Sneak Preview: Disney's New Star Tours Begins Soft Opening

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Guests line up for a preview of Disney's revamped Star Tours ride.
  • Guests line up for a preview of Disney's revamped Star Tours ride.

A long time ago (1987, to be precise) in a theme park far, far away (Disneyland), the Star Tours ride introduced flight simulator technology to the amusement industry, taking millions on a hyperspace journey to George Lucas' Star Wars universe. Last year, after over two decades of operation, the popular ride was powered down at Disneyland and Orlando's Disney Hollywood Studio in preparation for a major overhaul. On Saturday May 14th at 2:35p.m., the Florida version of the attraction reopened for a brief “soft opening” test, giving a few thousand lucky guests (this author included) the chance to be the first to experience the newest version of this intergalactic adventure.

You'll have to wait until after May 20th (the ride's official grand re-opening date) to read my full review. But in the meantime, I'm happy to share the bottom line – it's spectacular, not to be missed – and give a few spoilerish tidbits from my journey to Endor.

The Good...

  • The classic Ewok village exterior queue, complete with towering AT-AT walker, was left intact.
  • The interior queue is structurally unchanged, but has been nicely spruced up with new paint, carpet, and LED lighting, lending a cooler, more futuristic look.
  • C3P0 and R2D2 are right where they've always been in the queue, tending to your Starspeeder (rechristened “model 1000” and sporting a sleek red-and-cream color scheme) and looking freshly polished.
  • Throughout the queue, you'll see and hear clever in-jokes referencing the original Star Tours (the classic musical chime theme remains), Star Wars (listen for shout-out to THX-1138) and Disney (watch the baggage scanner for a literal Hidden Mickey).
  • Once inside the simulators, you'll see the brightest, sharpest high-definition 3D images I've ever seen. No ghosting, no blur, no poke-in-the-eye gimmicks. Just crystal-clear visuals with subtly effective depth effects that make you feel like you're looking through a window.
  • Well-synchronized motion programming, combined with rehabilitated hydraulics, makes for a ride that is much less likely to induce motion sickness that its predecessor. It's still an exciting ride, but a much smoother and more comfortable one.
  • Best of all, this is one attractions you can get off of, and get right back on again and again. In a groundbreaking twist, the ride is made up of multiple segments that are randomly recombined for each vehicle, adding up to 54 possible ride variations. On my first ride I saw Chewbacca, Princess Leia, and Boba Fett; a later trip featured Darth Vader and Yoda.

The Bad...

  • The 3D glasses used in the ride were already filthy with fingerprints and water spots within an hour of guests being allowed on. These “Dolby Digital” models are much nicer than the 3D glasses in other area attractions, and fit comfortably over prescription eyewear. But since they are more expensive, you can expect Disney to recycle them until they turn to dust.
  • Though the cheesy “hot set” fake movie theming was removed from the ride's entrance, it remains on the exit ramp into the Tatooine Traders gift shop, which didn't get much of a makeover.
  • Though the CGI imagery crafted by Industrial Light & Magic for the ride is impeccable, some of the visuals in the pre-show videos have a cheap Xbox-ish look. Also, the preshow features plenty of the droid-centric goofy physical comedy that soiled the prequel films.
  • As of Saturday, cast members were still having trouble loading guests on the ride in an efficient manner, and one of the six vehicles broke down as I was boarding. Even with all elements working, expect long, long lines all summer; Fastpass will be your best friend.
  • Contrary to earlier rumors, there are no cool in-cabin physical effects (like smoke, flame, or lasers) during the ride, though there is a neat interactive on-screen moment involving a randomly-selected guest.

...and the Jar Jar

  • Yes, everyone's least-favorite insensitive ethnic charicature from Episode I: The Phantom Meanace is back for a brief underwater cameo. He-sa even gets-a to speak dialogue! Just remember, with the random programs you only have a 1-in-3 chance of bumping into the garrulous Gungan each time you ride. And if you do end up on Naboo, be consoled by the fact that Jar Jar's sequence has the best surprise ending in the attraction.

P.S. Want to ride yourself, and can't wait for the grand opening? Follow @StarTours2Live on Twitter for up-to-the-second updates on when the attraction is "soft open."

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