Perhaps no sci-fi genre franchise has been as popular or continues to draw in new, rabid fans as Star Wars. Conceived by director/producer George Lucas, the first film “Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope” released on May 25, 1977 and the following five sequels are a phenomenal success story. Disney decided to create a new “simulator ride” attraction centering on the Star Wars universe. Disney and George Lucas came up with “Star Tours” – an action trip to the Moon of Endor, hurling guests through a fun-filled adventure, climaxing with an attack on the Death Star along with Rebel X-wing fighters before returning to the spaceport.
The attraction opened January 9, 1987 in Disneyland and here at Disney’s Hollywood Studios (then known as Disney’s MGM Studios) on December 15, 1989. After a wildly successful run, Disney decided that a total re-hab of the attraction was needed. Using new high-tech 3D graphics and high definition not available in the beginning, the new “Star Tours” is leaps and bounds ahead of the original. And what makes this new adventure even more Magical is that there are at least 50 different scenarios, so guests will get a different “tour” every time they ride. According to Disney, you would have to ride at least four hours in a row to experience every different trip!
The attraction closed on September 7, 2010 and fans have been eagerly awaiting the return. Walt Disney held a gala Press Event heralding the return of “Star Tours-The Adventure Continues” here on May 19 and 20 (the official opening)
Andin a most appropriate manner, the new attraction was on the opening weekend of “Star Wars Weekends” here at the Studios.
On Thursday night, the media had a sneak peek at riding the new attraction, which was followed by a gala “Star Wars” themed banquet for the press. Imperial Storm Troopers prowled the area around the attraction and all night long your favorite Star Wars characters walked up and down, delighting the Media. Boba Fett, Darth Sidious, Lando Carissias, a gaggle of Ewoks, hordes of Sand People and Queen Padme’ Amidala were among the many familiar faces to fans.
The media could ride as much as they wanted, and I got a chance to experience it five glorious times! And true to its billing, every trip was different. But I will not be a spoiler and reveal every detail of this exciting new adventure, but l can tell you the High-Definition graphics and new technology 3D is absolutely astounding. To compare the old Tours with the new is like comparing a grape to a watermelon. Forget the D3 films of Mickey’s Philharmagic or A Bugs Life. Even the 3D glasses are light-years ahead. The images are crystal-clear and the views through the new glasses are bright and clear; and no matter which way you turn you head, the view is the same clarity.
The Queue area is the same, except with a new Star speeder 1000 replacing the old 3000 series. And you will note there are no “Battle Scars” on the new Speeder. R2 D2 is still on top and C3PO is still there. The departure marquee is changed, as are the scenes on the big Spaceport LiveCam. As you walk pass the Star Speeder and C3PO up the ramp, all new props will greet you. Instead of junk at the bottom of the queue, you will find boxes with Droids and tons of luggage. As you enter the top, a Droid with a thermal scanner greets you. There are screens with the configuration of the Star Speeder on the walls and for you trivia fans, gone is the overhead crane carrying the baskets with the Imagineers birthdays on them.
Of course the short pre-show video is completely changed, and although I viewed it five times, I could not find a hidden Mickey in it, like in the old video. You board the Star Speeder in the same way, and your pilot is now C3PO, poor Rex is retired! Our navigator is R2 D2. All I will say about the new journey is that it starts off with a bang. No more going through the maintenance area with the Speeder, you rocket right into your adventure. I will add this…unlike the old Star Speeder, this one fires back! Your laser-cannons are visible on the screen and shoot down enemy fighters and other objects during your trip. This is part of the story that makes Darth Vader believe that Star Tours has joined the rebel Alliance!
The next day, Friday, was the “Official Grand Opening” of Star Tours-The Adventures Continues. In the usual Disney grand fashion, hordes of Star Wars Characters marched down Hollywood Boulevard to converge on the set under the Sorcerer’s Hat. Introduced was Anthony Daniels, C3PO and making a vile appearance was none other than Darth Vader himself. He accused Star Tours of being with the Rebel Alliance and threatened to shut the operation down. But arriving to save the day was none other than George Lucas and Disney’s Bob Iger, both wielding light sabers! Bob Iger tells Vader he is about to meet his maker! All done in fun, but it was a fantastic show for the fans and media. Bob Iger made a quick speech on the new attraction and praising the 25 year collaboration Disney has with George Lucas.
After the presentation, the media was invited back stage for interviews with some of the Imagineers responsible for the new attraction. I had a wonderful opportunity to speak to Glen McIntosh, Animation Director, and Bill George, Visual Effects Supervisor, both men who praised working with George Lucas and his dedication to making this the best Star Tours yet. I cannot wait to return and ride again; and to experience all the different sequences Star Tours has to offer.
For an added bonus, selected members of the media were asked to attend Disney’s summer preview which consisted of an escorted back-stage look at the new Fantasyland Expansion, Magician Mickey’s new meet and greet at the Town Square Theater, the new interactive queue at the Haunted Mansion and the highlight of the event was a chance to experience Disney’s Animal Kingdom’s new “Wild Africa Trek.” After our interviews, were had a wonderful lunch at Tony’s Town Square Restaurant. Then we got an escorted tour through Mickey’s New Magician’s dressing room, where Mickey and Minnie’s permanent meet and greet is now located. On hand were Imagineers who pointed out the clever references many of the props made to Disney movies and a great chance to meet Mickey and Minnie! Anyone who have not yet chanced to see Mickey’s room, please do. It is rich in detail and you will have to go through it several times, just to take it all in! Then it was off to the Haunted Mansion to check out the new interactive queue. Here we had the chance to speak to Imagineers Pete and Eric who gave us some of the background on the new queue and how all the new displays and technologies were utilized. If you have not experienced the new queue, do it. It is simply amazing and a tribute to the Disney’s Imagineers!
Next, our group had a chance to see the new Fantasyland Expansion construction from the “other” side of the wall. Sorry, but no pictures or video of any kind was allowed, but to see the Beast’s Castle and The Little Mermaid’s attraction going up was awesome! Imagineer Eric explained the layout of the future Fantasyland, the new Fantasyland Train Station (In the same place as ToonTown’s). In fact we were standing in front of the future Seven Dwarf’s Mine Train ride. The Beast’s Castle, for what we observed is going to grand. It is sitting on a hill, and there are the steel supports next to it that will form the rest of the hill, not yet finished. The Little Mermaid attraction is in about the same stage of construction, but since we were closer, it appears just enormous! Eric stated that construction is on schedule and that it will open in stages beginning late 2012. The new areas will double the size of the present Fantasyland.
For the biggest treat of the day, we got a chance to experience Disney’s new Wild Africa Trek. Since it’s announced starting in January, I have been dying to experience it, and today I got the chance. This separate ticketed adventure is offered several times a day, and the fact that it is limited to the maximum of 12 trekkers, makes it more exciting. This three to four hour adventure leads guests through areas of Disney’s Animal Kingdom not accessible to other guests. You will get a chance to trek through the lush jungles of Africa with an experienced guide, see hippos and crocodiles close up. You will cross rickety suspension bridges (kinda made me feel like Indiana Jones!) and get photo opportunities that are out of this world. After your trek through the jungle, you board a special truck for your group and travel the savanna to observe native animals, and many stops to take some fabulous pictures.
After you tour of the savanna, your bus stops at a “Boma”, Swahili for “protected area”. On this elevated oasis in the savanna, you get a chance to sample the tastes of Africa as you relax and view the African plains as no one else can. I got some amazing shots of the animals here and the views are breathtaking. This is one of Disney’s most popular tours and I can see why. I know I will be signing up for future treks! For information on this family-amazing adventure, call 407-939-8687 for details. Trek is for ages 8 and up.
Our two day Disney Adventure ended up at a media reception dinner at Kidani Village. With all the new and exciting venues coming to Disney in the next year and a half, the World’s premier vacation spot will only become more popular and desirable. I was proud to be a part of the excitement and cannot wait to experience all that Disney has to offer myself.
Contributed by: Bill Iadonisi (NDH#35) Bill is the DDL History Blogger.