Guest writer Jay West takes a look back on moments in pop culture with a fanboy perspective and archivist spirit. Today’s topic: Star Tours.
It was Jan. 9, 1987, that the motion-simulator ride Star Tours opened at Disneyland, giving fans an opportunity to do something they had wanted to do since seeing the first “Star Wars” movie in 1977: Step into the action themselves and feel The Force (as well as the velocity) of the George Lucas universe. The project’s opening was a major moment and the stakes were high — at $32 million the bill for the attraction was almost twice as much as the construction budget of the entire Anaheim theme park back in the 1950s.
The valiant droids C-3PO and R2-D2 were on hand to welcome riders as they boarded their Starspeeder 3000 shuttles — and the bumbling droid pilot Captain Rex (RX-24) informed passengers that it was his first flight — something he would continue to profess for the next 23 years, forever a rookie despite the passing seasons. These flights to “a galaxy far, far away” came to an end on July 27, 2010 to make way for a new future; the shuttles are being recommissioned as the Starspeeder 1000 series, equipped with all new technology and 3-D enhanced view ports. The new voyages, under the Star Tours 2.0 banner, are scheduled to begin June 3, 2011.
Back when the attraction was the expensive and fascinating newcomer in the theme-park sector, there was a promotional television special hosted by actor Gil Gerard (best known for playing the 1970s and 1980s incarnation of Buck Rogers) and child actor Ernie Reyes, Jr.. For the curious, Reyes has continued to act and do stunt work, including motion-capture work for “Avatar” and last year’s “Alice in Wonderland.”
I’ve put this TV special together with a bit of Jedi spirit that I hope will make you smile…
In this special, you’ll first encounter C-3PO, who then proceeds to start rapping — yes, rapping — and his (mostly) faithful sidekick R2-D2 soon joins in on the act, sliding back and forth and beeping away. If you can make it through that, then you’ve truly achieved Jedi status. Space travel was then illustrated with clips from such vintage sci-fi films as 1902’s “Voyage to the Moon” and two Buck Rogers movies: 1939’s “Planet Outlaws” and the 1979 “Buck Rogers” feature film with Gerard. Then came newsreel footage of Yuri Gagarin and Alan Shepard, Jr. who made actual off-planet forays from 1961 and an excerpt of President Kennedy’s historic September 12, 1962, speech on the goal of the space race: “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”
Footage from the original 1982 “Tron” movie was also shown (Gerard referred to it as “totally futuristic look at space travel,” suggesting that he and the script team were among the many people who never saw the computer-world adventure) and everything ultimately led up to the fictionalized space travel depicted in the original “Star Wars” trilogy of movies, and climaxes with a flight via the Star Tours ride.
— Jay West
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