On May 27, word was released of a great disturbance in the Force...
...in the world of Disney running events.
So. Disney announces a Star Wars Half Marathon. Crazy! And this, just three months after announcing another new running event at Disneyland for their Marvel Comics property, the Avengers Super Heroes Half Marathon.
Since 1994, Disney has hosted running events in Florida over at Walt Disney World. They now include the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend every January, the Disney Princess Half Marathon Weekend every February, the Expedition Everest Challenge every May, The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror 10-Miler Weekend every October, and the Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon Weekend every November.
It wasn't until 2005 that the west coast would finally host their own runDisney event when the "Happiest Race on Earth" would take place during the inaugural Disneyland Half Marathon Weekend in mid-September 2006 (before moving up a couple of weeks to Labor Day Weekend thereafter). Eight years later, the west coast is now also home to the Tinker Bell Half Marathon Weekend (originally a January event, the next one is scheduled for May) and the aforementioned Avengers (November) and Star Wars (January) runs. Disneyland is quickly catching up to Walt Disney World!
I'm not a runner. Not a fan of it at all. And the idea of paying to go running, especially to run just over 13 fricken miles, sounded stupid!
But by then, I'd been visiting Disneyland using my annual pass for seven straight years and in that time, I'd become a bonafide Disney geek. So when the idea of earning a hunk of medal with "Disneyland" stamped on it came up, "stupid" quickly evolved into "sucker"! I registered for the first year and then, followed up doing the next four.
The first one was truly magical. The first eight miles was work, and I didn't enjoy it. But as I headed back towards the park from Angel Stadium and finally saw the back entrance of DCA on Harbor Boulevard, tears of joy welled up in my eyes. "Damn, I'm actually going to finish this!"
The four half marathons that followed became routine affairs. Like the first, I'd only be able to run during the first six to seven miles before my calves would cramp up. I'd have to walk the rest of the distance, but I always completed the runs within the required 16-minute mile pace.
After earning my fifth straight Disneyland Half Marathon medal - which I did by refusing to run at all and walking the entire distance and still within the required pace, I was DONE with running. I proclaimed to myself and my friends, "No more running for me!" Another motivating factor was that the fee to register increased every year. $90 for the first one was fine. Approaching $140 by the fifth one, and for me, this was no longer worth it after this.
When the Tinker Bell event was announced in 2011, I felt a little hook to do the run, since Tink is one of my favorite Disney characters. But the distaste for running half marathons was still fresh on my mind, so I quickly brushed off that desire. And as a comic book fan, I'm more a DC Comics guy than Marvel. So when the Avengers event was announced earlier this year in March, that was an easy one to ignore. By the time this Star Wars one popped up, I was like, "Meh."
But then a bunch of my friends registered during the early Annual Passholder sign up period. And I started to feel a little envious. I mean, I've designed Star Wars toys and even been to Skywalker Ranch more than a few times. Could I really let this Star Wars event, happening in my own backyard, pass by without being involved in it?
Flash forward to a week ago Monday. I was reading MousePlanet's weekly Disneyland Update which shared tips on getting signed up for the different Star Wars Half Marathon Weekend events - 200m dash, 5k, 10k, Half, and Rebel Challenge - to make registering for any one of them easier when registration opened the next morning. They also claimed it would sell out very quickly, which sounded totally legitimate. Reading over their strategies, I started "role-playing" in my mind, mulling over "What if I did...?" scenarios. I looked up the event page. And studied.
Before going to bed Monday night I talked myself into wanting a medal with "Star Wars" on it, dagnabbit! But I decided to cut myself a break and do the light and easy 5k. However, by Tuesday morning, I decided I'd rather have cold hard metal rather than the plastic medallion normally handed out for Disney 5k events. So by 8:59a, a minute before registration opened worldwide, I firmly decided it was the 10k for me!
At 9:00a, after some bizarre-ness reaching the proper page of race options (thousands of Jedi and Sith hitting the website at the same time might've had something to do with that), I finally got in...AND THERE WAS NO 10K OPTION LISTED.
Considering how I'd only worked out wanting to register for one of the running events in just the last twelve hours and decided on registering specifically for the 10k in only the last thirty minutes, I thought the omission was hilarious! For the next few minutes, I went back to the home page and clicked the proper link several times, only to continue getting options for all the other races but the 10k.
I went to runDisney's Facebook page and was relieved to find others couldn't see it either. Several minutes after 9, someone posted that runDisney was looking into the 10k dilemna.
With nothing else to do, back to the event website I went and continued to click the 10k option. Finally, by 9:18a the 10k race was finally added to the options. Ready, set, GO!
So, eventually...and eventfully, I'm in, and before all slots for the weekend sold out in the first two hours. Happy Ending. Cue Return of the Jedi celebratory music here. Not the new age-y stuff from the 1997 Special Edition, the "yub nub" chant from the original 1983 release.
I took pictures before, during and after each of my Disneyland Half Marathons. I posted the ones from three of the events on Flickr. The set from 2006 is posted here, the set from 2008 is here and for 2009 here. But of course, the 10k course won't need to take me as far as Angel Stadium. Instead it sounds like, after running through the parks, I'm heading north up Anaheim Boulevard for a short spell before making my way back to the parks to finish the run. Snapping a new set of shots during the 10k - which I plan to mostly walk the entire time - will be fun.
And for those of you who successfully registered for the weekend as well, may the Force be with us all...
Two weeks ago, it was announced that Disney will acquire Lucasfilm Ltd. from George Lucas for $4.05 billion. I learned about the news when I heard my ABC7 iPhone app ping the headline. My immediate reaction was excitement, and then I went straight to the internet to learn what the exact details of the purchase was. I quickly discovered the two videos below featuring the two men at the core of the announcement. They pretty much said in the videos all I wanted to know about what led to this amazing announcement.
Then, I wondered about those new movies they mentioned. As of this time, all we know for sure is:
• It takes place after the events of Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi.
• The story treatments were written by George Lucas, and assumedly not beholden to an adaptation of the popular Heir to the Empire trilogy of books written by Timothy Zahn, the first stories licensed by Lucasfilm relating events taking place after Jedi.
• Michael Arndi is currently writing the screenplay based on his "40 to 50 page treatment" of George’s ideas.
• Episode VII will be released in 2015.
That’s it. No casting has yet been done – only rumors and fan dreams circulating. No director has been hired, but George and Kathleen are looking as the world makes bets on who will take the chair. But I will say there’s a better than 50/50 chance that the new movie will open on Memorial Day, same as the last six episodes. It’s a tradition of George’s. But even that is not a sure bet.
Also, I will be sad that Drew Struzan will not be providing his signature art style to Episode VII’s movie poster. Despite being enticed to produce some new work for a series of limited edition prints, he’s retired now.
I’m also a little antsy about a guy named Williams. When a rough cut of the Episode VII is ready for a composer to screen it (assuming Disney is able to stick to their schedule) and begin work on the soundtrack, John Williams will be 82. And we don't yet know who will be the film's director who will hire a composer to score the film. But obviously, a Star Wars film has never been complete without music composed by John Williams. So I hope Williams will continue to produce the music for that galaxy far, far away.
When the very first Star Wars movie debuted, I was thirteen. I was a Trekkie by then, and that love for Trek was greater than for this new Star Wars movie. But as its two sequels came out over the six years that followed, I couldn't escape the magic of Star Wars. And I became as rabid about the Skywalker saga as I was with the stalwart crew of the starship Enterprise.
Fast forward twenty years, and the digitally remastered "Special Editions" arrived. The adventures of Luke Skywalker, now freshly scrubbed, polished and newly detailed, returned to a world of digitally projected theatre screens. They would arrive in theatres in early 1997, but it was several months before that that I actually found myself diving back into the world of the Jedi and the Sith. That was the time I was a product designer working in the Strategic Alliance division of a company called Applause, and Taco Bell called them up to see if we were interested in pitching a line of kid's meal toys to tie-in with the Star Wars re-release.
Like in every toy company, there were some hardcore Star Wars fans among us toy designers, and it became our mission to make sure we beat out the competition and win this promotion! Designers brainstormed ideas and over the course of a few weeks, passionately debated with each other to defend our toy concepts, recalling scenes from the first trilogy as reasons why they should stay in the mix. Then, money came into the picture to kill ideas outright due to cost. Finally, concepts were narrowed down and presentation boards were rendered up - which was done by hand back then, using pen and ink, colored pencils and Prismacolor markers - for the sales people to make our pitch.
The pitch took place in June of 1996. Taco Bell chose some of our concepts as well as some from our main competitor Strottman for focus testing with kids. By July, the results were in and Taco Bell had decided. It would be Applause that would be making Star Wars kid's meal toys!
After high-fiving each other and patting ourselves on our backs, we still had a lot of pressure on us. The toys needed to start shipping from our overseas factories by November to give Taco Bell time to receive and distribute the toys to all of their restaurants nationwide. We had four months, not the typical six or seven, to not only get the regular designing and sculpting of toy housings done for production, but we also had to allow time for Lucasfilm's licensing department to review and approve things at every step of the way. Four months for all this to happen was tight.
It was decided that as much of the sculpting as possible should to done in Hong Kong where the factories can have immediate input into design the pieces for quicker manufacturing. And because this was such a high-profile license, it was felt that someone from our office should fly over there to oversee the fast-tracked sculpting to make sure they were as on-model (i.e., closely matched character or vehicle likeness) as possible in the hopes that they could get approved by Lucas Licensing that much quicker and production can begin that much sooner. They needed someone very familiar with the ships and characters of Star Wars. A Star Wars fan.
Normally, my boss would’ve gone. But his wife was due to have their first child at that very time, so he didn't want to travel half a world away from his family. Plus, he wasn’t as big a Star Wars fan as me!
So from July through the end of that year, I handled the Creative Manager duties on Star Wars for Taco Bell. I traveled to Hong Kong that week after we were granted the promotion. After our first pass at sculpts were done, I had to travel some more. This time to a place up in Northern California called Skywalker Ranch. There is where Lucas Licensing's offices were located. I visited there several times, usually with another manager and a sculptor or two, to have them review and approve our sculpts, including making revisions right on those sculpts on the spot to get them approved before we left. Then, then more trips to Skywalker Ranch followed to get approvals on our tooling patterns produced in China, then again on new drawings needed for revised bases and characters poses requested by Lucas Licensing, and then more on new sculpts and tooling patterns, before finally getting okays on our paint masters and first production shots, allowing us to finally get to pull the trigger on full production of millions of Star Wars toys.
All I remember of that time is that I was living, eating and sleeping Star Wars everyday, all to make sure we got everything reviewed, approved, produced on budget and shipped on time so kids and fans across the country would be happy to see our toys at Taco Bell, with the promotion set to kick off on January 26, 1997. And we did it! And it was awesome and exciting and the folks at Lucasfilm and Taco Bell were thrilled with them and it was one of the proudest geek moments the designers at Applause ever had!
So while we wait to see what’s in store for Disney's Star Wars: Episode VII, I thought it'd be a good time to share my personal Star Wars adventure with you. Looking back and going through my stuff and researching online proved to be fun for me, and I hope you enjoyed what I've shared here too.
Below are some of the sketches and drawings I did while working on this project, the only project I and my fellow Applause designers ever had the good fortune of having twenty years time to research a project so thoroughly. Glad it paid off. In fact, it led to the chance to work up more Star Wars toy designs for a film announced after this promotion to come just two years later: Star Wars: Episode I. But like that film, the experience meeting expectations were entirely different from what had happened working on the first trilogy. And perhaps it's a tale I'll share with you another time.
Until then, may the Force be with you.
All About Me
A fan of Star Trek, Star Wars, Harry Potter, Batman, comic books, Blu-rays, Disney, soundtracks, taking pictures, theatre and...Barry Manilow!