Star Wars Weekends at Walt Disney World

**This article originally appeared on the Yahoo Voices content network on May 8, 2014. It has been republished here due to the shutdown of Voices and YCN.**

It’s almost that time again. Time for wannabe Jedis to face off with Stormtroopers before riding on a roller coaster with Aerosmith, or watching a six foot tall stick bug dance down the street. This may sound unusual to some, but it’s just another tradition here in Orlando! Star Wars Weekends at Walt Disney World’s Hollywood Studios dates back to 1997, but officially became an annual event as of 2003. This may very well be the only time you’ll see throngs of people combining both Jedi robes and Mickey ears into their wardrobe, and looking perfectly normal – even cool. This year’s galactic celebration kicks off May 16, and runs every Friday through Sunday until June 15. There’s something a bit different to each year’s event, and if you know what to expect, it can be an out of this world experience!

My son and I have declared this our own annual tradition since 2011. It seems that we’re the only ones in the family devoted enough to brave the related elements to step into our science fiction fantasy world. As much as we enjoy the event, it can be a grueling day of battle, indeed! Star Wars fans are a devoted bunch, as are Disney guests – combine the two, and you have an awful lot of die-hards on a mission. Considering that Star Wars Weekends takes place over the summer, park crowds are high, and so is the temperature in Orlando. As a local, and Disney Annual Passholder, I have repeatedly tried to find a break in the heat or crowds during this event… it simply doesn’t exist. These factors don’t have to tank your adventure, but they’re the drawbacks to prepare for.

Even if you have the willpower to resist the force of the merchandise, Darth’s Mall is worth a visit. This area is also home to a few event activities, including: interactive games and LEGO stations, an art gallery, artist meet and greets, and unique photo opportunities. Last year, we were surprised to find both the Rancor and the one and only C3PO in Darth’s Mall. You truly never know who or what you’ll encounter during your Star Wars Weekends visit.

Traditional Disney characters get a makeover for Star Wars Weekends as well. You’ll find Jedi Mickey, Leia Minnie, Darth Goofy, Stormtrooper Donald, R2MK, and Ewok versions of Chip and Dale as you make your way through the park. Various characters representing the Jedi Alliance and the Dark Side have scheduled appearances, as do a wide array of celebrities from the entire Star Wars franchise. This year marks the very first event appearance of the original Luke Skywalker himself. Mark Hamill is scheduled to appear June 6-8 in the “Legends of the Force” parade and “Stars of the Saga” talk show. Although Hamill will not be participating in autograph sessions, many celebrity guests do. These sessions often sell out, so to speak. The celebrity sessions are free, and they run on the Disney Fastpass system that essentially reserves your spot in line. The reservations are issued on a first come, first served basis. I have not participated in the celebrity sessions, and there is a very good reason for that. I have seen local news coverage every year of people lined up before the sun rises, outside the gates of the park, hoping they will receive that golden ticket. Additionally, you get one such Fastpass reservation per day, so choose wisely. Standby line options are available, but I have heard horror stories that lead me to think it’s more intelligent to just overlook that option altogether. When it comes to the characters and celebrities, it all boils down to prioritizing. If you’re a local, and prone to random Disney visits, you’ll have more opportunities to spread your time around the event. If you’re here on vacation, with less time to devote, plan on choosing your favorites upfront. As a general idea, last year, we waited 90 minutes to meet Darth Vader. I am not saying it wasn’t worth it, but I wouldn’t be too pleased if I were there for one day only, and had many waits like these.

Beyond shopping and character/ celebrity interactions, Star Wars Weekends is full of surprises! You never know where or when you’ll encounter Stormtrooper patrols or a wandering Boba Fett. Daily festivities include the Legends of the Force Celebrity Motorcade, Padawan Mind Challenge interactive games, and variety shows, as well as the nightly Symphony in the Stars fireworks finale. For more information on planning your galactic getaway to Star Wars Weekends, visit Disney’s official event site