One of my favorite elements of Star Tours - The Adventures Continue was – and is – its unpredictability. Which passenger’s grainy snapshot will infuriate the Imperial probe droid? Will Leia send the coordinates to R2-D2 or will Yoda show us the path to freedom? Will we be caught in the crosshairs of a fierce battle between Rebel Snowspeeders and AT-ATs or will we be forced to dodge the slimy throat of a snaggle-toothed fish in the watery depths of Naboo? The possibilities feel infinite.
The possibilities felt a little more finite last Thursday, however, when a long-awaited attraction update was finally implemented in Disneyland’s Tomorrowland and Walt Disney World’s Hollywood Studios. It’s true that there are still some random elements awaiting passengers aboard the StarSpeeder 1000, but they no longer affect where or when you end up in the Star Wars universe. Instead, the ride’s signature randomization has been temporarily shelved, forcing each rider to travel from Jakku to Crait to Batuu in a two-fold promotion for Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Star Wars Land.
While it’s obvious why Disney feels the need to market the newest installment of its most successful franchise – and, to be fair, the new scenes are nothing short of breathtaking – it’s possible that they’re also using the update to mask some of the continuity problems that have plagued Star Tours in the past.
As C-3PO so aptly puts it: I’ve got a bad feeling about this.
Randomize, randomize, randomize: How Disney Parks keep their attractions exciting and their riders returning
Of the 32 Disneyland attractions that utilize ride vehicles, eight offer riders multiple experiences depending on a) randomization, b) seasonal overlays and c) the Cast Member in charge of the attraction. Both the Storybook Land Canal Boats and Jungle/Jingle Cruise allow Cast Members to ad-lib parts of their spiel, while the Haunted Mansion and “it’s a small world” undergo elaborate cosmetic changes from mid-November through early January. Most impressive is Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Forbidden Eye, which relies on an Enhanced Motion System (EMS) to engineer over 160,000 variations within its 50,000-square-foot show building.
Compared to the Adventureland thriller, Star Tours - The Adventures Continue offers a modest 336 possible ride experiences based on some combination of 18 variables. It should be noted, of course, that guests do not get to travel to 336 different places in the Star Wars universe... much as they might want to. Prior to the additions of Crait and Batuu (which are omitted here for reasons we’ll explain further on), each trip featured two of seven different planets: Tatooine, Hoth, Kashyyyk, Jakku, Coruscant, Naboo and Geonosis.
To look at it another way, each flight on the StarSpeeder 1000 involves four main events: an opening sequence, primary destination, hologram correspondence and ending destination. When Star Tours first underwent its massive refurbishment in 2011, there were 54 combinations of the four main events (2 opening sequences x 3 primary destinations x 3 holograms x 3 ending destinations), which increased to approximately 96 combinations in 2015 with the addition of a BB-8 hologram and the TIE fighter chase on Jakku (2 opening sequences x 4 primary destinations x 4 holograms x 3 ending destinations).
So, how does that bring us to 336 possible variations? Hop aboard the StarSpeeder 1000 and find out…
From Tatooine to Jakku and back again
Let’s break down each of the four main events of the ride as they occur. The opening sequence has two distinct variations but a total of three possible experiences. In the first version, a seeker droid latches onto the windshield of the StarSpeeder 1000 and identifies the Rebel spy before the ship flees the spaceport alongside Han Solo and the Millennium Falcon. In the second version of the opening sequence, Darth Vader locks the StarSpeeder 1000 in a Force grip as he tries to locate the stowaway aboard the vessel. The third version slightly modifies the second opening sequence: Boba Fett has now joined Darth Vader’s posse.
Once the StarSpeeder 1000 makes its first successful jump to lightspeed (thanks, R2-D2), C-3PO and his passengers find themselves en route to their primary destination, the place where they end up spending just under a full minute of their four-minute, thirty-second adventure. Riders experience one of four ports of call here: Tatooine, Hoth, Kashyyyk or Jakku. These sequences do not have any noticeable major or minor variations, as far as we’ve been able to tell, though it was rumored that Tatooine, Hoth and Kashyyyk had all received slight tweaks during Star Tours’ modest upgrade in 2015.
After the ship manages to win the Boonta Eve Classic Podrace, slip under the durasteel feet of AT-ATs, dodge vine-swinging Wookiees or evade the First Order, a special holographic message arrives from one of several Rebel allies: Leia Organa, Admiral Ackbar, Yoda or BB-8. There are no documented variations on these characters’ messages, save for the gender of the Rebel spy to whom the message is directed.
C-3PO and R2-D2 engineer another jump to lightspeed and riders are thrust toward their final destination. This leg of the trip comprises roughly a minute and a half of the ride and, like the opening sequence, offers its riders quite a bit of variety, with stops in Geonosis, Coruscant or Naboo. While the speeder only takes its guests to one of three different destinations, there are a total of seven possible experiences here. First up: Geonosis, where the StarSpeeder is confronted by the cocksure Boba Fett aboard Slave I and is forced to dodge Darth Vader and a fleet of TIE fighters through the unfinished hull of the first Death Star.
Others will be brought to a screeching halt above Coruscant, where R2-D2 confidently leads the speeder through traffic (going the wrong way, as C-3PO all-too-eagerly points out), then evades a collision with a fuel tanker before getting lowered into a hangar by a traffic control droid. Alternatively, some riders will find their journey ends when they are greeted in the hangar by Chewbacca, who waves a warm welcome from the cockpit of the Falcon.
The most common ending take place on Naboo, where several slightly different experiences await passengers after they crash into the planet’s watery surface. After upsetting a familiar-looking Gungan (either by flying just over his head or ramming into him at full-speed) and dodging the bite of carnivorous sea creatures, the trip ends in a repair hangar. In one ending, the tail of a Naboo starfighter skewers the windshield and stuns the pit droid. In another, the StarSpeeder only breaks off the tail of the starfighter, inspiring the pit droid to splash a bucket of yellow paint onto the windshield.
Considering all possible variations, from the way Boba Fett swaggers into the hangar to Jar-Jar Binks body-slamming the speeder, that brings us to 336 potential flights (3 opening sequences x 4 primary destinations x 4 holograms x 7 ending destinations). Again, this doesn’t include the brand-new addition of the Kylo Ren opening sequence, Maz Kanata and Poe Dameron holograms or the Crait/Batuu ending. However, it’s worth noting that the most important elements in any Star Tours mission are the primary and ending destinations, as they determine where the StarSpeeder 1000 travels within the Star Wars universe. So, while there are technically 336 possibilities at each rider’s fingertips, only 12 combinations of primary/ending destinations exist: Hoth/Coruscant, Hoth/Geonosis, Hoth/Naboo, Jakku/Coruscant, Jakku/Geonosis, Jakku/Naboo, Kashyyyk/Coruscant, Kashyyyk/Geonosis, Kashyyyk/Naboo, Tatooine/Coruscant, Tatooine/Geonosis and Tatooine/Naboo.
Will Star Tours return to its choose-your-own-adventure format?
If you’re secretly hoping Star Tours will return to the random missions of yesteryear (well, yesterweek), you might be left hanging for a while. As we’ve mentioned several times over the last week, the StarSpeeder 1000 appears to have its coordinates fixed on Jakku and Crait/Batuu for the time being. What’s more, WDW News Today reports that the new additions may not be assimilated into the ride’s randomized format the way that BB-8 and Jakku were back in 2015. Instead, Star Tours could split into two separate rides, one that focuses on Episodes I-VI and another that centers on Episodes VII-IX.
Should Disney go down this route, there’s no question that it would require some serious content creation — and soon. Sure, they could wait to split up the attraction until they have more material to use from Episode IX, but that likely wouldn’t become a possibility until autumn 2019. (Of course, if they’re planning to reposition Star Tours within Star Wars Land, which is scheduled to open earlier that year, then this makes total sense.) Should they make the change within the next 6-12 months, as WDWNT hinted, riders would get to travel to some combination of six planets (Tatooine, Hoth, Kashyyyk, Geonosis, Coruscant and Naboo) on the “old” version of Star Tours, while the “new” version would be forced to play the same Jakku/Crait/Batuu combo on repeat. Taking all possible opening sequences, primary destinations, holograms and ending sequences into account, that means riders could enjoy up to 189 variations on one version of the ride and just six variations on the other.
Can two Star Tours attractions fix Disney’s issues with continuity?
Splitting Star Tours into separate wings of the same spaceport — or, as others have suggested, physically transporting riders from Hollywood Studios’ Echo Lake into the adjacent Star Wars Land (a solution that wouldn’t work half as well in Disneyland’s Tomorrowland) — still doesn’t solve all of Disney’s continuity problems.
With the exception of scenes and characters from Episode VII: The Force Awakens and Episode VIII: The Last Jedi, every Star Tours mission supposedly takes place between the end of Episode III: Revenge of the Sith and the start of Episode IV: A New Hope. One of the missions takes riders through the construction site of the first Death Star, so it’s safe to assume that most adventures also occur before the main plot line of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.
This didn’t cause any issues during the creation of the original attraction in 1987, which was deliberately set after the events of Episode VI: Return of the Jedi so that Captain Rex’s mission wouldn’t disrupt the existing canon (Episodes IV to VI). With the addition of Episodes I-III from 1999 through 2005 and the kick-off of Episodes VII-IX in 2015, the wealth of canonical material at a Disney Imagineer’s disposal only continued to multiply.
Expanding the attraction’s scope in 2011 proved more problematic. George Lucas and Disney’s creative team wanted to utilize elements from the entire canon, and sandwiching Star Tours trips between the prequels and original trilogy seemed like a simple solution at first.
Problems arose when the Imagineers settled on Hoth as a potential destination. The Battle of Hoth takes place in Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, and one of its most iconic scenes involves the elephantine Imperial walkers taking on a Rogue Squadron of Rebel Snowspeeders. Because the battle is set outside of Star Tours’ established timeline, it wasn’t eligible for inclusion in the attraction. Disney tried to work around the issue, creating several alternative timelines that introduced riders to Hoth’s native wampas and tauntauns, but when they ran the idea by Lucas, he was dissatisfied with the result. In the end, they devised an elaborate backstory that involves a pre-Episode V Rebel team of scouts who encounter Imperial forces as they scope out the icy terrain.
Further complications emerged after the release of Episode VII: The Force Awakens. Not only was a non-canonical storyline created, during which Finn assists the StarSpeeder 1000 in fending off several First Order TIE fighters, but the scene was inserted at the beginning of every Star Tours flight during Tomorrowland’s “Season of the Force” revamping in 2015. Riders were subjected to fractured storylines that spanned the events of Episode III through Episode VII, sometimes featuring Finn and a very non-dead Darth Vader in the same trip.
Following the addition of a skirmish on Crait and a brief jaunt around Batuu (uncharted territory within the Star Wars universe and the future site of Star Wars Land), it looks like Imagineers are trying to limit the potential mix-ups within Star Wars’ established timeline. Even if it’s not strictly canon, it certainly makes sense to confront Kylo Ren in the hangar, pal around with Finn on Jakku and take on the First Order AT-M6 walkers on Crait before seeking refuge on Batuu.
But that still leaves things a bit muddled during some of the Star Tours missions that feature familiar places and characters from Episodes I-VI. For example, passengers might run into Darth Vader while idling in the spaceport, then race alongside notorious Podracer pilot Sebulba in the Boonta Eve Classic and later receive a hologram from Princess Leia — a sequence that doesn’t exactly jive with Star Wars canon.
Aligning random Star Tours flights with Star Wars canon might be trickier than it seems
Today, the issue with bringing all Star Tours missions back into their proper place within the Star Wars series is that it would potentially force Imagineers to eliminate much of the randomization that gives the attraction its unique appeal. Instead of completely randomizing the individual elements of the ride — opening sequence, primary destination, hologram and ending sequence — the elements would need to be prepackaged into missions that follow a more linear timeline.
With this model, far fewer adventures would be available and the basic plot of the ride would become much easier to predict once passengers glimpsed their first destination. While this presents an immediate challenge, especially for an attraction that relies on constant variation to stay fresh and exciting, it also offers interesting opportunities to further develop the beloved series. Entirely new plot lines could flourish, expanding Star Tours’ flight path to Endor, Bespin, Dagobah, D’Qar and Takodana, among other corners of the galaxy. Not only would guests get to choose between pre- and post-Episode VII flights, but they could partake in missions that more fully and accurately incorporate iconic moments in Star Wars canon.
Given the many alterations Disney has made to the attraction over the last six years, a few more tweaks to its crisscrossing timelines could be well within the realm of possibility. On the other hand, maybe this is the real question: Does it matter? Aside from those who keep close tabs on the intricacies of a galaxy far, far away, does seeing Sebulba and Leia on the same voyage spoil most guests’ enjoyment of the ride? Should it?
The short answer: Probably not. After all, half the fun of Star Tours is its choose-your-own-adventure feel, even if that means it sometimes gets its wires crossed with the prequels and original trilogy. Preserving both the accuracy of the Star Wars canon and the element of surprise is certainly doable, but may not be a high priority on Disney’s list as they prepare to debut a slew of new attractions over the next two years. For now, all we can really do is sit back and enjoy the ride… even if it requires suspending our disbelief more than goofy Gungans and hyperspace travel already ask us to.