The long-awaited sequel to the classic Star Tours attraction will finally open at Disneyland and Disney's Hollywood Studios in May 2011. An all-new plot, 3D special effects and a host of new characters are set to be introduced as Disney seeks to exploit the enduring popularity of the Star Wars universe, taking riders for a spin through some of sci-fi's most famous locations.
The original Star Tours opened at Disneyland back in 1987, with identical clones soon being installed at Disney's Hollywood Studios, Tokyo Disneyland and Disneyland Paris. The ride pioneered the use of flight-simulator technology in theme park attractions, with the Star Wars movies providing the perfect backstory. Based on a ficticious "intergalactic tours" operator, the attraction sees guests boarding a spacecraft piloted by an android. The tour soon goes awry - with the craft getting caught up in a battle between the Rebel Alliance and the evil Galactic Empire.
In recent years, Star Tours has faced criticism for being outdated, with many fans calling for an new version to be introduced. In September 2009, Disney finally caved in to these demands and announced Star Tours: The Adventures Continue (often referred to simply as Star Tours 2), promising that it will do things that "have never been done in any theme park attraction before, at any theme park anywhere." It was also confirmed that Star Wars creator George Lucas was on-board with the project and would play a leading role in defining its storyline.
Star Tours closed at Disneyland on July 27, with Disney's Hollywood Studios' version closing on September 8 (the original version continues to operate at Tokyo Disneyland and Disneyland Paris). With Disney's marketing machine and the hopes of millions of Star Wars fans pushing expectations up to sky-high levels, can Lucas and the Disney Imagineers possibly deliver an attraction that meets them? Let's take a look at what is known so far.
Building on a classic
Star Tours: The Adventures Continue will be located on the sites of the existing Star Tours attractions in Disneyland's Tomorrowland and Disney's Hollywood Studios' Echo Lake. Disney has promised that physical changes will be made to the original ride system, which was derived from military flight simulation technology. The current installation at Disneyland features four forty-seater cabins, while Disney's Hollywood Studios' version has six, giving it a higher capacity.
The existing simulators use a hydraulic motion base that has four degrees of freedom, with rumors suggesting that this will be increased to six for the debut of Star Tours: The Adventures Continue. If true, this would enable a greater range of movements to be generated in synchronization with the ride movie.
The movie itself will be presented in high-definition, Disney Digital 3D, rather than the 2D presentation in the existing Star Tours. As with Disney's recent 3D cinema productions, riders will be required to wear special glasses in order to see the 3D effects.
Accompanying the adventures will be a brand new soundtrack. With John Williams, the composer for all six Star Wars movies to date, declining to be involved, the score will be written by Michael Giacchino.
Expanding the Star Wars story
The action in Star Tours: The Adventures Continue will take place in the period between the Star Wars prequels and the original trilogy. This actually makes it a prequel to the original attraction, which took place after the events of Return of the Jedi. This is reflected in the naming of the ride vehicles, with the original ride's Starspeeder 3000s being "downgraded" to Starspeeder 1000 models.
To increase the re-ride value of the attraction, it will feature no fewer than 54 different possible experiences, meaning that guests will take a different "journey" almost every time they ride it. Disney insists that George Lucas has taken the lead on developing the different scenarios, with former chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts Jay Rasulo claiming: "We strive for authenticity in everything we do. This is a Lucas idea, this is Lucas storytelling, interpreted by Imagineering."
So far, Disney has kept the precise details of the plot of Star Tours: The Adventures Continue close to its chest. However, several iconic locations from the Star Wars movies have been confirmed to feature in the ride. These include Endor (the home of the Ewoks, as seen in Return of the Jedi), Bespin (and its floating Cloud City) and Aldeeran (the ill-fated home planet of Princess Leia). Guests will also be transported to Coruscant, a planet which plays a key role in the Star Wars galaxy, forming its physical center as well as acting as the capital of the evil Galactic Empire and the New Republic at different periods in the movies' timeline. Several of these locations can be seen in the preview "commercial" above.
All six Star Wars movies are packed with scenes that are almost tailor-made for a simulator attraction. It was always likely that the pod-racing sequence from The Phantom Menance would feature in the updated Star Tours attraction, and Disney confirmed this at its official announcement. The video below shows how guests will be caught up in a thrilling chase across the deserts and canyons of Tatooine:
While the full storyline(s) of Star Tours: The Adventures Continue may remain a mystery, one thing is certain: the tour of the galaxy will not go smoothly. As in the original Star Tours, guests are likely to get caught up in a variety of life-threatening situations, with a change of pilots being just one mishap along the way.
Meet the characters
Although much of the action in Star Tours: The Adventures Continue will take place on screen, guests will be joined in the Starspeeder 1000 cabin by several all-new audio-animatronic figures. These will play a key role in the action, representing the robotic pilots of the spacecraft.
Disney and Lucas are introducing a host of new characters for the Star Tours follow-up. These include Ace (otherwise known as AC-38), a "Tour Droid" who will lead guests on their journey through the Star Wars universe, and Aly San San, a "Waitress Droid" who will act as a "spokesbot" for Star Tours.
Some old favorites will also return, with C-3PO set to take over as pilot from Ace by the time the Starspeeder takes off. C-3PO is one of only four characters to feature in all six Star Wars movies to date, playing a major role in all of them. Voiced by Anthony Daniels, he is designed as "protocol" droid and frequently boasts that he is fluent in "over six million forms of communication". His sidekick, the quirky R2-D2, is also likely to feature in the attraction although Disney has not confirmed this.
Fans of the original Star Tours will be pleased to hear that Rex, the inept pilot who took guests on their manic journey around the galaxy, will make a cameo appearance in the new ride. Given that Rex was piloting his maiden flight in the original Star Tours, he is unlikely to take the controls during the prequel.
Although Universal pulled off a masterstroke by securing the license to base theme park attractions on the Harry Potter books and movies, in Star Wars Disney has one of the few properties that can still generate the same level of mainstream excitement. Particularly for those who grew up during the heyday of the original Star Wars trilogy, the opening of Star Tours: The Adventures Continue stands out as one of the most highly-anticipated events at any theme park over the next few years.
Disney's decision to overhaul the original Star Tours, rather than replace it with something radically different, leaves us with mixed feelings. While it could pay off handsomely, resulting in an experience that is cutting-edge while still retaining the "feel" of the original, it also risks making the attraction look dated. We're hoping for a full overhaul, rather than a subtle re-working along the sames lines as Universal's conversion of the Back to the Future simulator into The Simpsons Ride.
Of course, Star Tours has always been about the overall experience rather than just the ride itself. Queuing through a "space port", waiting to board the Starspeeder and even disembarking at the end of the "tour" all add to the sense of immersion in the Star Wars universe. On that front, we have no doubt that Disney's Imagineers will pull out all the stops.
Star Wars fans don't have too long left to wait to find out whether Disney and George Lucas have created a worthy successor to an attraction that has entertained guests for over two decades. Theme Park Tourist will feature full reviews of the rides at Disneyland and Disney's Hollywood Studios shortly after they open next May.
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