Disney’s annual Star Wars Weekends kicked off this past Friday. I remember when this thing first started, when it was only one or two weekends in May, and it was mostly an excuse to go ride Star Tours and see some rather questionable Disney equivalents of all the familiar characters. At the time, it was an attempt to give anybody a reason to go to the then MGM Studios. Now, with Disney’s purchase of the franchise and Star Wars as a whole being much more on the front burner than it was, it’s become an annual pilgrimage and a chance for Disney to make a ton of money off of people who want to hold that galaxy far, far away just a little bit closer.
I roused myself out of bed early yesterday and trekked out there myself. And as I walked through the Studios, a rather comforting feeling came over me. I saw hundreds of Star Wars t-shirts, on young and old alike, and saw the same looks of excitement on so many faces. Parents were there with children, husbands were there with wives, friends were there in groups, all brought together by this shared love for something and the desire to express it around people who felt the same way. In a lot of ways, it didn’t feel too different from a religion: a group of people getting together to share a devotion to something bigger than themselves. And without the commandments and eternal damnation parts.
Tempering all this though was the reason I had so much time for people-watching: the Studios were a sun-baked morass of humanity shoved together in a tiny space. The line for Watto’s Grotto — the specialty store selling Star Wars Weekends merchandise — was half an hour long when I got into it. By the time I left the store, it was easily approaching an hour. Sixty minutes spent for the chance to go inside and give Disney even more of your money. And yes, I threw some their way. The hypocrisy of that doesn’t escape me, but for me, with an annual pass, it’s no problem for me to buzz in and do nothing but wait in a line to buy a t-shirt. I thought of the family for whom this was their one day there. An hour waiting for this, almost ninety minutes to ride Star Tours, who knows how long waiting in the autograph lines. Were they actually having fun amid all this, or just rushing about trying to see everything out of a sense of obligation? Again, it felt a little like religion: ritual devotion in which it was hard to discern any actual joy.
But in the end, it was that same Star Tours ride that shook off the negativity. People cheered the appearance of the Millennium Falcon. They all tried to be the first with, “It’s a trap!” when Admiral Ackbar appeared. And it was hard to be a curmudgeon about the whole thing when the little boy two seats down from me excitedly informed his father, “That was fun, we need to do that again!”
You’ve got to balance the dark with the light, after all.