If you’re a Star Wars or Disney fan, you have something new at the top of your To-Do list this summer.
While Star Tours is already soft-open to guests at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Walt Disney World, ahead of the official re-launch on May 20, I count myself lucky to have experienced the Star Tours Cast Member preview at Disneyland in Anaheim this past weekend. It will open to the public at the California park on June 3 of this year.
Full disclosure: I am a lifelong Star Wars fan, as well as a former Disneyland Cast Member (FYI, that’s “employee” in Disneyspeak.)
If 1987’s original ‘Star Tours’ is the Death Star trench run from A New Hope (I dare say it’s hard to argue with that analogy!), 2011’s ‘Star Tours – the Adventures Continue’ is on par with the epic space battle over Coruscant at the beginning of Revenge of the Sith.
We’ll get to the ride itself in a minute, but the new experience starts in the queue, and it’s worth paying attention. This is the same queue as before (and still the same room and layout as it was since Adventure Thru Inner Space opened in 1965,) but it has been visited by THX fairies with truckloads of HD powder. The Starspeeder 3000 has been redressed as a Starspeeder 1000, and older model, but this example is presented as brand-new. C-3PO and R2-D2 are still working on it in an endless loop (even thought they somehow join you later in your adventure.) C-3PO gets to tell a few jokes and stories, but your attention will be stolen by the giant view screen.
The giant screen now flips through a few modes:
- Star Tours promotional spots, both about the destinations and the ship and crew.
- Arrival / Departure board. Trainspotters, ahoy!
- Star Tours spaceport exterior livecam. Remember the shots of the fleet in BSG? Puts those to shame.
- Galactic weather report for many destination planets. Sunny, rainy, volcano-y.
Pro-tip: brush up on your aurebesh. Everything gets translated to English after a few seconds, but your nerdy pals will be floored when you can read it first.
The second room of the queue has been converted from the Droidnostics Center (why would they let the passengers walk through there?) to Luggage Control (why would they let the passengers walk through there?) and Passenger Security. Overall, the room is simplified, but features a new luggage-scanning gimmick that is very well done and chock full of Star Wars and Disney easter eggs.
Pick up your Dolby 3D “flight goggles” and continue to your boarding gate as directed. The pre-show here shows your Starspeeder 1000 being prepped for departure. More jokes and Easter eggs in the safety video here. Hey, remember the lady with tea-cup handle harido in the old video? Keep an eye out. Did you fly Delta to your Disney vacation? Pay attention to the smoking prohibitions.
Oh, did you want to hear about the actual RIDE? I guess there’s still that. Well, imagine the original Star Tours updated to a state-of-the-art high-def 3D ‘viewscreen’ while the 40-passenger simulator cabin itself has an all-new mechanism to make sure those passengers get whipped around just-so.
Wait, you still want to know about the RIDE itself? That’s where this gets a little tricky. I only got to ride it once, and Disney’s publicity is claiming 54 distinct ride experiences, due to several randomly-selected segments of the experience. I can tell you mine, but yours may be totally different…
The Starspeeder’s cabin shield lowers to show C-3PO in the Pilot’s console (You were paying attention to the video outside, right?) and out the viewscreen, we see a massive hangar bay full of bustling activity, most notably the Millennium Falcon sitting in the bay and some Imperial Stormtroopers stopping our vehicle to search for a suspected rebel spy. In true Star Wars form, everyone shoots first, we blast our way out and find a fleet of Star Destroyers and plenty of TIE Fighters to boot. Good thing our passenger transport has laser cannons, right? Let’s jump to hyperspace, why not? (I won’t lie; this part still gives me chills!) What planet is this, C-3PO? Oh, Kashyyyk! A.k.a. ‘the Wookie planet’ for the uninitiated. We are chasing wookies and stormtroopers on speeder bikes around this giant forest. Are there 3D gags on the windshield? You know it. Let’s go back to space. Incoming call? It’s hologram Princess Leia! “Help me, Star Tours, you’re my only hope!” Imagine that! Jump to hyperspace again, where are we now? In front of a bunch of Trade Federation battleship and droid fighters. Better follow these yellow Naboo fighters down to the surface. Oh, no! We’re hit and falling fast! I didn’t pay attention to the directions for a water landing, but it’s okay – our spaceship is also a submarine! Is that Jar-Jar? Hit him! We’re going to be escorted through the planet’s deep-sea core? Okay, but I hope there’s no terrible sea creatures trying to eat us. Oh, look! There’s some terrible sea creatures trying to eat us! Are there more 3D gags on the windshield? No doubt. We escape to the surface to find the Naboo hangar we were aiming for before but we’re coming in for a landing a little too fast! Do we have time for one last 3D windshield gag? Totally.
That’s my brief description. It’s an action-packed five-minute ride.
Of course, the nitpickers will find fault, but I’ll just tell you what it is now: This is apparently a Star Wars story as told by Doc Brown, because the time line is all sorts of crazy. It’s almost like someone cherry-picked the all best elements of the Star Wars universe that would make a kick-ass theme park ride. In that light, I’d offer the following advice to the nit-pickers”
Relax, it’s a theme park ride. That lets you fly around the Star Wars universe. And it changes every time you ride it. So, ride it again. And again.
And don’t forget to drop some cash in the giftshop! MOAR TOYS!