Aspen Times Weekly: For ‘Star Wars’ Fans …

by Amiee White Beazley

It took all of five minutes for my sons, ages 10 and 7, to ride their first “Star Wars” ride at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. “Star Tours” is a fast-paced simulator ride that makes you feel like you are riding in a ship along the planet of Naboo. But was I with them? No, because I was waiting in line for almost two hours in my quest to get them a place in the “Jedi Training Academy” interactive experience, which, of course, was totally worth it when you finally get to watch your kids trade lightsaber barbs with Kylo Ren and The Inquisitor.

As it stands now, Disney’s Hollywood Studios is a confused place. A park mixed with old Hollywood during the heydays of movie making, back lots and stunt shows, nods to current Disney movies and franchises, like ABC Television and yes, “Star Wars.” At Hollywood Studios, there are other “Star Wars” rides and experiences like Star Wars Launch Bay, but after targeting the small handful of offerings, we were on to Aerosmith’s Rockin’ Roller Coaster and the Tower of Terror. See a theme here in this theme park? No? Me either. No wonder it’s Disney World’s least-visited theme park. But, multiple personalities aside, things are looking up for Hollywood Studios.

Slated to open in 2018, the new “Star Wars Land” at Hollywood Studios (and also Disneyland) will be 14 acres of other-galaxy adventure. Although final details on the upcoming theme-park-within-a theme-park aren’t finalized, I reached out to the owner of “Closer to the Magic” travel agency and its head honcho, “The Mouse Diva,” herself, Michelle Northup, who is one of the country’s leading Disney vacation planners. If anyone knows the inside scoop, it’s The Mouse Diva.

“There’s a lot of speculation,” says Northup on the specifics of “Star Wars Land,” “but here’s what we do know about it: Instead of ‘Star Wars Land’ being any of the planets we’ve seen in the movies, they are creating a completely new, never-see-before-planet, a place movie fans have never been to.”

In this new world, says Northup, two new rides have been confirmed. The first is a simulator ride where guests board the Millennium Falcon and become pilot, steering the vessel through space and operating fire laser cannons. The second is another battle ride, where guests are right in the middle of storm troopers and resistance fighters.

New dining venues have also been announced. A cantina, just like the one in the original “Star Wars” (“A New Hope”) film, with a bar and lounge, complete with a band playing, and a second slated to be a character-driven dinner club with sit-down service. Northup says the second restaurant is based off of a scene in which Jabba the Hut hangs out in a dinner theater.

Also announced is a very cool open-air market concept where all the vendors will be characters and local food and drinks will be sold. “The whole land will touch all of the senses,” Northup explains.

Another boost to Hollywood Studios, outside of “Star Wars” is the projected opening of “Toy Story Land.” This new section will be designed as Andy’s backyard from the “Toy Story” movie franchise, with rides like the Slinky Dog Roller Coaster and an alien saucer ride.

“Hollywood Studios is going to be very different in the next few years,” says Michelle.

And that’s probably a good thing, not just for guests, but for Disney’s bottom line, too.

With the opening of Universal Orlando Resorts and “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter,” Disney has been losing out on the tween-to-teenage visitor’s dollar. The new “Star Wars Land” should be able to compete head-to-head with the wizards down the road.

“The World of Harry Potter was a huge success and still is,” says Michelle. “Now Disney has this way of bringing those teens and tweens back with ‘Star Wars.’ It will get people of all ages to Hollywood Studios.”

Amiee White Beazley writes about travel for the Aspen Times Weekly. Reach her at or follow her @awbeazley1.