much of anything. I’m getting picky in my old age. 10-15 years ago, armed with the amount of $ I make now, I would have gone bananas in that gift shop.

When I walked out of Wicket’s Warehouse, I saw the big black cloud that was nearly overhead. I knew it was going to start raining at any moment and as of 5 p.m., I was right. It started POURING. We took shelter in a store and watch it dump inches of rain outside. Got some lightning too, including a hit just outside of the park. Sometimes these storms last only about a half hour but this cell was a big one and even after an hour, it was still raining though not quite the torrential downpour as before. There were a couple more events scheduled for the day, a martial arts demonstration with Ray Park and the Hyperspace Hoopla, a show with your favorite characters in a dance-off, but I figured my parents were ready to leave and I saw everything I really wanted to see anyway. I figured the Hyperspace Hoopla, scheduled for 7 p.m., was a washout because it’s usually held outdoors and it was still raining at 7 p.m.. So around 6 p.m., we headed for the bus back to the hotel. It took a half hour for the bus to show up; good thing we bought those rain ponchos.

So we were pretty lucky the weather held out most of the day and by the time we went back out to eat at the hotel food court, the rain had stopped. All in all an exhausting but very fun day. When we were waiting for the Disney’s Magical Express bus to take us back to the airport, one of the ladies working at the hotel told us about the Legend of Mrs. Luke Skywalker. There’s a fan who legally changed her name to Mrs. Luke Skywalker and she comes to SW Weekends every year. They keep an eye on her because she stalks whoever plays Luke at the event. She was described as “crazy.” Mrs. Skywalker, if you are reading this, Disney is on to you.

SW Weekends is a must for every fan. Seriously, you have to go! You will love every second of it. It’s great for hardcore fans but a gentle way to introduce your non-fan friends and relatives to a geekapalooza experience. I was surprised that my folks enjoyed the whole thing. It is possible to do it in one day, although I’m sure some of you wouldn’t mind making it a two or three day experience, especially if you want to catch most of the costumed characters.

But what was truly great about the whole thing is the perspective it gives you. Because oftentimes the only fans you interact with on a daily basis are the ones online, your perception of how things are becomes warped. It’s just a small part of what SW is and out there among everyday people, SW is just as popular as ever, including among kids.

So, with three weekends to go, it’s not too late for 2009! If not, well, there’s always next year…

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