They build kids tough these days. I can still recall shaking in my cinema seat when Darth Vader first huffed and puffed into the original Star Wars movie. But now, as the Dark Lord of the Sith emerges at close range from a smoking cavern, towering, menacing and very real, a posse of preschoolers hold their ground. One or two actually giggle.
Undaunted by what must be the most intimidating costume character ever to prowl a Disney park, the mini-Jedis form a queue and take turns to see him off with their lightsabers.
They then defeat Vader's badass buddies (the Seventh Sister Inquisitor and Kylo Ren, for diehards) in Cantonese, Putonghua and English, guided by physically and linguistically agile Disney Jedi masters.
The "younglings" and their spectating parents are enjoying Jedi Training: Trials of the Temple, an interactive show and highlight of Disneyland Hong Kong's new Star Wars Tomorrowland Takeover. Rather than a single ride, the new attraction comprises entertainment, characters, merchandise, theming and various extras that inject a layer of Star Wars into the park and its two hotels – here a droid, there a Darth Vader burger.
Almost immediately, we come across a battalion of marching Stormtroopers, and my intrigued five-year-old, more accustomed to big eyes and smiles on Disney turf, asks who's under the helmets. Perhaps Goofy's joined the dark side.
Although Star Wars has enjoyed an increasing presence in Disney's US parks since the entertainment giant bought Lucasfilm in 2012, this is its Asian arm's first serious foray into the galaxy far, far away. It also heralds a series of new ventures for the 11-year-old park; an Ironman ride opens this January (2017) and a third hotel, Explorers' Lodge, debuts later in 2017. These investments indicate that, despite stiff competition from Shanghai Disneyland 1200 kilometres to the north, Hong Kong still matters.
The resort does boast a strong unique selling point: its accessible, "entry level" appeal. The six "lands" and Main Street USA in Disney's smallest park (126 hectares) are easy to cover in a day, and the rides are mainly gentler favourites like It's a Small World and Mad Tea Party. This makes it ideal for younger children and swift, stopover visits.
The Star Wars Takeover fits in well, with only one activity too intense for the tiniest: the upgraded dark ride Space Mountain which, rebadged as Hyperspace Mountain, sends you speeding in your rebel X-wing Starfighter into a dogfight with the Imperial TIE fighters. For speed freaks over 102 centimetres tall, it's a superb thrill.
The rest is Star Wars with its cuddliest face. At the Resistance Command Post, we meet Chewbacca. Up close, the huge hairy Wookiee is much cuter than his closest relative in the Disney Universe, Beauty's Beast (who I suspect now fears for his job). When Chewie emits his signature growly whimper, my shy daughter flings her arms around him in delight. R2D2 elicits similar love.
Vader and his interplanetary pals have even infiltrated the opulent, Victorian-style Disneyland Hotel, where we're staying. Our room is occupied by a remote control BB-8 droid and Stormtrooper pillow with handy pyjama pouch on the back (tip: bring suitcase space). There's a Star Wars sticker on the door, Vader, Yoda and C-3P0 cookies and Stormtrooper slippers. This add-on package is an extra $HK600 but neatly occupies the kids long enough for you to unpack and settle in.
An overnight at Disneyland Hotel or its more affordable sister, Disney's Hollywood Hotel, significantly eases the overall experience. Hong Kong's humidity can sap your energy and the option of popping back to your room for a cool shower or dip in the pool throughout a long day in the park definitely makes for happier families.
That Disney hotel staple, the mealtime character meet 'n' greet, is also a standout bonus. Queues for characters in the park's heat can be draining, but here in the Enchanted Garden Restaurant, Mickey, Minnie, Goofy and Pluto come right up to your table amid the airconditioned comfort of a buffet that holds its own commendably in food-obsessed Hong Kong.
An early morning high-five with the Mouse before the park opens at 10.30am becomes so much pleasanter when accompanied by a lavish east-west breakfast of dim sum, artisan breads, eggs and ham, pastries and pancakes. Although the hotel is full during our stay, both Minnie and Pluto visit our table twice, hanging out for plenty of cuddles and photos and leaving my little one wearing that full-face beam that is the Disney empire's finest and most consistent achievement.
Even Darth Vader knows better than to challenge Mickey on home territory, so he maintains a low breakfast profile in the form of waffles and muffins. By now, though, we're primed to expect him anywhere, and as I recline in a comfy cabana beside the hotel's pool, I wonder if we'll see his ominous profile emerge from the hot tub. It doesn't, so my daughter suggests seeking him out back at the park. Does she want to join the mini-Jedis this time? No, she says. She'd rather help Vader fight them off. "I like him," she adds.
Behold the power of Disney. After just one day, it's converted my daughter to the dark side.
Disneyland is on Lantau Island; a taxi from Hong Kong International Airport costs about $HK130. MTR trains connect to Sunny Bay Station, where you transfer to the Disneyland Resort Line direct to the park. The train ride is about 30 minutes from Hong Kong, Kowloon and the airport MTR stations.
Hong Kong Disneyland has two hotels: Disneyland Hotel (rooms from $HK2600 per night) and Hollywood Hotel (rooms from $HK1850 per night).
A standard day ticket to the park costs $HK539 for an adult, $HK385 for a child. A wide variety of packages are available; see hongkongdisneyland.com
Amy Cooper was a guest of Hong Kong Disneyland.