Trying to Build ‘Star Wars’ Geeks With the Help of Disney World

Talk to the hand, Vader. Image courtesy Disney PhotoPass
Talk to the hand, Vader. Image courtesy Disney PhotoPass

This past year, in the lead-up to and midst of The Force Awakens, I’ve shopped for Christmas and Easter baskets and birthdays muttering a mantra to myself, “You’re shopping for what THEY would like, not you. THEM, not you.” There’s so much awesome Star Wars junk! Pez dispensers and collectible figurines and stickers and candy and keychains that speak Droid! But I knew it would all be shrugged off by my own kids. They are among those bewildering children who have next to no interest in Star Wars despite being raised by two Star Wars geeks.

Perhaps it’s not fair of me to despair quite yet. The youngest just turned seven, less than a year older than I was when I first saw A New Hope, and to be honest she really does seem more interested than I was myself at the same age. She’s always liked Leia on account of being a Princess, and her eyes pop at any sight of Rey (yes, she really does matter quite a lot to little girls)–and she’s even developed a sudden affection for Chewbacca. But she’d still amend any expressions of these feelings with, “…but that’s all the Star Wars things I like. Just them.”

The oldest, nine, has always been a sensitive soul, and won’t quite admit that he still finds it all a bit too scary. And I think he’s a little annoyed that people expect him to like Star Wars simply on account of being a young boy. I know I find it annoying. “Actually, my daughter likes it more,” I explain more often than I should have to.

But I was an oversensitive, frightened-of-everything kid, too. So I’m not giving up.

And when we started to plan a birthday trip to Walt Disney World for the two of them, I knew I’d be foisting more Star Wars on them whether they liked it or not.

“MGM Studios–I mean Hollywood Studios now–is a Star Wars paradise,” my cousin told me after taking her five-year-old last fall. “He did this Jedi training thing that turned out to be the highlight of the whole trip. His dad was jealous!”

“I really was!” her husband chimed in. “I’m not even that big of a Star Wars fan. But after this Hollywood Studios trip, all I want to do is be a Jedi, too!”

They proceeded to run through all the other can’t-miss Star Wars moments they’d had on their trip, and I got more and more excited.

My daughter, who didn’t know about our plans yet, wandered into the room in the middle of this conversation. “What are you talking–oh, Star Wars.” Bored, she wandered back out.

Come April, Walt Disney World tickets in hand, the first thing I did with them was secure FastPasses for “Star Tours,” the only one of the multiple Star Wars attractions I could get FastPasses for. I made note of the times and locations of all the other Star Wars attractions. Then I packed Star Wars t-shirts for everyone and made sure we were all wearing them the day we went to Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

“First things first!” I said when we arrived. “If you want to do the Jedi Training, we have to sign up now before they run out of spots. Do you want to do the Jedi Training?” I asked, possibly in a slightly weighted tone.

“YES!” said the 7-year-old. “Okay,” said the 9-year-old, ever the more reserved of the two.

“Then let’s get there before the line gets too long!” And I nearly dragged everyone across the park to the “Star Tours” building, beside which “Jedi Training: Trials of the Temple” was marked on the map. On the way, I noticed a long line already forming outside the “Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular,” and thought it ominous that that old show, which had been there since the park began as MGM Studios, would have such a long line so early in the morning. In comparison, the area outside “Star Tours” was oddly sparse.

“How do we sign up for the Jedi training?” I asked a Cast Member sorting pins at a cart.

“The sign-up is actually in the Indiana Jones gift shop back that way,” she said. “This is just where the show takes place.”

So we rushed back past the bizarrely long line at the “Stunt Spectacular” and to the Indiana Jones gift shop, which was also oddly sparse, until we noticed the line was actually coming in the back door and curved out of the imaginary jungle and ended, in fact, trailing out the entrance to the “Stunt Spectacular.”

“So we have a bit of a wait,” I told the kids. “Do you still want to sign up for Jedi Training?” They both said yes, so we got into line. Now we could see more of the serpentine way the line ropes curved in and out of the jungle. A woman coming the other way on the other side of our rope was talking on her phone, “…been in line 45 minutes and there are still people getting into line behind us.” “They would stop people getting into line if there weren’t any more spaces available, wouldn’t they?” another adult muttered, answered by horrified glances from the children in the area. “I’m sure they do,” the woman in front of me said, not sounding at all sure. But I’d seen a man with a clicker at the entrance to the line, counting people. Surely that’s exactly what he was doing! Everyone felt a little better after I mentioned that.

“We’ll use this time to plan out our day!” I said cheerfully, and pulled out my Nook, hoping the Disney Guest WiFi worked in the fake jungle. I don’t have a smartphone, so I’d put the My Disney Experience app on my Nook. That way I could see the times for our FastPasses and all the shows we wanted to catch today, and we’d make up the time we were losing now by being extra-super organized the rest of the day! Unfortunately, I’d forgotten to charge the thing.

“Okay, not, then.” I looked around at the lovely canopy of trees and ropes and archeological ruins and said, “One thing to be said for the lines at Disney, they at least make them interesting to wait in.” No one else appreciated this.

See, isn't waiting fun? Image by Amy M. Weir
See, isn’t waiting fun? Image by Amy M. Weir

“…I’m going to scope out the area while you’re waiting,” my husband said. The kids wanted to scope out the area, too, but anyone who wanted to participate in the training had to sign up personally. They were good about it at first, though. For the first half hour of the wait, they spotted lizards and made friends with the other kids in line. After a while, the whining started. I’ve already compared the boy to Kylo Ren on this site before. The girl is usually more jolly, except that morning she’d thrown up in the car and would, two days later, be diagnosed with strep throat. I tried to distract them with paper and pens. Wasn’t sure what to do with them when they got bored of that. Couldn’t exactly separate them. Didn’t want to leave the line we’d been in for an hour. They were already effectively in Time-Out: “Here! Stand here not doing anything for ten minutes! Or, ten times that!”

“I changed my mind,” the boy said when there were only two curves left in the line. “I don’t want to do it anymore.”

“But we’ve been here over an hour! We can’t just waste that time!” I don’t know if this was the most mature reaction I could make. But it was true.

Meanwhile, their dad looked up our FastPass schedule at a kiosk, bought an Indiana Jones hat, and checked out the movie “Path of the Jedi.” “Should we see it after this?” I asked him when he returned. “Eh, it’s just movie clips.” We decided not to bother, but in retrospect, I wonder if it would have done the kids good to get a condensed version of the whole story like that. All their Star Wars knowledge is based on one viewing of A New Hope and gleaned from culture beyond that.

By the time we reached the sign-up podium, the man there apologetically informed us that the earliest open training spots left were for the 5:40 show, which seemed perfectly decent to me. We’d made it, and before dark! The children promised the man that they could follow directions and would reject the Dark Side, he told us sternly to meet here at the store a half-hour early to line up, and I asked the time of the man pretending to be Indiana Jones near the check out counter. That man was actually my husband, by the way. He really liked his new hat.

“10:45,” he said with a sigh. “You spent almost two hours in line.”

“And our first FastPass was at…?”

“‘Star Tours’ at 10:10. We missed it.”

“There’s a window, actually, but we’re probably not going to make it over there anyway. Don’t worry, I think you can get new FastPasses once you use up your others.”

“Did I just hear you say you missed your FastPass?” a saleslady interrupted. “Here, just hand them this at the line whenever you want.”

“For ‘Star Tours’? Right now?” The ticket she handed me said, “This allows a party of 4 FastPass lane access for one attraction.” Nothing about times or attractions or other fine print.

“Whenever you want!” she and two of her coworkers behind her repeated.

Oh. That was easy. I have a feeling lots of seemingly troublesome situations at Disney have a simple solution if you only think to ask.

While discussing this upcoming trip with the other GeekParents, Anika had pointed out that I’d probably be the first GeekParent to catch the newest attraction, a live show called “A Galaxy Far Far Away,” so I knew we couldn’t miss that.

The good news is, it’s hard to miss. The stages are set up right in the main plaza of Hollywood Studios, in front of the Chinese Theater. The ten-minute show runs loudly there in the middle of the park each hour from 12:30-6:30. We sat in front of the Dockside Diner eating lunch and wondering if we might just as well watch the show from our table.

The bad news is, it’s hard to actually SEE. Never mind seeing anything from the Dockside Diner, the plaza itself became so crowded with (tall, standing) people that I can’t imagine anyone beyond the very front rows could see much but the tops of the three movie screens and the very tips of the heads of the costumed characters who came out. I’m 5’3″ and could barely catch sight of the characters. My kids gave up entirely. They sat on the ground playing with some souvenirs and eventually wandering away to find a shadier corner.

My view of "Star Wars: A Galaxy Far, Far Away." Image by Amy M. Weir.
My view of “Star Wars: A Galaxy Far, Far Away.” Image by Amy M. Weir.

I imagine when the show finds a more permanent home in the upcoming Star Wars Land they’ll work out these logistical things. Maybe an amphitheater arrangement would help. If everyone now just sat on the ground instead of standing, like they would later for fireworks, more people would be able to see.

Visibility aside, the thing that struck me most about this show was how much the adults were into it. The show is not so much a narrative play (which it isn’t at all) as an opportunity for characters to come out and everyone to cheer for them, and by “everyone” I mostly mean “grownups having geek-out fits.” Darth Vader came out and there were even loud and enthusiastic boos, as if the Rebellion depended on it. Maybe there would have been more children involved in the cheering if they could see. Or it could be we grown-up Star Wars fans have just been waiting for this longer.

There are lots of things to do at Hollywood Studios that have nothing to do with Star Wars, and we did those, too. But most of the other franchises get one show or attraction dedicated to them at most. Star Wars had seven. That’s counting the entire Launch Bay as one. The official Star Wars Land section of the park had only just started construction, but my husband took to calling Hollywood Studios itselfStar Wars Land” for the rest of the week.

Stormtroopers, at least, could be seen anywhere and everywhere. All day they would patrol the park in pairs, asking “citizens” (as they called anyone they encountered) if all was in order. My husband kept trying to report the 9-year-old for being a Rebel Spy, but couldn’t get him properly arrested. On the other hand, a couple of stormtroopers tried to recruit the boy to help them inspect garbage cans for suspicious activity, much to the children’s amusement.

The 7-year-old's journal entry noting a couple of the day's highlights; photographic proof of garbage can clearing. Images via Amy M. Weir
The 7-year-old’s journal entry noting a couple of the day’s highlights; photographic proof of garbage can clearing. Images via Amy M. Weir

The first time we tried to go to the Launch Bay, we were held up by an entire procession of First Order Troops, led by Captain Phasma herself, who paraded out of the Bay and into the center of the park and back, arresting an onlooker along the way. The processions seemed to take place hourly, though they were not advertised on any specific schedule. This time, they waylaid our family long enough for the 7-year-old to catch sight of Princess Sofia the First and immediately drop all other plans until she had a hug and autograph. Her dad and brother decided to scope out the Launch Bay while she was busy. “There’s a lot in there,” the hubs informed me. “There’s no way we can fit it all in before our next FastPass.” The passes were to two different things: the girl wanted to see “Beauty and the Beast,” the boy didn’t, the hubs had never seen the “Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular” and I’d seen it three times (decades ago, but), so we split up and arranged to meet back at the Launch Bay when we’d finished.

When we met back up (slipping into the Bay just behind another Procession of Troops), there was a 40-minute wait to see Chewbacca. “No,” the boy said.

“You don’t want to meet CHEWBACCA?”

“Not if I have to wait 40 minutes,” he muttered. But I wanted to meet Chewbacca, and his dad wanted to meet Chewbacca, and his sister was also tired of waiting but she had a mini-Chewbacca hanging on her suitcase so could be more easily persuaded, so we dragged him into the line, which moved more quickly than advertised and boasted a nice collection of lightsaber hilts and monitors with trivia questions that even caught his interest.

And when we reached Chewy, I didn’t care anymore what the kids thought about it. I thought I was a pretty jaded grown-up. All these character meet-and-greets are so clearly motionless cartoon head masks or women in crazy wigs that it’s hard to feel much personally about meeting them. But when I actually entered the room with Chewy… I mean, I was IN A ROOM WITH CHEWBACCA. A giant internal squee rose up unbidden. THIS IS ACTUALLY CHEWY AND HE IS RIGHT HERE! HIS FURRY ARM IS AROUND MY SHOULDERS! We moved off and the kids were already looking for something new to do and I was all WE TOTALLY MET CHEWY, GUYS, THAT WAS HIM!

Meeting Chewy.
Meeting Chewy.

But the boy quickly found his favorite spot in the Launch Bay–where the video games were–and he and his dad battled it out for awhile on a Sith-fighting game while I took pictures of blue milk and dodged Jawas, who were lurking everywhere and would often follow close behind you for longer than was at all comfortable. You’d jump and they’d jabber and back off, and then start following you again. We joked about who in our family we should trade to the Jawas until the girl started to wonder if we were serious.

We crossed the park (we could see the “Galaxy Far Far Away” show from behind–there wasn’t much to see from that angle, either) to use our “Star Tours” raincheck-FastPass, which worked without a hitch. I knew I’d ridden “Star Tours” on my last trip to Disney, 21 years ago, but I couldn’t remember anything about it. It came back to me once C-3PO showed up, but I know Finn and BB-8 hadn’t been there my first time. There hadn’t been seismic charges either, for that matter. Endless surprises! But I felt a little carsick and glanced worriedly toward the girl who’d thrown up that morning. Oh, please don’t let this be too much for them! Just my luck I’d turn them off to Star Wars instead of on!

“You okay?” I asked as we disembarked.

They both looked at me suspiciously. “Yeah.”

“I mean your tummy.”

“Yeah. Except I’m hungry.”

So at least “Star Tours” hadn’t turned them off to Star Wars. But Jedi Training might.

When we emerged from the conveniently exit-placed “Star Tours” gift shop, another group’s “Trail of the Temple” was in progress. Darth Vader had just appeared out of the fog. The 9-year-old pulled my arm downward and whispered, “I don’t want to do the Jedi Training.”

“After you waited in line two hours?!” I started to whine. It’s contagious.

“I didn’t know Darth Vader was going to be there.”

“But you’ll be trained to face him! You’ll be fine! You’re SUPPOSED to beat him!” Then my responsible-parent-brain turned back on and I suggested, “How about we stay and watch how this trial goes. Will you feel better if you see how everything turns out?”

He shrugged. “I guess so. Maybe?”

So we stayed. And as it turned out, the whole storyline of the training was about facing up to your fears. This could be good on multiple levels. When the successful new padawans took their bows, I said, “Well? Are you going to do it?”

“I don’t know,” the boy said.

But when his younger sister insisted that SHE was going through with the trials, he relented. We grabbed an early supper and it was time to meet the other trainees back at the Indiana Jones shop.

We gathered out back and waited some more. Some Cast Members lined the kids up by height and passed out Jedi robes, which had to be returned after the show (no one was more disappointed about that than my husband). The Cast Members explained the importance of staying in line, because each line went to a separate level of the stage, and each level was covered by a different photographer, and you needed to take the card of the correct photographer if you wanted to get the official photographs of your kid. The kids waited antsily. The boy reached somewhat pathetically toward me, anxious still. I did hold his hand as the group crossed the park to the stage. The Cast Member in front held a banner as we marched, identifying us as Jedi trainees, but that didn’t stop other visitors from crowding us or cutting through the line, which made both of mine uncomfortable more. I took the PhotoPass card that would soon apply to their group, bid them cheerily to have fun, and left them with the other padawans to find a spot in the audience.

Soon, a couple of Jedi led them in a simple lightsaber routine, stressing that being a Jedi was less about fighting and more about facing up to the attitudes inside that could lead to the Dark Side–most especially fear. When Darth Vader and an Inquisitor*, and later Kylo Ren, emerged from the Temple, the Jedi Master in charge made it clear that they were merely representations of the padawans’ own fears, that this was all part of the Trials.

Facing up to the Dark Side. Image courtesy Disney PhotoPass.
Facing up to the Dark Side. Image courtesy Disney PhotoPass.

I waited for one of my children to balk or cry or run away, but they didn’t. They played. They got into it. They faced their fears and came out beaming with pride, showing off the “TRIALS OF THE TEMPLE” badges they’d earned, and begging for their own lightsabers from the conveniently-stationed vendor. They were 30 bucks each. “Remind me when we get home,” I told them instead. “I saw some at Five Below.”

We’d seen all we wanted to see in the park an hour before the “Symphony in the Stars” fireworks were due to start. Our feet were tired, so we plopped onto the pavement outside the Chinese Theater (see? Everyone was sitting now!) to talk about the day while we waited. “What was your favorite thing we did today?”

The queasy-stomached princess-fanatic who’d belted her way through the “Frozen Sing-Along” immediately piped up, “The Star Wars one where we flew the ship!”

“‘Star Tours’?” I responded, and then added without thinking, “REALLY?”

“YEAH!”

I tried to clarify my confusion. “Not Frozen?”

Frozen was my second-favorite!”

“Oh,” I said. “And you, Sam?”

“I can’t pick a favorite,” he said thoughtfully. “Maybe ‘The Little Mermaid.’ Maybe ‘Star Tours’.”

“Wow.” Then, to double-check the value of our first two hours again, I added, “Did you like Jedi training?”

“Yes!” they both shouted, and started to reminisce their favorite parts of the show.

"Symphony In the Stars." Image by Amy M. Weir.
“Symphony In the Stars.” Image by Amy M. Weir.

The fireworks started. I can’t possibly objectively review a fireworks show set to Star Wars music. To be honest I suspect I wouldn’t be nearly the fan I am without John Williams’ influence. Star Wars is my absolute favorite movie music (not counting musicals and rock soundtracks), and I’m a music geek. It makes me happy automatically. So yes, I loved the fireworks, but that doesn’t say much. A better recommendation might come from my husband, who two days later advised a family of strangers to make sure they saved their Hollywood Studios energy to the end of the day because “Symphony in the Stars” was a must-see.

We all left satisfied, even if I hadn’t created the raving Star Wars fanatics I’d hoped to create. But maybe it’s a slow burn. My 9-year-old just tried to Force-push me. So that’s progress.

*I have not seen the cartoons! Forgive me! She probably means more to you than she meant to me!

Proud young Jedi. Image by Amy M. Weir
Proud young Jedi. Image by Amy M. Weir

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Amy M. Weir is a public youth services librarian in SW Pennsylvania, and there’s nothing she geeks out about more. Outside of work she obsesses over music (especially rock especially psychedelic pop especially The Beatles), sews clothes, gardens when the weather’s nice, avoids housework, and generally is the poster-child for Enneatype 9, which she attempts to counteract with yoga when she remembers. She has an RPG-and-firearms-geek husband who asked her out by playing a Paladin-in-Shining-Armor devoted to serving her character in D&D; a LEGO-and-Minecraft-geek 10yo named after a hobbit; a My Little Pony-and-art-geek 8yo named after a SFF writer; and an Imaginary Husband named Martin Freeman, who isn’t actually aware of this relationship.