Local artist Doug Rhodehamel builds his the Star Wars universe out of old cardboard and cans 

click to enlarge xwingfighter-photo-by-doug-rhodehamel.jpg

Photo by Doug Rhodehamel

Visitors to my house who brave the maze of folk art and theme-park memorabilia crowding my office will discover, perched high atop an overstuffed IKEA bookshelf, my geek holy grail: an original Kenner X-Wing Fighter circa 1978. The plastic may be yellow with age, and the decorative decals are peeling, but Luke Skywalker (one of the first action figures ever purchased for me) still sits proudly in his cockpit, ready to make another attack run on the Death Star's trench. Today, all the cool kids are into their iPhone-controlled BB-8 droids and Emo Kylo Ren Twitter feeds, but they can't understand the thrill (and social stigma) that once came with being the first kid on your block obsessed with a galaxy far, far away.

One of the few who still remembers that long, long time ago like I do is Orlando artist Doug Rhodehamel, who is best known for his international SPORE paper mushroom project. But while I was busy trying to BitTorrent Team Negative One's newly restored "Han Shot First" print of the original Star Wars (well worth the effort to find!), Rhodehamel was working on resurrecting the totemic toys of our childhood in a huge way.

Last Saturday, Stardust Video and Coffee hosted a fundraising preview for Doug Rhodehamel Builds the Star Wars Universe, featuring a 1/10th-scale model X-Wing constructed from discarded political campaign signs and other recycled detritus. Eventually, Rhodehamel hopes to build a fleet of up to 15 Star Wars vehicles, ranging from the lowly TIE Fighter up to an AT-AT and a Jawa Sandcrawler, which will stand taller than the artist himself.

I stopped by Say It Loud's Orange Studio, where Rhodehamel was assembling his first starfighter before its debut, to watch him work while sketch artist Thomas Thorspecken captured the scene.

"I was never satisfied with the toys growing up, I wanted them to be bigger," he explained to me. Thanks to his friend Mike King, Rhodehamel's 4-foot-long X-Wing features working lights and sound effects far more advanced than our old plastic ones. But he isn't going entirely modern with his models; though he's seen The Force Awakens three times and "loved it," don't look for a rectangular reflector dish on Rhodehamel's Millennium Falcon, because he's sticking with the "classic old-school" designs.

Rhodehamel's Stardust showing was a one-night affair, but you can currently see some of his other spaceships on display inside the Orlando Science Center. He hopes to hold another viewing in the coming months once he's constructed some more models. If you want to join his Alliance, you can donate funds at gofundme.com/starwarsdoug.

Ironically, while Rhodehamel may be soliciting contributions for his sci-fi tribute, Orlando's official home for Lucasfilm's franchises is also looking like it needs financial assistance these days, despite overflowing corporate coffers. ABC's recent television special celebrating Disneyland's 60th anniversary spotlighted the E-Ticket attractions coming to Anaheim (a Forbidden Journey-esque Millennium Falcon simulator and a Spider-Man-style First Order dark ride), but no opening date – or even decade – was revealed for the anticipated Star Wars expansions in either California or Disney's Hollywood Studios park here.

In the meantime, a major portion of DHS, including the Lights Motors Action stunt show, will shutter for good in early April, with no new attractions on the imminent horizon to replace the lost capacity. And to add insult to injury, Disney recently saw the departure of nearly a dozen members of its Citizens of Hollywood "streetmosphere" troupe, including a few of my favorite former Adventurers Club cast members.

But despite cutbacks to entertainment offerings – along with staffing reductions in departments across the Walt Disney World resort, reportedly prompted by losses at ESPN and Shanghai Disneyland construction cost overruns – don't look for ticket prices to drop any time soon. In fact, the opposite is true: Days after Universal Orlando upped their one-day rate to $105, Disney followed suit by introducing demand-based pricing tiers at its Florida and California parks. For the first time ever, single-day Disney tickets will now cost up to $20 more during "peak" attendance periods like Christmas and spring break.

Disney claims the new pricing scheme, which is similar to ones used for years by airlines, will better distribute crowds throughout the year. Of course, since most visitors' vacation schedules are dictated by school calendars, the only likely impacts will be bigger crowds during the rapidly disappearing "slow" periods and more money in Mickey's pockets during the still-insane busy season. Sadly, the new prices went into effect the same weekend that Jack Lindquist, Disneyland's legendary first president and author of many of its once-renowned guest service innovations, passed away at age 88. Well, at least now Walt has another old friend to spin with.


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