Brace yourselves for the jump to hyperspace, because Disney’s Hollywood Studios has unleashed an army of new Star Wars attractions upon Walt Disney World visitors, just ahead of the worldwide debut of The Force Awakens. As of December 1, Star Wars Launch Bay has joined the DHS attraction lineup, along with Path of the Jedi, and an enhanced Jedi Training Academy: Trails of the Temple show. Plus there’s some exclusive new Star Wars snacks to sample.
We were there for opening day of the new Star Wars attractions to bring you this detailed photo review of the additions. Let’s start with a look at the current Times Guide, with the new offerings highlighted by a red symbol.
Star Wars Launch Bay
Star Wars Launch Bay is walk-through exhibit celebrating the space opera saga through museum-style displays and interactive meet and greets. The façade of the building (which formerly housed the Magic of Disney Animation attraction) has been redressed as a First Order military base from Star Wars: The Force Awakens; watch for new-model Stormtroopers patrolling the plaza outside.
Upon approaching the Launch Bay, guests can bear left to wait for the introductory film, or take the right hand queue to enter the exhibit itself more quickly. If you chose to watch the movie, there are movie posters and enlargements of original concept art on the walls to examine while you wait.
The 9-minute film screened in the Launch Bay Theater features interview snippets with some of the creators of the new Star Wars films, including Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy, Force Awakens director J.J. Abrams, and Rogue One director Gareth Edwards. We hear the talking heads gush about their lifelong love of the series, interspersed with clips from the classic trilogy, though there’s hardly any reference to the prequels. The presentation includes footage from Force Awakens (all already familiar to fans from the trailers), as well as a brief preview of DHS’s upcoming Star Wars land from Imagineer Scott Trowbridge.
If you have zero interest in Star Wars this film will likely bore you (but then why would you go to this attraction in the first place?), and if you are an uber-fan you’ve probably seen all of the material here many times before. For anyone in the middle, the intro movie does a masterful job of getting you pumped for the onrushing tsunami of Star Wars products that will be flooding our way for the foreseeable future.
Inside the Launch Bay proper, the first room displays replica props and models representing the vehicles and weapons of the Rebel Alliance and Galactic Empire, as seen in Episodes IV through VI. The highlight of this area is a detailed scale reproduction of Boba Fett’s Slave I spaceship, with a tiny figure of the infamous bounty hunter visible inside the cockpit.
Exiting the first chamber under a glowing sign reading “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…”, you next enter a hallway containing the only objects in the exhibit that were actually used in making the Star Wars films. Inside glassed-in offices originally occupied by Disney Animators, you’ll spot Anakin’s pod racer from The Phantom Menace and an Endor speeder bike from Return of the Jedi, both authentic props seen on the big screen.
The large central portion of the Star Wars Launch Bay building is dominated by two elaborate meet and greets. Visitors can chose between two queues. One leads to a Rebel base where Chewbacca, the world’s favorite Wookie, awaits; the other to an Imperial bunker occupied by Darth Vader, the Dark Lord of The Sith.
Whichever side you select, you’ll find a couple cases of replica helmets and lightsabers to look at, along with overhead televisions broadcasting head-scratchingly tough Star Wars trivia. The line moves slowly (cast members estimated they were averaging 100 guests per hour on opening day) but at least wait times seem shorter in Orlando than they’ve been at Anaheim’s equivalent attraction.
The wait, however, is well worth it, since both meet and greets use Disney’s latest interactive technology to bring these iconic characters to life. Chewbacca can move his mouth and growl in response to your questions, while Vader has a full vocabulary of sinister phrases to taunt you with. The queue is also carefully managed to prevent guests from seeing the encounter ahead of them, so your face-to-face really feels like an intimate experience. My only quibble is that the Chewie I met seemed a bit stouter than I remember, especially in the face; maybe this is how he looks in the new movie, or maybe he just ate a few too many Ewoks while celebrating Life Day…
In addition to the two public meet and greets, there is a private “Imperial meet and greet” reserved for Disney Visa credit card holders. It located near the exhibit exit, and is open daily from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Beyond the meet and greets, the Launch Bay includes a small mock-up of the Mos Eisley cantina, where you may mingle with Jawas or other aliens. You can snap a selfie at the holochess table, but (alas) the blue milk on the bar is only for display.
Next up is a room full of video game consoles were players can test drive Disney Infinity 3.0, not unlike the kiosks you’ll find in your local electronics store. There’s also a table full of tablets running Angry Birds Star Wars, in case you haven’t already downloaded the fowl-flinging game on your smartphone.
Finally, the last chamber of Star Wars Launch Bay is devoted to the new Force Awakens film. One side of the room showcases weapons and vehicles favored by the Resistance (the successors to the classic trilogy’s Alliance), including Rey’s scavenger tools and Luke’s long-lost lightsaber.
The other side of the room is dedicated to the First Order, who picked up where the Empire left off. On opening day, a cast member was on hand here with a glowing Kylo Ren lightsaber for guests to pose with.
Fans desperate for clues about the new film ahead of its release will want to carefully read the prop descriptions, which reveal some plot details that had previously only been rumored.
In the middle of the final room flies a fantastic model of the Millennium Falcon, featuring the rectangular reflector dish seen in the new movie.
After exploring the entire Launch Bay exhibit, guests exit into the new Launch Bay Cargo shop, which is stocked with high-end memorabilia aimed at well-heeled collectors. If you want mass-market Star Wars clothes and toys, head over to Watto’s Grotto near Studio Catering Co. If, on the other hand, you want to spend $4000 on an authentically detailed Darth Vader costume (perfect for wearing to any wedding or Bar Mitzvah), or $3050 on a life-sized Kenner Boba Fett action figure, this is the place.
Launch Bay Cargo also offers D-Tech customized smartphone cases in a wide range of spacey designs; a green screen photo studio that inserts your image into scenes from the saga; and even umbrellas with lightsaber handles – just in case your Jedi powers don’t include dodging raindrops.
Jedi Training Academy: Trials of the Temple
Coinciding with the opening of Star Wars Launch Bay, DHS has also launched an updated version of the popular Jedi Training Academy show, now subtitled “Trials of the Temple.” The old set, which was modeled after an Endor bunker in order to blend in with Star Tours’ Ewok village exterior, now resembles an ancient sandstone structure, with an extended lower section of the stage to accommodate additional participants.
The new Jedi Training Academy has a similar structure to before, with a Jedi Master and his assistants teaching their young Padawan volunteers a simple series of lightsaber strikes. One difference is that the kids no longer use cheap plastic flick-out swords, but are instead loaned light-up blades that look much better, especially after sunset.
Once the initial training is over, Darth Vader enters accompanied by the show’s other big new addition: the Seventh Sister, an evil Inquisitor character voiced by Sarah Michelle Gellar (of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame) in the second season of Star Wars Rebels. Vader duels half of the trainees, while the Seventh Sister faces off against the others.
After each volunteer has had their turn, the entire class uses their Force powers to banish the baddies, but the show isn’t over yet. Darth Maul arrives, wielding his signature double-bladed lightsaber, and confronts the Jedi Master’s apprentice in choreographed battle that serves as the show’s new climax.
Jedi Training Academy is currently not listed in the Park Map or Times Guide. Look for the show schedule on a sign to the left of the Star Tours entrance. Those wanting to participate will find trainee check-in at the Indiana Jones Adventure Outpost shop, next to the 50’s Prime Time Café; spots fill quickly, so make it your first stop if your child wishes to volunteer.
Here’s an opening day video of highlights from the new Trials of the Temple show:
Path of the Jedi
A minor addition to DHS’s galactic attractions, Path of the Jedi is a 10 minute montage of memorable moments from all of the Star Wars movies. Rather than try to recap the plot of all six films, Path of the Jedi takes iconic images and dialogue from the saga and stitches them together thematically, rather than chronologically. If you haven’t already seen all the movies, the result will be visually dazzling but incoherent; for the rest of us, it makes a great memory jog.
The classic footage culminates in the death of Darth Vader, then segues into the theatrical trailer for The Force Awakens, which includes glimpses of an aged Han Solo and Princess Leia, alongside the youthful new heroes. The show is presented every 15 minutes inside the ABC Sound Studio, formerly the home of Drew Carey’s Sounds Dangerous. Even on opening day there were plenty of empty seats available, so you’re safe to squeeze it into your touring plans whenever you pass by as a show is starting.
Star Wars Food
Disney can’t have any kind of celebration without cooking up some exclusive new edibles, and the debut of Star Wars Launch Bay is no exception. You’ll find new Star Wars-inspired eats all around the park, starting with collectible popcorn buckets modeled after the black First Order TIE Fighters. (Sorry folks, for now it’s not possible to buy the TIE without paying for the popcorn too.)
Most quick service locations around the park also offer one or more Star Wars specialty cupcakes.
Min and Bill’s Dockside Diner has added a number of Star Wars items to its menu, like a Han Solo in Carbonite kids’ meal, a blue milk shake (made with blue raspberry and cream), and a BB-8 rice krispie treat.
The widest selection of Star Wars snacks can be found at Backlot Express. The signature entrée is the Royal Guard Burger, served on a black pumpernickel bun. Corellian Spice Fries are Disney’s usual spuds seasoned with parmesan, garlic, and parsley.
Dark Side Chicken and Waffles takes Disney’s standard chicken nugget platter and swaps the french fries for two small waffles stamped with Darth Vader’s image, served with a side of pre-packaged syrup.
Blue Milk Panna Cotta is a No Sugar Added vanilla pudding topped with blueberries in syrup. It isn’t a bad dessert, especially for those watching their sugar intake, but the pale blue coloring added nothing to the panna cotta’s flavor.
Also new on the Backlot Express menu are a Galactic Chicken Salad (served with an R2-D2 corn tortilla), alcoholic and virgin cocktails with Star Wars glow cubes; and the full range of souvenir steins.