Richard Bellis, based on John Williams
4 min. 30 sec.
Star Tours is a Disney simulator ride theme park attraction located at each of Disney's resorts except Hong Kong Disneyland. The ride is based on the successful Star Wars movie franchise created by George Lucas. This made it the park's first attraction that did not use Disney-designed imagery.
Groups of visitors, or "passengers", are taken on by the fictional travel agency known as Star Tours, via a space tour bus called the StarSpeeder 3000 and set in the Star Wars universe. Thanks to an inexperienced and thoroughly incompetent robot pilot named RX-24, what is billed as a leisurely tour to the Endor moon becomes a wild ride as the tour gets caught up in a battle between the Empire and the Rebels.
Although it has been in existence since 1987, it is considered by many aficionados to be the epitome of the ride form, melding a full sensory experience with the familiarity of a proven entertainment franchise. The first incarnation of the ride appeared in Tomorrowland at Disneyland in 1987, replacing the previous attraction, Adventure Thru Inner Space.
Advertised as "The Ultimate Star Wars Adventure!," Star Tours puts the guest in the role of a space tourist en route to the Forest Moon of Endor via the "Star Tours" travel agency. Much is made of this throughout the ride queue, and the design and theme of the inside holding area is convincingly modeled to look like a spaceship boarding terminal. This area is stocked with Audio-Animatronic characters that seem to interact with the ride patrons including Mon Calamari technicians and versions of C-3PO and R2-D2, as well as a life-size mock-up of the StarSpeeder 3000, the "starship" that guests embark on. The figures of C-3PO and R2-D2 in the Disneyland park are actual props from the original film, modified to operate via Audio-Animatronics.
Once guests reach the head of the line, the ride operators escort them into one of several ride theaters. As the doors close, the ship's bumbling RX-24 pilot droid, aka "Rex" (voiced by Paul Reubens), chats up the guests about the trip as he sets up. All goes well until a slight mistake on Rex's part sends the ship down the wrong tunnel and plummeting into a maintenance yard, just managing to escape into open space before a giant mechanical appendage nearly crushes the ship. That same scene features a tribute to Disneyland's old Adventure Thru Inner Space attraction: The "Mighty Microscope" is clearly visible to the right of the screen after the appendage sweeps by.
Once in space, the ship enters hyperspace, but Rex disengages its hyperdrives too late to stop at the ship's intended destination—and instead gets caught inside a comet field. The ship becomes trapped inside one of the larger comets and has to navigate its way out through a maze of passages and chambers. Just when all the trouble seems to be over, the ship encounters a Star Destroyer and finds itself caught in its tractor beam. However, a timely attack (providing assistance by destroying the tractor beam generator) by a Rebel X-wing fighter allows them to escape. Soon the ship and its tourists find themselves accompanying the Rebellion on a massive assault on the Death Star (although it is unspecified which Death Star it is). Rex uses the StarSpeeder's lasers to eliminate TIE fighters while a Rebel destroys the Death Star in the same manner as Luke Skywalker does in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. A final light speed jump sends the StarSpeeder back to where it started, but not before a near-collision with a fuel truck in the spaceport.
Muren, Gawley, and Keeler are all Industrial Light & Magic special effects wizards who worked on the attraction for Lucasfilm.
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Star Tours in Disneyland includes an "Arrivals/Departures" that lists destinations other than Endor.
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Vehicles and vessels
The ride that became Star Tours first saw light as a proposal for an attraction based on the 1979 Disney live-action flop The Black Hole. It was planned as an interactive ride simulator attraction, where guests would have had the ability to choose the ride car's route. After preliminary planning, the Black Hole attraction was shelved due to its enormous cost (approximately $50 million US) as well as the unpopularity of the film itself. Instead of completely dismissing the idea of a simulator, the company decided to make use of a partnership between Disney and George Lucas that began in 1986 with the opening of Captain Eo (a 3D musical film starring Michael Jackson) at the California park. Disneyland then approached Lucas with the idea for the Star Tours amusement ride.
With his approval, Disney Imagineers purchased four large military flight simulators at a cost of $500,000 each and designed the ride structure. Meanwhile, Lucas and his team of special effects technicians at Industrial Light & Magic worked on the first-person perspective film that would be projected inside the simulators. When both simulator and film were completed, a programmer then sat inside and, with the aid of a joystick, manually synchronized the movement of the simulator with the apparent movement on the film. On January 9, 1987, at a final cost of $32 million (almost twice the cost of building the entire park in 1955), the ride finally opened to throngs of patrons, many of whom dressed up as Star Wars characters for the occasion. In celebration, Disneyland remained open for a special 60 hour marathon from 10:00am on January 9, 1987 to 10:00pm on January 11, 1987.
Star Tours utilizes a Thomson hydraulic motion base cabin featuring 3 degrees of freedom.
The film is front projected onto the screen from a 70mm film projector located beneath the cockpit barrier. George Lucas has mentioned that the next generation of the attraction will feature digital high definition video and motion bases capable of up to 6 degrees of freedom.
When the ride opened, Star Tours press kits were released to the press. They each contained interviews with George Lucas, Disney's Michael Eisner, and C-3PO. The video portion of the kit lasts about an hour, with a large part of it devoted to the ride's opening ceremony, and a play with actors dressed as Luke, Han, Leia, Chewbacca, and Darth Vader—dancing around and acting out several scenes from the Star Wars films.
There was also a TV special that aired around the time of the opening of the ride. The program—entitled A Vacation In Space and designed to promote the ride—aired in late 1986, and was hosted by Gil Gerard and Ernie Reyes Jr.. The show looks at how Star Tours was made, as well as the history of space travel and space-related films. Some highlights of the program include a segment at the beginning, where C-3PO and R2-D2 make an appearance and perform a rap song, as well as a segment at the end, where Reyes boards the StarSpeeder 3000—giving away some teasers of the ride itself.
As part of the Star Tours experience, upon exiting the StarSpeeder 3000, passengers are led to a store which sells merchandise based on Star Wars and the ride itself. This includes action figures, clothing, etc. At Disneyland the store is The Star Trader. At Disney's Hollywood Studios, the store was originally called Endor Vendors, and had a theme based on Endor with a facade modeled after the backdoor of the Endor shield generator bunker. Around the release of Episode I, that store was replaced by Tatooine Traders, themed to resemble the buildings of Mos Eisley and Mos Espa. Both stores include some exclusive merchandise sold only at Disney theme parks.
The canonicity of the events depicted in Star Tours has been disputed for many reasons, the most obvious being the inclusion of the Death Star. Since R2-D2's presence onboard the Starspeeder precludes the events taking place during the Battle of Yavin or the Battle of Endor, the Death Star seen in the ride video has been considered by some to be the Death Star prototype, as seen in Jedi Search and Champions of the Force and its destruction to be a depiction of the prototype's destruction at The Maw. However, it does not match that prototype's skeletal construction and R2-D2 is accounted for during that event, as well. Also, the Star Tours Death Star is very close to Endor, far from the Maw's location. This may indicate it is a so far unrevealed Death Star, or that the ride's events are simply not canonical. Others have suggested that the Death Star is a modification of one of the habitation spheres seen under construction over Coruscant.
The events of Star Tours must take place after Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back since after the destination of Hoth is advertised on the large video screen in the queue area, C-3PO makes a mention of the events of the film.
It is not mentioned where the Star Tours spaceport is located. However, when the PeopleMover ride in Disneyland's Tomorrowland ran through that park's version of the attraction (until 1995), the voice of C-3PO welcomed riders to the "Star Tours Tomorrowland Spaceport".
While the events of the ride themselves may be questionably canonical, the Expanded Universe has made a number of references to the fictional travel agency and its ships:
The announcer who appears before passengers enter the ship has a comical hairstyle, which is a reference to Leia Organa and many others characters who have been joked about due to their improbable hairstyle.
In April 2005, at the Star Wars Celebration III, Star Wars creator George Lucas confirmed that a Star Tours II is in production. This new ride will reportedly be prequel-oriented. In a concept release, the sequel is described as being based on the Pod Racer sequence in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. The new ride system will consist of a glasses-free 3-D High-definition screen and an improved motion simulator.
The flight information board utilized in the ride queue promises forthcoming adventures to Hoth, Tatooine, and Dagobah and displays the text "Soon Endor Won't Be The End-All". These details, especially the clever tagline, are often mistaken as recent additions, used to support rumors of impending changes to the attraction, but have actually been in place since Star Tours opened.