Star Wars at Disney World: How it Started, How it’s Going

by | Apr 22, 2024 | Disney Movies, Disney's Hollywood Studios, Star Wars, Walt Disney World News, WDW Blog

Find out everything Star Wars at Disney World with our complete guide to the past and present ways to celebrate a galaxy far, far away!

Not a fan of singing princesses, flying elephants, or talking puppets? Well, you don’t have to love the Disney classics to enjoy Walt Disney World anymore. These days, the most magical place on Earth is fueled by a bit more than just pixie dust – the Force has a little something to do with it, too!

In 2012, Disney set its sights on the Star Wars franchise. Since then, hungry fans have been kept well-fed (to say the least!). Not only have they produced five feature Star Wars films, but they have also released eight original television shows – most notably, The Mandalorian (2019). These new productions have introduced audiences to now iconic characters such as Kylo Ren, Rey Skywalker, and of course Grogu (a.k.a. Baby Yoda).

Star Wars at Disney World

Comic books, novels, animated shorts, and more have also been released since Disney’s acquisition of the franchise. But of course, this space opera renaissance wouldn’t be complete without fully immersive experiences such as Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge and the Galactic Starcruiser. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves; take a ride with us through the Star Wars attractions of past, present, and future at Walt Disney World’s Hollywood Studios.

Star Tours

Ever wanted to take a tour of a galaxy far, far away? Here’s your chance! Believe it or not, without Star Tours, Disney may never have bought Star Wars. Keep reading to discover how Star Tours changed the Star Wars universe forever and how you can embark on your very own journey through the galaxy.

A Brief History of Star Tours

Walt Disney World’s relationship with Star Wars first began with the opening of Star Tours, an attraction that took guests on a tour gone wrong with an inexperienced yet lovable droid pilot, “Rex” (voiced by Paul Reuben, widely known as Pee-Wee Herman). The ride opened in 1987 at Disneyland as a product of a fortuitous yet fruitful relationship between Michael Eisner, then CEO of the Walt Disney Company, and Star Wars creator George Lucas.

Star Tours was the first of its kind; the attraction ushered in an age of hydraulic-powered simulator rides, which captivated guests. Many riders actually thought that there was an underground rollercoaster track upon which their spaceship moved! The ride was so successful that the park stayed open for a continuous 60 hours after its debut. In an age where Disneyland was essentially “out”, the production of Star Tours (along with ’80s star-studded relic Captain EO) made Disneyland cool again.

The ride was so beloved by guests that it would be replicated in both Tokyo Disneyland and Walt Disney World’s MGM Studios (later to become Disney’s Hollywood Studios) in 1989.

Star Tours: The Adventures Continue at Disney’s Hollywood Studios

In 2011, Imagineers proudly debuted a reimagined and revamped version of the attraction that had teleported guests to a galaxy far, far away for nearly 25 years. Star Tours: The Adventures Continue took everything that guests loved about the ride and took it up a notch!

Imagineers created a randomization feature that invites guests to embark on an unpredictable ride to the most iconic planets from the Star Wars galaxy. Guests had to say goodbye to Rex, their trusty tour guide of two decades, but welcomed C-3PO as his successor. He didn’t go far, though – stop by Oga’s Cantina in Galaxy’s Edge to pay him a visit!

Star Tours at Walt Disney World

Photo by Cliff Wang

On the opening day of Star Tours: The Adventures Continue, Disney CEO Bob Iger and George Lucas had lunch together in Hollywood Studios. This is where Iger first inquired about Disney purchasing the Star Wars franchise, which Lucas would agree to just one year later.

Star Tours remains one of the most popular rides in Disney’s Hollywood Studios to this day. Imagineers continue to refresh the ride with all-new sequences, including new additions in 2024! You can find this iconic ride near the southeast wing of Hollywood Studios, nestled adjacent to Backlot Express.

Jedi Training Academy

The Jedi Training Academy was an interactive guest experience that offered enrollment to young Padawans from 2007 – 2015. Kids were given ~very official~ Jedi robes and lightsabers by their Jedi Masters, who instructed them on basic sword-fighting techniques on a themed stage. After the instruction had concluded, that’s when the trouble would begin.

The facilitators would sense a disturbance in the Force – it was Darth Vader! Vader and his battalion of stormtroopers would enter the scene, sometimes accompanied by other villainous characters such as Darth Maul. Occasionally, characters from The Clone Wars would also make an appearance. Darth Vader would try to convince the Padawans to join him on the Dark Side, but of course, the valiant young Jedis would do no such thing!

After being turned down, the children battled Vader using the sword-fighting moves they learned previously. Once he was defeated, each Padawan received a diploma after returning their Jedi garb.

The attraction was updated in 2015 and re-dubbed “Jedi Training: Trials of the Temple“. For nearly five years, Padawans valiantly battled all-new characters from the newest Star Wars film, Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Unfortunately, the fun came to an end in 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic endured. It appears as though Hollywood Studios will not be reopening the attraction, as the sign was disassembled and removed in July 2022.

May the 4th: Star Wars Celebration

May 4th is a big day at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Basically, it’s the biggest Star Wars fest you could ever imagine! Superfans from all over the world gather at the park to celebrate the ultimate space western saga.

This year, the park was chock full of delightfully nerdy guests and countless offerings of all sorts. Exclusive merchandise racked up a virtual queue of nearly a thousand guests, all of whom hoped to switch out their Jedi robes for a limited edition t-shirt! Exclusive ballcaps, trading pins, and even a limited edition lightsaber were among the merch that guests patiently awaited.

Some people go to Disney for the merch, others for the rides, and some for the character interactions. I’m one of those people who go for the snacks. And boy, are there snacks! May the 4th at Hollywood Studios enticed guests to take a bite of a lightsaber-shaped churro, sip on a cosmic rum punch, or gnaw on a candy apple disturbingly reminiscent of Yoda’s head. That’s my kind of party!

Appearances from characters like R2-D2, Chewbacca, Kylo Ren, and Rey Skywalker are common on Star Wars Day, making the day extra special for guests at Hollywood Studios. If you want to get in on the fun next year, we recommend acting fast! Guests are quite competitive when it comes to securing their tickets.

Star Wars: Launch Bay

Before Walt Disney World opened the mind-blowing pavilion known as Galaxy’s Edge, there was a different place in the park where Star Wars fans would gather. In 2015, just three years after acquiring the Star Wars franchise, Star Wars Launch Bay opened. The Launch Bay was the first substantial glimpse that fans had into what the acquisition might offer guests of the Disney parks.

Since then, Star Wars Launch Bay has offered immersive character greetings with some of the most heroic and menacing characters in the galaxy. You’ll typically be able to catch Darth Vader and Chewbacca at this location. Beware, Vader is a formidable Sith Lord – he’s not likely to dole out the warm hugs you’ll get from Chewie!

You might be wondering why the Launch Bay wasn’t relocated after the opening of Galaxy’s Edge. Without getting into too much lore, the land of Batuu (the planet on which Galaxy’s Edge exists) is portrayed during a certain time period that exists between the films The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker.

Spoiler Alert

⚠️ SPOILER ALERT! ⚠️ Darth Vader is, well, dead by the time these movies came out. Meeting Darth Vader is scary enough, I don’t want to meet the resurrected zombie version that would exist during the era of Kylo Ren and Rey Skywalker. So, Star Wars Launch Bay makes for the perfect spot to meet one of the most famous villains in pop culture history!

Star Wars Launch Bay closed for over two years in response to the COVID-19 pandemic but has since been restored to its former glory. Beyond character greetings, guests can also check out the extensive gallery of Star Wars artifacts and pick up branded merchandise, which can’t be found in Galaxy’s Edge.

Planning to pay a visit to Chewie and Vader? Just to the west of the Chinese Theater, you’ll find Animation Courtyard, home to Voyage of the Little Mermaid, Disney Junior Dance Party, and Star Wars Launch Bay. You can’t miss it!

Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge

Alright, alright – let’s get to the good stuff! Now that you’ve got a good idea of how Disney first brought Star Wars to life, we can get into the unbelievable world of Batuu.

Just a few months before the opening of Star Wars Launch Bay, Disney announced that they would be opening an immersive pavilion that would teleport guests to the fictional planet Batuu, a world completely new to fans. Imagineers didn’t want the land to feel like a highlight reel of the Star Wars movies – they wanted to evoke the idea that guests could go on an adventure all their own.

Anyone who has visited Galaxy’s Edge would agree that Imagineers certainly achieved their goal. After three years of construction (and the expansion of 14 acres), a settlement known as Black Spire Outpost would open to the public on August 29th, 2019, in Hollywood Studios. Winding alleyways, a bustling marketplace, in-character cast members, and the jaw-dropping backdrop of mountain-like petrified trees work in conjunction to create a pavilion that you’ll never want to leave.

Not only are guests transported to a faraway planet, but they are also sent to a particular time period. The happenings (and believe me, there are happenings) that occur all over the land are congruent with the lore that can be found in between the films The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker. That means you won’t find Yoda or Boba Fett roaming the streets but are more likely to be interrogated by Kylo Ren!

Attractions at Galaxy’s Edge

There are two primary attractions that Galaxy’s Edge offers, which are Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run and Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance. Smugglers Run puts you in the cockpit of the “fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy”, the Millennium Falcon! Consider this your Han Solo moment. You and your fellow smugglers board the Millennium Falcon (and yes, it looks just like in the movies).

Here, you’re assigned one of three jobs: pilot, gunner, or engineer. Cast members direct you into the cockpit, where you take your respective seats, and Hondo Ohnaka, a notorious space pirate, informs you of your mission: to acquire a shipment of coaxium secured on a First Order train on the planet Corellia. You and your party work together to blast across the galaxy and secure the shipment while defending yourself from the First Order. Talk about an adventure!

While Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run falls neatly into an interactive flight simulator category, Rise of the Resistance is an attraction like no other. Rise of the Resistance is a mind-blowing hybrid of an interactive theatrical performance, a dark ride, a flight simulator, and a drop tower. Yes, I said drop tower! I won’t give away any spoilers – you’ll just have to experience this one for yourself. Whatever you do, don’t miss out on experiencing this attraction.

Batuu Bounty Hunters at Galaxy’s Edge

With the purchase of a MagicBand+, guests can unlock the ability to hunt down the most devious of alien ne’er-do-wells. Using x-ray capabilities, MagicBand+ light sequences, and vibration responses, and much much more, guests young and old alike are bound to find themselves lost in the vast world of Batuu.

If I’m being honest, sometimes I hit up Hollywood Studios just to get my bounty hunter on – by the end of the day, I’ve half-way convinced myself I’m actually in Star Wars. Don’t tell anybody that, though. Get your own MagicBand+ today so you’re all geared up to play once you enter the park. Check out our blog on the wide selection of MagicBands+!

Shopping at Galaxy’s Edge

Most shopping at Black Spire Outpost can be done in the marketplace, a beautiful venue for you to peruse Batuu’s finest offerings. No, you won’t find any Mr. Potato-Head-meets-Darth-Vader merch here. Because Galaxy’s Edge is entirely in-world, guests have to look elsewhere for typical R2-D2 spirit jerseys, Yoda ears, or Star Wars logo tees. Instead, you’ll have the opportunity to peruse more ✨authentic✨ wares at Black Spire Outpost.

One of the vendors you’ll come across offers alien pets for you to take home, including loth cats and Kowakian monkey-lizards! Across the way, discover a toy shop where you can pick up delightful wares. Depicting legendary heroes and villains from galactic history, you can bring home stuffed talismans stitched by Batuu locals.

Beyond the marketplace, be sure to check out Droid Depot to build your very own robot companion, Savi’s Workshop to construct a customized lightsaber, and Okdar’s Den of Antiquities to discover ancient oddities and artifacts. Other shopping can be found in various carts and corners, often offering merchandise to show support for the First Order and the Resistance

Dining at Galaxy’s Edge

If all the bounty hunting and spaceship flying’s got you famished, there are plenty of options on Batuu for galactic grub. Docking Bay 7 doubles as a restaurant and cargo port. Located across from the Millennium Falcon, this counter-service joint offers a variety of savory and sweet options to suit the taste of travelers from all over the galaxy. Having trouble finding it? Just look for the giant ship landing on top of a building!

The other option for quick bites in Black Spire Outpost sits at the far end of the marketplace, aptly named Ronto Roasters. Here you’ll choose from a selection of fresh eats like wraps, fruit salad, and boozy bevvies as a droid spitroasts a ronto under the heat of a massive Podracer engine.

Speaking of spiked beverages, did you know there’s a speakeasy in Galaxy’s Edge? Oga’s Cantina is a highly exclusive haunt for smugglers, complete with oontz-oontz music and craft cocktails. Grab your reservations early or check for cancellations early – this one-of-a-kind experience books up months in advance.

And of course, you can’t miss the alien milk at the Milk Stand or the sweet-and-spicy popcorn at Kat Saka’s kettle.

Galactic Starcruiser

In 2022, Walt Disney World’s venture into a galaxy far, far away opened with the Galactic Starcruiser. Unfortunately, the immersive experience closed in September 2023. 

The Starcruiser took place on a “spaceship” called the Halcyon Starcruiser, which was orbiting above the planet Batuu. The Galactic Starcruiser was essentially a two-night live-action role-playing adventure, where guests acted as characters within unique storylines that took place both on their ship and down at Black Spire Outpost, which they accessed via space transport!

Galactic Starcruiser Room Photos Featured Shuster

The standard room aboard Galactic Starcruiser. Photo by Danny Shuster

This experience was the first of its kind, going far beyond a themed resort. Guests could dress in appropriate garb that is deemed cohesive with the Star Wars universe. Guests’ choices during their visit dictated how their surroundings would respond as they followed live-action performances by original free-roaming characters appearing both on the Starcruiser and in Galaxy’s Edge.

While on board, guests indulged in truly one-of-a-kind cuisine. Breakfast and lunch were composed of colorful offerings from all across the galaxy, which guests could pick from. For dinner, guests were served a multi-course gourmet meal prepared by the finest chefs in the galaxy in the luxurious Crown of Corellia Dining Room.

Those aboard the Starcruiser sipped on cosmic concoctions while conversing with in-character smugglers and covert Resistance members in the Sublight Lounge! Sadly, the experience had its last voyage in September 2023.

What’s Next for Star Wars at Disney World

It isn’t clear when we’ll be seeing another Star Wars development in the parks. Galaxy’s Edge has only been open for a handful of years, and the Galactic Starcruiser closed in 2023. With so much recent development, it’s hard to imagine why Disney would spend more money on the franchises’ presence in the parks.

However, there are still some unrealized concepts initially referenced before Galaxy’s Edge opened that could eventually come to fruition. This includes a Table-Service restaurant, which was originally to be located near Oga’s Cantina, a Bounty Hunter high-speed chase attraction, and others.

Only time will tell how far Disney will invite guests to dive into Star Wars at Disney World. Until then, you can catch me sipping on blue milk and raking in those sweet, sweet credits from all my successful bounties. May the Force be with you!

Posts by Evelyn Long

Evelyn Long is a proud University of South Florida Bull and Disneyphile. She has been going to Walt Disney World since she was a child and is now an Annual Passholder. Witnesses say she has unashamedly cried at the sight of the Magic Kingdom Rapunzel bathrooms on multiple occasions.

Authored by
Evelyn Long

Evelyn Long is a proud University of South Florida Bull and Disneyphile. She has been going to Walt Disney World since she was a child and is now an Annual Passholder. Witnesses say she has unashamedly cried at the sight of the Magic Kingdom Rapunzel bathrooms on multiple occasions.
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