While Star Wars fans anxiously await the day they find themselves walking up the ramp of the Millennium Falcon in Disney’s Hollywood Studios, they can console themselves with a pretty immersive experience at the newly opened Star Wars Launch Bay (occupying the former Magic of Disney Animation space). And while Star Wars fans who are mourning the end of Star Wars Weekends won’t be entirely consoled by the Launch Bay, they are bound to walk out pretty wow-ed. The Force is strong in this place.
The courtyard in front of the Star Wars Launch Bay (reached by walking through the square-edged arch off the main hub of the park) is often patrolled by First Order storm troopers, so keep your camera ready. But don’t generally expect them to stop and pose. Storm troopers aren’t known for their effervescent personalities. Regular Launch Bay cast members are friendlier, with their “welcome travelers” and their waggling lightsabers.
Over the entrance to the Star Wars Launch Bay hangs the red and black symbol of the evil First Order, but you’ll find plenty of Rebellion and Resistance inside. Wall-sized concept art, movie posters and stills from all seven Star Wars movies (plus the Star Wars Rebels cartoon series) line the outdoor walkways. You’ll pass the Launch Bay Theater which features a pre-show type ten-minute film about Star Wars with behind-the-scenes interviews of producers involved in the Force Awakens. The highlight is a glimpse in the background of the set of the upcoming Rogue One, but even die-hard Star Wars fans may feel the propaganda rather than the Force. The real show – and the Easter Eggs – are ahead. (Keep in mind that if you decide to come back later to see the film, you’ll have to exit the attraction and re-enter, as you can’t backtrack to it.)
Disney knows how to push all our Star Wars buttons. Over the door of the first gallery, bright blue lettering glows, “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away ….” An opening message printed in the style of the scrolling introduction to each film appears on the carpet ahead. “Here at the Launch Bay, discover the latest stories of the saga and feel the power of the Force, binding us together. Our journey begins with an awakening. Welcome to a new era…” John Williams’ evocative film scores complete the Forceful mood.
The exhibits of the first room, the “Celebration Gallery” (according to the map of the Star Wars Launch Bay in the queue) represent the original Star Wars trilogy (New Hope, Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi) with a dark side and a light side. A replica of Luke Skywalker’s x-wing starfighter pilot uniform stands beside a five-foot-long model of the Tantive IV. In the middle of the room, don’t miss a detailed replica of bounty hunter ship Slave I, complete with a miniature Boba Fett sitting in the pilot’s seat. You can almost hear him muttering, “No disintegrations!?”
In the hallway beyond the first gallery, you’ll see two authentic props from the Star Wars saga: young Anakin’s pod racer from The Phantom Menace and a speeder bike seen zooming through the Endorian forest in Return of the Jedi.
Beyond you’ll choose light side or dark side for your character greeting. Kylo Ren is on the bridge and Chewie is in the Resistance headquarters, waiting to meet you. Of course, you’re the one who’ll have to do a bit of waiting — generally not more than 20-30 minutes. The lines move fairly quickly as there are (secretly) two greetings going on for each character.
The character queues have glass cases filled with replica helmets and light sabers. Sharp turns in the hallways prevent you from seeing Chewie or Kylo Ren until it’s your turn – which makes for a dramatic reveal when you come around the corner and see either Chewie or Kylo Ren welcoming you (with either an impressive but friendly Wookie roar or a sinister challenge, respectively). Near the exhibit exit is a separate character greeting entrance for Disney Visa card holders. It leads to the same greeting areas as the other queues, and it may save you some time if the lines are longer than 20 minutes. Disney PhotoPass photographers are usually on hand – and will gladly capture images for you with your own personal “imaging device.”
You won’t see much scum and villainy in the Mos Eisley Cantina, but there are generally Jawas — skittish and unpredictable. They may or may not trade with you. It’s worth a try. Bring along a small dollar store trinket – a plastic ring with a fake gem would get their attention!
That’s not junk behind those wire mesh doors in the Cantina walls — it’s Star Wars saga treasure! Aficionados will have a field day identifying it all, starting with a Tusken Raider gaffi stick alongside shelves full of obscure Star Wars impedimenta. Can you spot C-3PO’s missing left arm (replaced with a red one in Force Awakens)? That’s Willrow Hood’s infamous ice cream maker from the Cloud City evacuation in Empire along with G2-9T’s backpack and eyepiece from the Star Tours queue and Luke’s black Bantha-gazing macrobinoculars from New Hope. On the middle shelf, find Rebel goggles used on Hoth, a Jawa blaster, the bony chin strap from Lando’s Jedi disguise, plus Luke’s electrobinoculars from Hoth (not to mention a possible thermal detonator). Boba Fett’s white prototype backpack is on the bottom shelf with a Rebel trooper’s backpack.
Unfortunately, the holochess board doesn’t come alive with holographic figures, but it’s still a great photo op. The name over the little alcove translates to “Dejarik” which is the game C3-PO and Chewie were playing in A New Hope. (The droid let the Wookie win.) Nearby, you can spot the droid face plates repurposed as lampshades.
Painted murals and cantina advertising on the walls is written in the Star Wars alien alphabet. Serious Star Wars fans could consult an online alphabet key to translate the slogans. (The one beside the red cocktail glass translates, “Bantha Blast.”) You can pose at the bar with a cup of blue milk (it’s attached to the counter). Hopefully, no one will approach and say, “My friend doesn’t like you.”
The popular Star Wars Game Center has stations where galactic travelers can try out Disney Infinity 3.0 (featuring an exclusive Toy Box) and Angry Birds Star Wars.
The last room, the Preview Gallery, is like the first, divided into light side and dark side — this one devoted to Force Awakens. The detailed model of the Millennium Falcon is equipped with the rectangular dish from Force Awakens (since Lando knocked off the circular one in the second Death Star attack). You can also see Poe Dameron’s helmet and blaster as well as Luke’s lightsaber.
After all this immersion, you’ll be in the mood to shop in the Star Wars Launch Bay Cargo — though you may end up just window shopping as the prices are intergalactic. The merch includes high-end costumes, movie prop replicas, life-size sculptures, and autographed memorabilia. You can choose from a selection of Star Wars art to create a unique print-on-demand phone case. You can also pop over to Tatooine Traders to take home a more moderately priced Star Wars souvenir! While the Launch Bay is Star Wars Nirvana, fans of the saga won’t want to leave the Studios without a ride on the updated Star Tours (why does everyone want to go back to Jakku?) and a viewing of the fabulous reboot, Jedi Training: Trials of the Temple show which features a creative and effective story line. You can view a 10 minute Star Wars highlight reel (though your time might be better spent simply viewing the films at home) at Star Wars: Path of the Jedi. There’s also a new stage show, Star Wars: A Galaxy Far, Far Away, which consists of yet another highlight reel of the seven Star Wars films along a with number of the characters coming on stage to perform beauty-pageant-style posturings in front of the screen. You can end the day with Symphony in the Stars: A Galactic Spectacular, fireworks set to the epic soundtracks of the films — a show that’s truly out of this world.