Star Wars Weekends have begun, and the signature finale to the event is now the Symphony in the Stars fireworks show. The name is not new, and in fact using the show name with just Star Wars music has been done before (on a previous year’s May the Fourth celebration), but it is new to use the show as the cap to the Star Wars Weekend day of festivities. Previously that honor went to the Hyperspace Hoopla, a comedy variety/dance show that used (and ridiculed) Star Wars characters. The Symphony fireworks is a worthy successor.

First, let’s acknowledge that Hyperspace Hoopla had its backers. I was one of the big ones, actually. The show was cheesy and irreverent, but it was also fun, especially if you were a repeat viewer and knew to expect certain jokes. In that sense it’s like its creative ancestor, a Hoopla show apparently from the Adventurers Club (which I only visited once)–something that repeat/frequent visitors liked a lot, and may or may not have appealed to first-time visitors.

Actually, Kit Fisto *always* comes out.
Actually, Kit Fisto *always* comes out.

The Hoopla had viewing problems. It grew too popular for its first home on the jedi training stage, and the Hat stage suffered from a slope problem, and the ground sloped away the wrong way in the audience, so the further from the stage you were, the LOWER in elevation you were.

But let’s be honest: that’s not what caused the switch. Disney wanted to treat the Star Wars characters with dignity now that they own the property (and are making non-comedy movies of them). So there’s still a quick stage show with many of the same live-action performers, but the majority of the focus is now on the fireworks that follow rather than on the storyline of the show.

It’s worth pausing here for a moment and reflecting on that change. When Disney was merely licensing the Star Wars characters, they felt free to lampoon them – Luke and Leia dancing together to “We Are Family” is only one of several dozen examples. But once Disney took ownership of the characters, much of the silliness was gone, replaced with an earnestness that isn’t quite yet natural. The finale stage show merely introduces the characters in groupings and ends with the host goading the crowd into applause at the end by asking “Isn’t Star Wars cool?!” The line is a bit flat, as is the show.

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Image courtesy of insidethemagic.net

On the one hand, it’s perfectly natural and certainly understandable for Disney to veer away from the satire, because they have those movies on the way. It’s just good business. But I think it says something about Disney that they didn’t do this years ago, when the characters were still Lucas’s property and not their own. There’s a hint of iron-fisted control lurking in the background here, and echoes of that time the company moved to force daycare centers to paint over the unauthorized Mickey images on their walls. There’s just a touch of hypocrisy here. Certainly it’s good business, too, no doubt about that, but there’s something to be said for public perception of your corporate stance as well.

I will miss Snig and Oopla as hosts of the Hoopla, though there is a cameo (kind of) by them in the Padawan Mind Challenge trivia game show (Imperial goons threaten this year’s show hosts by showing a picture of what happened to hosts that cross the Empire – and it’s a picture of Snig and Oopla encased in carbonite!)

The silliness is not COMPLETELY gone from Star Wars Weekends, You’ll still find stormtroopers singing Frozen songs, for instance, but I suspect this sort of crossover will be gone in future years as well. The trend is toward internal consistency, as if the Star Wars Universe does not acknowledge pop culture or indeed our world at all.

A hidden Millennium Falcon.
A hidden Millennium Falcon.

The elephant in the room, at least in my mind, is whether Disney intends to do more with its new Star Wars property than movies and a second animated TV series. When will the announcement come about a presence in the parks? Will we have to wait until Iger retires–might this be his swan song, intentionally held back until the end?

It would potentially be smart business to wait until Avatar has a chance to open and wow the Wall Street crowd – let’s not forget who Iger and the others really serve – before making any big Star Wars announcements. Just as Disney does not acknowledge DVC units being built (presently true of Polynesian) for fear of cannibalizing the existing units still on sale in other places, they don’t want to “steal the thunder” from Avatar before it has a chance to open… one assumes.

That timing might work well with a different kind of conservative approach: seeing how Episode VII does in the box office before committing to bring a big presence to the parks. It would be a big mistake to commit a lot of money to a project if it didn’t make money as a movie, right? So it might make sense to see how the movie does. If it succeeds, you have ready-made plans you’ve been sitting on for years, and can act quickly to capitalize on the success.

As an aside, the need to act quickly is a problem currently plaguing Disney with the Frozen success, which is an unstoppable juggernaut (really a cultural touchstone at this point) and could hardly have been predicted by anyone. I tend to believe the whispers that Maelstrom may be closed in favor of a Frozen boat ride. I know a boat ride doesn’t fit the theme of the movie very well, but if you’re Disney, you’ve got to be thinking that you’d generate a LOT of additional tourist traffic if you opened a Frozen attraction, and retrofitting one (even one that still draws lines sometimes) is orders of magnitude cheaper than building a new one from scratch. I could see it happening.

The Symphony in the Stars show and fireworks may take steps away from irreverence and back toward respecting its characters, and I will surely miss the cheesiness that was Hyperspace Hoopla, but on balance it’s a fair trade. Having any fireworks at all in this park is a bit of a treat (a bit disconcerting that it’s come to that!) and these are extra-good fireworks; not a phoned-in performance at all.

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Because all the rubberhead actors from Hoopla still make an appearance on stage, Disney hasn’t made this replacement just to cut costs. They have to pay all the same performers AND add all those fireworks, and just as I want to call out Disney for being cheap when they’re being cheap, I like to recognize when they are spending money on initiatives that matter.

Ultimate Orlando Clicks #15 – Star Wars Weekends, SeaWorld 50th, More

SeaWorld’s 50th Anniversary has given the park new decorations and signage throughout the park. Star Wars Weekends kicked off its first event of the year with a parade by the 501st and Symphony in the Stars, which replaces Hyperspace Hoopla. We stop by Darth’s Mall for a look at the available merchandise (including Ackbar’s Snack Bar and Her Universe updates) as well. We stop by the Universal Studios CityWalk mini-golf briefly, and also look around the refreshed signage at Typhoon Lagoon – plus, we show you the full menus and prices at Typhoon Lagoon! Lastly, Haagen-Dasz and Wetzel’s Pretzels have reopened at Downtown Disney, now in brand new kiosks next to DisneyQuest. While we’re here, we look at current Vinylmation sets for sale and the upcoming United World Soccer store.

Direct link: http://youtu.be/jn99H_tTvgI

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