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Star Tours: The Stellar Story Behind the Ride That Changed Disney Parks Forever

Lightspeed to Endor

As the orange doors swing inward, there it is: a parked Starspeeder 3000, docked for boarding. (Cleverly, eagle eyed fans will note that the ATLAS simulator is truly a huge box that extends above and well in front of the apparent "Starspeeder" shape. The shape and details of the starship are painted in glowing ultraviolet paint lit by blacklight, making the rest of the "box" concealing the height of the vehicle and its on-board projection system in front seem to disappear!)

Image: Studios Central.

Once seated and buckled into the Starspeeder, the face of our pilot, REX, appears on a rectangular video screen to the right in the cabin. "Welcome aboard! This is Captain REX from the cockpit. I know this is probably your first flight, and it’s… mine, too! Haha!" Gulp. "Well, it looks like we’re going to have a smooth flight to Endor, so I’ll go ahead and open the cockpit shield."

The large metallic shield at the front of the cabin recedes, revealing REX in person ("Hi there!") and a corrugated steel wall before us. On the screen to the right, we see R2-D2 being lifted by crane into his position on the Starspeeder. "I see they’re loading our navigator Artoo-Detoo, and then we’ll be on our way. So sit back, relax, and enjoy the flight!"

The motion base kicks in, synchronizing to the video on screen as our Starspeeder rises, apparently parked on a lift. This very first motion is sure to earn squeals from the audience and excitement builds. Up and up and up we rise as final pre-flight checks are announced over the PA system. Finally, the lift jolts to a halt as, directly in front of us, another Starspeeder advances forward and through a doorway flashing "LAUNCH." We follow close behind, but just before REX can pass our Starspeeder through the same bay, the vehicle jams to the left and bursts through a flashing doorway marked "MAINTENANCE BAY - NO ADMITTANCE."


Image: Disney / Lucasfilm

The vehicles jostles and rumbles over mechanical scaffolds as a massive dropoff appears ahead. REX cries out in one of his most iconic lines: "Brakes... Brakes...! Where are the brakes?!" It's too late. The Starspeeder crashes over a metal railing and nosedives ten stories down toward its parked sisters below. At the last possible second, REX pulls up, narrowly avoiding a control tower of panicked workers, slaloming past a swinging robotic arm, and nearly smashing into a massive, mighty microscope

Finally, REX manages to spot an open hangar door and navigates the Starspeeder into open space. The Starspeeder ahead of us just moments ago appears through the viewport and jumps into lightspeed, disappearing in a stretched tunnel of stars. "Uhh... I meant to do that! A little shortcut!" REX laughs with the unmistakable cadence of Pee-wee. "Artoo, lightspeed to Endor!" Now it's our turn.

The Starspeeder rears back as stars stretch around us, giving way to a pulsating blue tunnel. G-force plasters riders into their seats as the mix of visual and physical convincingly suggests we're blasting through space. And then, appearing in the distance: Endor! Then, disappearing as we jettison right past... Endor. 

"Artoo, we passed the Endor moon!" R2-D2 chirps and whoops in alarm. "Now what?" Icy crystals appear, tearing through space with fiery blue tails. "Comets? Comets! Ladies and gentlemen, there may be some turbulence up ahead, please make sure your seatbelts are fastened!" Drawing closer, the steaming rocks take on the appearance of jagged, icy crystals. REX dodges left and right, but it's too late. The comets strike against the windshield, shattering into dust. Then, a massive crystal geode appears ahead. With a shriek, REX pilots the ship into an opening on the crystal, the Starspeeder sliding and scraping through icy tunnels. With a burst of power, we blast out the other side. 

Image: Disney / Lucasfilm

REX turns triumphantly toward riders. "Well, you can relax now!" The ship begins to tilt to the right. "Everything's under control," he promises, as the ship leans more and more, "and we'll be on our way to the Endor moon without any further delay!" Now dangling to the right, REX looks out the windshield to see Star Destroyers on the horizon. The Imperial March echoes as the Starspeeder jolts. "Oh no! We're caught in a tractor beam!" Drawn closer and closer to a looming Star Destroyer overhead, X-Wings begin buzzing around us as a transmission comes in. "Star Tours!? What are you doing here? This is a combat zone! It’s restricted! Ease off on your main thruster."

Free from the tractor beam's pull, the Starspeeder curves through space, right into a battle between the Rebellion's X-Wings and Empire's TIE Fighters. R2-D2 readies our own cannons, blasting the Empire's ships. On the horizon, the impossible, looming Death Star appears. Before it can even come fully into view, we're hit! "Artoo, get the stabilizer fixed… and hurry! We’re losing altitude fast!" The ship spirals downward, twisting and spinning as it hurdles toward the Death Star.

Stabilizing behind a set of X-Wings, the squadron leader radios in: "Red Twenty-Four, Red Thirty, follow me."

Red Twenty-Four? RX-24? Close enough. REX chatters, "O-kay! I've always wanted to do this! We're going in!"

Image: Disney / Lucasfilm

The Starspeeder follows the X-Wings along the surface of the planet-sized Death Star, then leaps down into the industrial trenches that make up its exterior. Sliding and leaping to avoid oncoming obstacles and blaster fire, we slam left and right and dive through the trenches. As the X-Wing fighter in front of us drops two shots down the Death Star's exhaust port, a massive, blinding explosion erupts from within. The Starspeeder narrowly skims over the fiery cloud, pulling up to rendezvous with the Red Squadron. "All ships, jump to light speed!" the leader calls out.

As the four X-Wings disappear into the stars, REX steadies himself. "Hang on back there! Lightspeed!"

The ship jumps again, warping through space and arriving quite suddenly back at the starport. As REX guides it back into a set of hangar doors, a fuel truck glides by ahead. "Brakes!"

Image: Disney / Lucasfilm

The ship grinds to a halt, mere inches from a Supervisor working behind a window. The Supervisor (played by ILM's cheif modelmaker Ira Keeler) simply shakes his head in disapproval. As the Starspeeder re-engages with a left and begins to sink back into its resting position, REX breaths a sigh of relief. "Hey, sorry folks. I’m sure to do better next time. It was my first flight, and I’m still getting used to my programming!" Before he can continue, the automatic sheild raises back up as he cries out, "Hey! Hey!"

C-3PO appears on the cabin's video screen. "We do hope you enjoyed your tour of Endor, and will come back soon. Now please remain seated until the captain has opened the exit doors. You may then unlatch your safety restraints by pressing the release button on your left. Oh, and do make sure you have your personal belongings. Thank you. Goodbye!"

As John William's "Main Theme" erupts, the cabin doors open and guests exit back into Tomorrowland.

To finish us off, here's a video to capture the experience of riding the original Star Tours:

New Space Terminals

Following the ride’s runaway (or, blastoff) success at Disneyland in January 1987, its duplication across the Disney Parks chain was all but assured.

Two years later, it opened in Tokyo Disneyland’s Tomorrowland.

Image: Disney

It did not come to Tomorrowland at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom. That’s because Eisner had already greenlit a third theme park for the Floridian resort, this one themed to the magic of movie making, with a real working movie studio. Of course, the story of what was the Disney-MGM Studios Park could be its own standalone epic, but suffice it to say that when the park opened in 1989, Star Tours was already under construction. It would opened in December, 6 months after the park and 6 months after Tokyo’s version. To fit the park’s moviemaking style, the ride’s exterior is a studio soundstage with a forest moon of Endor movie set as the queue.

Image: Disney

The final version opened alongside Disneyland Paris in Discoveryland, the European park’s fantasy-oriented, Jules Verne style version of Tomorrowland (where it was admittedly a stylistically odd fit among golden towers, submarines, zephyrs, and Jules Verne styling like the headlining Lost Legend: Space Mountain – De la Terre à la Lune).

(If you're really counting, you might imagine that there's a fifth Star Tours. "The Roller Coaster Capitol of the World," Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio, yearned for its own piece of the Star Wars pie, and blatantly copied elements of Star Tours' queue and ride experience in an indoor coaster that was equal parts knock-off and '70s adventure... despite being built in the 1990s. This "Disaster Transport" was so odd, it earned its own in-depth feature in our series Disaster Files: Disaster Transport. If you're interested in how an amusement thrill park could try its best to copy Star Tours on a low budget coaster, check it out.)

Star Tours was a hit. But there’s a reason Star Tours ranks among our lineup of Lost Legends. Out of four resorts where it was present, there are no longer any Disney Parks on Earth with this Star Tours adventure. Why? We've got the full details about what happened next on the last page. 

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There are 2 comments.

Fun little article. Only correction is C3PO is the Pilot not R2D2. :)

Never rode the ride before but we are visiting the parks in June for the first time. This ride looks really promising and this article was very interesting. It was great learning about the history of this ride!


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