The line at opening stretched through the Park and down Main Street USA. Guests stood, queued for hours, waiting to get a taste of that galaxy far, far away… While one might image that I am talking about the crowds for the opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, I am referring to the opening of Star Tours, which celebrated its 35th Anniversary on January 9th, 2022. 1987 was a very, very different world from today’s, and the unprecedented collaboration between the Walt Disney company and George Lucas marked the first time fans could truly step out of the real world and into the Star Wars galaxy.
I was only 4 years-old at the time, but even at that tender age, I could tell that Star Tours was going to be something special. My mom worked for Disney at the time, so my parents, my younger sister, and I would frequently go to Disneyland. I was already obsessed with Star Wars, and upon the opening of the iconic ride, my love for the franchise was solidified. It wasn’t until years later that I would learn that my dad, using his Disneyland pass, had gone to the Park for some Christmas shopping only to get in line for the attraction’s soft-opening and enjoy the newest and biggest attraction to date without the rest of the family. I wasn’t jealous then, but man, looking back, I sure get jealous now.
When the ride officially opened, there was a massive ceremony complete with then Disney CEO Michael Eisner butchering C-3PO’s name and failing, with the aid of George Lucas, to cut a ribbon with a crude lightsaber, plus an incredibly awkward Star Wars dance number. Like the Star Wars Holiday Special, the opening ceremonies were a hypnotically and oddly enjoyable mess. All the formalities completed, the line for the now-open ride was an unwieldy beast. In the days before FastPass, Virtual Queues, and the current nightmare that is the Genie system, Park Guests had to wait quite a while to enjoy an attraction that only ran for less than ten minutes in total.
But the wait, just like the one on opening day for Star Wars in 1977, was most definitely worth it. As C-3P0 himself, Anthony Daniels, once put it:
“Star Tours is one of the best spin-offs or spins-off to come from the world of Lucas.”
Leveraging the creative genius of the Disney Imagineering team, the attraction did a splendid job of pulling visitors into the story as soon as they stepped into the ride’s building. With the queue snaking through a docking bay, Guests could watch the endless bickering of C-3PO and R2-D2 as they repaired and maintained a full-sized StarSpeeder 3000 — your means of conveyance once the ride itself started. Above the line, a pair of Mon Calamari monitored the activity below while a massive screen on the other end of the room promoted some of the possible locations you might visit; Tatooine, Hoth, and the forest moon of Endor. Spoilers — you never got to visit them in the original version of the attraction.
The line eventually took you into and through a droid workshop where you could watch one droid shirking its work duties by chatting away with Guests and listening to K-DROID on their radio while another droid further down the line ran security checks. All of this was going on as baskets of busted and broken droid parts shuffled by overhead while various other, fully-functioning droids, could be spotted at work below.
At last, you came to the boarding gates, where you watched a pre-show flight instructional video complete with a Chewbacca set to back-hand a very naughty child, and then you were boarding your vessel. Once strapped in, your droid captain, RX-24, voiced to perfection by Paul Reubens (aka Pee-wee Herman) became your glitchy and untested pilot, whisking you through the Star Tours maintenance bay, a field of comets, and even into a battle between the Rebel Alliance and the Galactic Empire, all coming to a climax as you zip and zoom over the surface of the Death Star.
The simulator system was one of the most advanced in the world, and guests who got to experience the attraction could feel every twist and turn and every buck and buckle as you banked to dodged TIE Fighters and deftly maneuvered through ice caverns. While simulator attractions weren’t new, there had never been one as immersive as Star Tours. Every time I got off of the ride as a kid, I instantly wanted to get back on it. Sure, the film would be the same, but that was okay — it was like watching the movies at home over and over again, but this time, I was in the film. Of course, it also didn’t help for kids like me that the attraction dumped you straight into a gift shop with all the Star Wars goodies at those ultra-high Disneyland prices.
The attraction remained the same for decades. Versions of the attraction eventually opened in Florida, Tokyo, and Paris. While I’ve never been to the parks in Florida or Tokyo, I’m sure the Parisian Guests sitting next to me while I rode it in their Park must’ve been super-annoyed at having to listen to me and my best friend quoting the entirety of the ride’s dialogue in English to each other. I’m so, so sorry to those Parisians.
Over the decades, there had always been talk of updating the attraction; adding more films with various destinations — at one time, you could purchase a set of postcards for places like Hoth, Tatooine, Bespin, and the Forest Moon of Endor. Years passed, and while the attraction remained a favorite of mine and so many others, it was beginning to show its age here and there. I will forever appreciate the fact that the original attraction’s film was all done using that ILM magic of models and miniatures, and while the visuals held up pretty well, the bulky technology needed to project the actual 70mm film reels was no longer in the best of shape.
Finally, in the Summer of 2010 Disney closed Star Tours. The distinct lack of a Star Wars attraction in the Park was painful — at least we had Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye to quench the LFL entertainment thirst during those long, dry months. Finally, on May 20th, 2011, Star Tours reopened as the newly rebranded Star Tours — The Adventures Continue. This time, the opening ceremonies kicked off in Florida, where they went much better with George Lucas present once again and then CEO Bob Iger on hand to welcome in a new era for the popular attraction.
Star Tours was back and it was different! Now set between the prequel and original trilogies, the new version of the attraction saw fan-favorite droid pilot RX-24 mothballed and replaced by C-3PO, your now accidental pilot. The StarSpeeder 1000, your ship this time around, required Guests to wear flight goggles so that the now digitally projected film could pop off of the screen in incredibly realized 3-D. In addition to the new pilot, the films also ran on a randomized system that ran much like a slot-machine with various opening, middle, and closing scenarios, all with their own sets of alternate easter eggs randomized to appear within each section. The system now made repeat trips a new experience each and every time. After the acquisition of LFL by Disney and as new films in the Skywalker Saga released, new scenarios from Jakku to Crait to Exegol could be added into the mix.
With the opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge having come and gone, Star Tours still stands; a lone piece of Disney and LFL history in a defunct and poorly themed Tomorrowland. While the attraction is still incredibly fun and rather popular, its future remains uncertain. With no need to keep Star Wars in Tomorrowland, should the place get a much-needed facelift, it’s easy to see how it might be retired, allowing the Galaxy’s Edge expansion serve as all-things Star Wars at Disneyland. On the other hand, with only the most tenuous of connections to the sequel trilogy and Galaxy’s Edge, there certainly isn’t any reason for it not to stay where it is, welcoming Guests as they enter the land of spaceflight and the stars beyond.
“Difficult to see. Always in motion is the future.”
While the future of Star Tours is shrouded in the unknown, for those longing for a bit of the attraction’s past, you can always spend some time with the new DJ over at Oga’s Cantina in Black Spire Outpost. If you stay long enough and listen closely, R-3X might just make mention of having strange dreams where he’s the pilot of a starship…