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May 20, 2011

Star Tours: Disneyland brings the Force

Posted in: Fans,Movies

Disneyland guests meet droids C-3PO and R2-D2 in Disneyland's new Star Tours attraction in Anaheim, Calif. (Paul Hiffmeyer/Disneyland Resort)

Disneyland guests become part of the story when they are identified as rebel spies in Star Tours. (Disney Enterprises, Inc./Lucasfilm Ltd.)

C-3PO, the fussy protocol droid, in Star Tours at Disneyland. (Paul Hiffmeyer/Disneyland Resort)

Droid R2-D2 in the Star Tours attraction. (Paul Hiffmeyer/Disneyland Resort)

The underwater world of Naboo in Star Tours. (Disney Enterprises, Inc./Lucasfilm Ltd.)

Guests can experience a 3D chase scene on Kashyyyk, the Wookie planet, in Star Tours. (Disney Enterprises, Inc./Lucasfilm Ltd.)

Hoth, the icy planet first seen in "The Empire Strikes Back," in the Star Tours attraction. (Disney Enterprises, Inc./Lucasfilm Ltd.)

Boba Fett chases down Star Tours passengers through an asteroid field at the new Disneyland attraction.

RX-24 ("Rex"), the eager pilot featured in the original Star Tours attraction, can be seen in the queue area for the new "Star Tours - The Adventure Continues" with a shipping label that reads "Defective! Return to Factory." (Paul Hiffmeyer/Disneyland Resort)

DARTH VADER -- Pictured in a scene from the attraction, "Star Wars" villain Darth Vader is one of the famous characters guests encounter in "Star Tours - The Adventures Continue, a new 3-D attraction at Disneyland park in Anaheim, Calif. The attraction also is thrilling guests at the Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Disney Enterprises, Inc./Lucasfilm Ltd.)

So much of Disneyland looks to the past – the frontier rides, the crafted quaintness of Main Street USA, the vintage characters strolling the grounds — but with Star Tours, the newly refurbished thrill ride based on the “Star Wars” universe, there may be a message from the future of amusement parks.

After 14 years in the daydream stage, the long-rumored and oft-delayed remake of the Star Tours attraction is a reality. The ride – which mixes 3-D images, a mechanically created wild ride and the novel idea of variable experiences (the ride is actually 54 different adventures that are chosen randomly) — met some of the public on Friday with a special limited opening and will make its full premiere on June 3.

"Star Wars" droids C-3PO and R2-D2 at the new Disneyland Star Tours attraction. (Paul Hiffmeyer/Disneyland Resort)

Fans lined up at 3:20 a.m. to get a chance to be the first on the ride, and with the global tribe of devotees who live and breathe “Star Wars,” the sleek new landmark will likely be a major lure for both the Anaheim park and Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Orlando, Fla., which has a counterpart that made its splashy formal premiere on Friday.

At the risk of mixing mythologies and rival universes, the 4 1/2-minute ride aspires to go where no one has been before, boasted Anthony Daniels, the actor who as the golden robot C-3PO appeared in all seven theatrically released “Star Wars” movies (the six live-action ones and an animated one in 2008). Daniels, whose character is the pilot of the spaceship in the new ride, said the complex mix-and-match feature is well-suited to the intricate tapestry of characters and planets created by George Lucas and colleagues in the films.

Bob Iger and George Lucas on the Star Tours attraction. (David Roark/Disney/AP)

The variable adventures also appeal to a fan base that is defined by its never-enough attitude.

“It is beyond inventive,” Daniels said. “You’re going to much love it, and you’re going to much love it 54 times. You may never see all of it. It’s completely random. So you may see the same thing three times or you may have three different [ride sequences]. So there’s this extraordinary sort of slot machine effect, isn’t there? You don’t know what’s going to come up in the rows in those windows. It could be triple cherry. Each ride is gorgeous within in its own light. You will go back more than once.”

For Walt Disney Imagineering’s Tom Fitzgerald, this is the culmination of an effort that began a long time ago in a decade far, far away. He has been on the Star Tours project since the beginning, writing the story line for the original attraction, which opened in 1987, and shepherding Star Tours 2.0 since 1997. That was when Fitzgerald was summoned to Skywalker Ranch in Marin County by director and producer George Lucas during post-production for “Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace” to look at footage of what Lucas called the “perfect sequence” for a long-envisioned update to the Star Tours simulator ride: a pod race on Tatooine.

Disney artists storyboarded an outline for a revamped Star Tours ride with the pod race as the centerpiece, but after the first prequel hit theaters, the Imagineers wondered what possibilities the next movies might hold.

“We wanted to make sure whatever we picked was the perfect story,” said Fitzgerald, now an executive vice president with the creative arm of Disney. “We took a step back and asked ourselves, ‘Why just tell one story?’”

The struggles along the way included creating an unreliable and comedic character to pilot the escapade (the solution was an obvious one — go with the familiar persnickety C-3PO) while incorporating the clarity of 3-D digital images and to add more nuanced movements to the old ride’s shake-‘em-up experience (now the faux ship can simulate a slide across the ice of Hoth or the dunking on Naboo). The attraction has been closed since last year (September inFlorida, July in Calfiornia) for the renovations to be made.

On the first ride Friday, the fans went to the home planet of the wookiee Chewbacca and to the Death Star (no, it didn’t blow up), but on the second flight the passengers took a wrenching run through Naboo, where they dived below the water and came face-to-face with Jar Jar Binks.

And, yes, some of the older Jedi lovers on the ride moaned at the sight of the much-maligned character from the second trilogy.

– Geoff Boucher and Brady MacDonald


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