Lee Zimmerman, Laura's husband, is guest blogging this report on the Star Tours Early Entry Event at Disneyland on Friday, May 20.
Laura had to work Friday and it was my off day, so she drafted me, typically her behind-the-scenes video guy, to attend this event in her place. Since I am a huge Star Wars fan and much more fond of motion simulator rides than Laura, I was happy to oblige. Regular readers of her blog may feel like you know me, since you've seen lots of pictures of me in her blog posts.
While the updated Star Tours attraction at Walt Disney World opened May 20th as part of the first Star Wars Weekend for the year, Star Tours at Disneyland does not officially open until June 3rd. However 1200 lucky fans, plus one guest each, selected from those that applied on the Disney Parks Blog, got a preview of the ride on May 20th during the Star Tours Early Departure Event.
Star Tours has been off-line since last year while Disney Imagineers, in concert with Lucasfilm and Industrial Light & Magic, updated the ride to incorporate 3D and many more locations from the expanded Star Wars universe. For those who have forgotten, there have been three new Star Wars movies since the original Star Tours attraction was created. While the simulation technology and the ride vehicles are the same, everything else about the ride has been upgraded, including the queue, the "safety" video shown before boarding and all of the video and choreographed motion that make the ride what it is. The queue will remind anyone who has ever traveled via air of the airport experience, complete with security scans and luggage screening. After a funny 2-minute safety video, staring the new robot spokesperson Aly San San, guests board Flight 1401 for a 5-minute ride that can be one of over 50 different experiences based on randomly selected combinations of planets visited and characters you meet. If you want to know what happens during the ride, skip to the spoiler paragraph at the end of the story.
I arrived at the event right at 7:30AM and most of the 2000+ guests were already in line. Check-in officially started at 4:30AM and cast members told me that the first guests were actually there by 3:30AM. My media host had been checking folks in since that time and said he had checked in guests from as far away as Washington state and Wisconsin. The guests were queued up from the Disneyland front entrance all the way back around the shuttle bus drop-off area.
These folks were towards the end of the line but they were excited to ride the new Star Tours and they were enjoying the hot beverages Disney provided for the those waiting to enter the park
Some of the over 2000 guests waiting at 7:30AM to enter Disneyland and start their Early Departure adventure.
This "spacy" duo was playing arrangements of Star Wars and other Tomorrowland-appropriate music to entertain the crowd while they waited.
We entered Disneyland at 8:00AM and made our way to the Star Tours queue where everyone waited for the 9:00AM park opening with a combination of patience and expectation. It was early, so it wasn't a very energetic crowd (at least on the way in, they were a LOT more energetic after the ride). I found out when I interviewed several of the first folks in line that they had been up all night - attending the 'Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides' premiere and then this event.
Finally, filling the actual ride queue!
These folks were excited to get on the ride.
A cast member showing off his new Star Tours costume.
The mural outside Star Tours has been repainted and shows the new (old?) Starspeeder 1000's.
Star Tours gets Fastpass, but it takes over the Buzz Lightyear Fastpass distribution so Buzz has Fastpass no more.
A couple of the cast members were playing with lightsabers, including this one who challenged this adult guest to the Jedi Training Academy lightsaber routine.
R2D2 and C-3PO in the updated ride queue. Photo ©Disneyland
A sample of the new graphics - here of the Wookie planet Kashyyyk. Imagine this on a big screen, while wearing 3D glasses and the vehicle you are riding in is rocking and rolling to match the action. Photo ©Disneyland
We were able to interview the first official park guests to ride the new Star Tours, they were all very happy with the new ride. I've included pictures and quotes from the first few riders below:
"The 3D was really good, much better than I expected. The sound was also excellent and really added to the ride."
"We're looking forward to doing all the versions"
"I really liked the 3D effects"
"It was familiar, but updated"
"It's better than old one - newer, revamped"
Clearly Star Tours fans - no surprise they were towards the front of the line.
I got to ride too and have to say I agree with everyone above. On my trip we visited Kashyyyk and Naboo - flying through the jungle and going under water really highlighted just how good the new 3D movie footage is. Everything looks photorealistic and the 3D is effective without any gimmicks. I sat on the far edge of a row and I wear glasses, but the 3D effects worked just fine for me. The 3D combined with the motion of the simulator makes the ride even more realistic than the original, and at least on this first ride, the motion seemed less jerky. I liked that C3P0 and R2D2 seem more capable than Rex in the original Star Tours and this time the Starspeeders have guns!
Disney has made available a Galactic Passport on-line that you can customize with your own picture and use to track which of the many Star Tours variations you've experienced. Go to http://startourspassport.com to make and print your own Galactic Passport.
The remodeled Star Trader shop is open and it looks very nice. There is now a (nearly?) full-size X-Wing hanging from the ceiling and design details that carry out the travel theme from the ride. For example, the moving walkway overhead and signs throughout the store. The store has an expanded selection of Star Wars merchandise - I saw some new T-shirts and a selection of hats that I think are new including Yoda, Boba Fett and R2D2 mouse ears. There were also some new Star Tours-specific shirts and hats. The old arcade is also open, but now it is part store and part arcade, with the arcade machines and a second "build your own lightsaber" station around the edges.
The ride exits into Star Traders
The Star Wars merchandise has expanded from just the side alcove to much of the store - so the X Wing overhead is appropriate.
There is a moving walkway overhead where you can see the silhouettes of many interesting characters - including some familiar ones - go by.
New Star Tours merchandise
As described in the Disney Press Release for the event: "Through a series of mishaps C-3PO finds himself in the pilot's seat - and it's up to him and R2-D2 to navigate their passengers through the galaxy. However, the tyrannical Empire is out to stop the Starspeeder at all costs. C-3PO and R2-D2 take the controls and try to outwit and outrun the Imperial forces and a galactic bounty hunter hired to pursue the spaceship and its passengers. Utilizing the 50+ random story combinations, the Starspeeder then embarks on a wild trip through the galaxy, visiting several planets made famous in the Star Wars films. Among the locations that might provide haven from the Empire's pursuit are the icy planet of Hoth, the lush jungles of Kashyyyk and the underwater Gungan world of Naboo. And along the way guests may encounter Star Wars characters that offer to help (or hinder) their journey, including Yoda, Admiral Ackbar, Darth Vader and Boba Fett. 'Skytroopers,' a legion of stormtroopers created just for the Star Tours attraction story, might even join in the chase."
The previous post in this blog was Pacific Northwest Cruise - The Food, Part 2.
The next post in this blog is Disney's California Adventure Construction Update.