Star Wars Launch Bay Opens at Disney’s Hollywood Studios
On December 1st, Walt Disney World opened its brand new Star Wars Launch Bay at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Located in Animation Courtyard within the old The Magic of Disney Animation building, which closed back in July to be remodeled for this new attraction, the Star Wars Launch Bay offers Guests a way to explore and learn more about the Star Wars universe. When it was first announced, I was very skeptic about the coming attraction. After all, it seemed like another quick fix for Disney. Something they could quickly add in for Guests at minimal cost while promoting the new film opening in December. My other concern was the fact that it would be coming to Animation Courtyard. Why oh why was Star Wars being placed in a location dedicated to animation? Thankfully, I was proven wrong and the Star Wars Launch Bay is fantastic.
As soon as you enter the Animation Courtyard, Guests will notice a major difference in the atmosphere. Gone are the whimsical songs of Peter Pan and other animated classics played in the background. Now, replaced by the mesmerizing score by John Williams for the Star Wars saga. Even the billboards, which were mainly used to advertise upcoming Disney film releases in theaters or on DVD, are now displaying The Force Awakens posters. And Storm Troopers march through the Courtyard with Disney Junior characters meeting in the back ground.
The entrance has been completely painted over in grays and blacks to fit the new tenant and once you enter, it’s clear animation no longer lives here. The queue which once adorned faded pictures of animation concept art has been replaced with new Star Wars concept art and movie posters. Thanks to the crowds, this is the first time in over a decade the queue has even been used, and there is plenty to look at!
But don’t be fooled by the line. The queue isn’t to just get into the attraction. It is for the Launch Bay Theater which now shows a new featurette about the Star Wars Saga featuring directors, producers, and designers of the upcoming Star Wars films discussing how the series affected their lives. It was very well done and get me excited for whats to come! If you would like to bypass the movie, there is a separate line which leads straight into the building itself.
The theater exits into the first room of the Launch Bay which was once used to display all of the concept art and figures for an upcoming Disney or Pixar animated film. Now, it holds models and props from the past Star Wars films with descriptions for each object. There is plenty to look at in this room alone. I took my time to read each thing and learned some interesting facts about the characters and films.
Moving into the hallway, the two window encased rooms where artists used to draw and paint new work for purchase now hold two major vehicles from Return of the Jedi and The Phantom Menace. In the first area, Guests will be able to see the podracer Anakin built and won the race with in The Phantom Menace. The other windowed area holds a speeder bike used during the battle of Endor.
And now we see the main room of the Launch Bay. You’ll remember this as the place to meet Sorcerer Mickey, Minnie Mouse, The Incredibles, and the characters from the latest Disney/Pixar film, most recently Baymax and Hiro from Big Hero 6! I had expected this area to remain pretty much the same with just a few touch-ups here and there, but it has been completely remodeled and is almost unrecognizable! Chewbacca now meets in the same location where Minnie once was, but his queue and entrance has completely replaced where Mickey used to stand.
To the right of of Chewbacca is the entrance to meet Darth Vader. He is now located where Baymax used to be, but again, the area has been completely redone. The old meet and greet location is nowhere to be seen. One would never even guess The Magic of Disney Animation used to be in this building. It is most impressive. Each of the queues hold props from past Star Wars characters. Chewbacca’s queue displays helmets and Vader’s queue shows off past Storm Trooper helmets and Light Saber designs. I didn’t wait in line for either characters, but the area has been redone quite nicely.
The area where The Incredibles used to meet has now been enclosed and holds Rey’s Speeder from The Force Awakens. It is a great way to see how massive it is up close.
Moving back up to the main floor, there a few photo opportunity areas.
The old location of the drawing class, which had become incredibly popular among Guests, now hosts Star Wars video game stations and a Disney Chase Visa meet and greet area.
Once you exit all of this, you enter into the area which used to house the Disney Oscar awards and even more animation concept art, showing examples of how to create settings, worlds, atmosphere, etc. It was very interesting stuff. Now named the Preview Gallery, it displays props and descriptions from the newest Star Wars film, The Force Awakens. I imagine this room will constantly be updated before each new Star Wars film, if the Star Wars Launch Bay remains around that long.
When you are satisfied with the final room, Cast Members direct you to the exit of the Launch Bay, which leads you into the hallway that leads to the old Art Gallery store. Unlike before, when The Magic of Disney Animation resided here, this is truly an exit from the Launch Bay and one way only. I suppose this will change if/when the initial popularity of the Launch Bay dwindles down.
The beginning of this “exit” contains many examples of Star Wars paintings which can all be purchased, of course. There is also a large display case of Star Wars phone cases and a life size Storm Trooper uniform. Once through all of this, you enter the old Art Gallery store, now called the Launch Bay Cargo. The Cargo is just like the Darth’s Mall we would get for Star Wars Weekends. It contains Star Wars merchandise galore.
The Cargo has it’s own D-Tech location as well. I had a chance to look through it and was blown away with how many designs there are for Magic Bands and phone cases; enough to satisfy any Star Wars fan.
One item I’m sure will be very popular among Guests are the Light Saber umbrellas. They premiered last year at Star Wars Weekends with a colored titanium pole representing the Light Saber blade. Now, the pole lights up! Currently, they only have Anakin/Luke’s blue saber and Darth Vader’s red. But I was told they were working on getting the small Yoda one in. No word on when it’ll appear, if it does.
The rest of the Cargo area has many toys and items for The Force Awakens, as well as different character statues and costumes, all for sale.
Overall, the Star Wars Launch Bay is a really great addition to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. It really brings that behind the scenes and movie feel back to the park. It’s actually refreshing, and ironic considering the park has been gradually phasing out attractions like that over the years. Like I mentioned above, I was concerned the Launch Bay would be a quick fix for the park; something that was clearly installed cheaply without changing much. But if I hadn’t been familiar with The Magic of Disney Animation, I would’ve thought this was a brand new location they created for the Launch Bay. The attraction looks much more than just a temporary addition for the park, so who knows how long it will stay. Once Star Wars Land opens, I imagine there won’t be much need for the Launch Bay. However, one thing is for sure: Animation Courtyard has been changed forever and there is a high chance it’ll be going away completely with the major overhaul the park will be getting over the next few years.