Disney has officially announced that the Star Tours attractions at Disneyland and Disney's Hollywood Studios will be upgraded to a new 3D simulation, opening in 2011.

The announcement was made at Disney's D23 Expo, where it was also confirmed that the existing Star Tours attractions - based on George Lucas' Star Wars movies - will close in October 2010. Disney Parks and Resorts Chairman Jay Rasulo revealed the news, accompanied by Stormtroopers on stage and Darth Vader on a big screen.

The existing simulator film will be replacing by an upgraded 3D version, which will transport guests into the Star Wars universe. One scene shown at the expo (and in the video embedded below) recreated the pod-racing scene from "Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace", confirming rumors that the ride's plot will take in elements of the more recent Star Wars prequels as well as the original trilogy.

Rasulo said there would be physical changes made to the original ride, which has been in place at Disneyland since 1987 and at Disney's Hollywood Studios since 1989. However, he did not reveal whether this meant a full replacement of the ride system, or a more subtle re-working along the same lines as last year's conversion of Universal's Back to the Future simulator into The Simpsons Ride.

Disney has worked with Star Wars creator Lucas to put together the new attraction. "Ever since we did our original Star Tours attraction with George, the relationship with Imagineering has been very, very close," said Rasulo of Lucas. "We strive for authenticity in everything we do. This is a Lucas idea, this is Lucas storytelling, interpreted by Imagineering."

The original Star Tours attraction pioneered the use of flight-simulator technologies in theme park attractions, but in recent years has faced criticism for being outdated. Set in the Star Wars universe and based on a ficticious "intergalactic tours" operator, it 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.

No announcement was made regarding the Star Tours attractions at Disneyland Paris and Tokyo Disneyland.

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