Ever since Star Tours' original opening in 1987, it was always the intention to continually change the attraction's film experience.
In a 1987 press interview, filmmaker George Lucas stated, “One of the basic ideas behind this is that it’s reprogrammable. This will give us a big advantage in being able to upgrade the ride, to improve it or change it or make it into something else.”
At the time, Lucas offered four different story choices that could be utilized in the future.
Lucas, Dennis Muren (from Industrial Light and Magic), and Imagineers Tom Fitzgerald and Tony Baxter were responsible for developing the final storyline for that original attraction.
At one point, there was so much raw material that the flight would have lasted nearly 20 minutes. There were discussions about including an underwater voyage beneath Dagobah’s murky swamps or bouncing around the Star Wars universe in an out-of-control time-travel trip and even a Jedi training experience.
One of the original ideas was that several films were going to be made, each one based on one of the original trilogy.
Guests would have to go to California to see the one based on Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, then to Florida to see the one from Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back and then to Paris to see the Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi version.
Over the years, rumors constantly circulated about upcoming changes in the attraction.
In 1997, Imagineer Tom Fitzgerald, one of the show writers on the original attraction, visited Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch facility during post-production on Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. Lucas was excited about the prospect of updating the Star Tours attraction into a simulator version of the Tatooine pod race featured in that film. Imagineers even storyboarded a possible version of that race that might be used in the attraction.
However, it was decided to wait until all three films were released in order to take advantage of all of the new story elements Lucas was going to introduce. In 2003, during the shooting of Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, Fitzgerald met with Lucas again to brainstorm some of the possible ideas, including the different locations and how things could go wrong.
The top secret name for the project became “Lodestar,” something that serves as a model or an inspiration. The reason for the hologram transmission was to give the motion base a chance to refresh itself and reset because of the many new movements programmed into the presentation. At one point it was considered to use more live-action, but the need to be able to tweak the footage and the camera angles required the majority of the film to be computer graphics. (However, there are some live-action moments, like the Wookiee slamming into the windshield, that was done by a stuntman.)
As early as April 2005 at a Star Wars convention, Lucas told the audience that they were working on an update for the Star Tours attraction causing rumors about the new storyline to heat up for several years.
The official storyline for Star Tours: The Adventure Continues attraction was publicly revealed at the opening ceremonies for the attraction at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Florida on May 20, 2011, at 10:15 a.m. EST. A temporary stage in front of the iconic Sorcerer’s Hat was dressed to look like a hallway on a star cruiser with a doorway.
An opening title crawl on a huge screen at the top of the stage explained the premise of the attraction:
“It has been a long time since the end of the Clone Wars, and the evil Sith Lord Darth Vader continues to tighten his grip on the Empire as the galaxy moves closer to the brink of a great civil war.
“A new intergalactic spaceline, Star Tours, seeks to preserve unrestricted intergalactic travel in this age of tyranny. Freedom fighter Captain Raymus Antilles has assigned two droids, C-3P0 and R2-D2, to help launch the spaceline, fueling Imperial suspicion that Star Tours is part of the Rebel Alliance.
“Star Tours is about to open its first intergalactic space terminal in the Earth System as rumors of a fearsome weapon of mass destruction dash all hope for peace and freedom in the galaxy…”
While the original Star Tours attraction took place after the events in the film Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, the new version takes place much earlier in the timeline somewhere in-between the movies Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith and the original Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. So, the writers were not allowed to utilize anything that happened in the original released trilogy since it hadn’t happened yet in the universe of the new ride.
“We now have many annual pass holders who visit multiple times, so we need to keep our attractions as surprising as possible," Fitzgerald told writer Steve Sansweet. "That’s where we got the idea of multiple stories for Star Tours.”
The always entertaining Imagineering Senior Show Writer Jason Surrell shared an amusing story with the audience at the D23 Destination D event in May 2011 at Walt Disney World.
One of the destinations that Imagineers wanted guests to visit in the updated attraction was the planet Hoth.
As shown in Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, the Rebel Alliance moved to the ice planet of Hoth after their victory in the Battle of Yavin. However, an Imperial probe droid discovered their secret base. As a result, there is a memorable battle with a herd of All Terrain Armored Transports (AT-AT), a mechanical elephant-looking vehicle sometimes referred to as Imperial Walkers, resulting in the rebels abandoning Hoth.
So, obviously since the AT-AT attack on Hoth could not be used because it occurred later in the timeline, the Imagineers struggled to come up with some other appropriate adventure. One scenario included wampas, the hairy white carnivorous predators that were indigenous to the planet. Another scenario included tauntauns that were used as patrol mounts by the rebels.
Lucasfilm Ltd., and filmmaker George Lucas in particular, are well-known for being protective of the Star Wars franchise, carefully reviewing everything connected with the movies from novels to animated shows to official articles to more to keep the canon consistent. It was with some trepidation that the Imagineers showed the possible storylines to Lucas.
“He was very nice,” Surrell remembered. “He said he liked what we proposed but he was disappointed that the adventure on Hoth didn’t include the Walkers. We explained that since according to the timeline that the rebels had not yet established a base on the planet that we couldn’t use them.
“George looked at us and said, ‘Who cares?’ We were stunned," Surrell said. "He explained that perhaps there was an earlier encounter with the rebels and the Walkers on the planet while they were scouting the area. Afterward, the rebels later decided to build a base there figuring the Empire wouldn’t think the rebels would return to that same location. He was right, of course. Guests going to Hoth would expect to see the Walkers.”
Depending upon which of the combinations that are randomly selected, guests also get to visit Tatooine for a podrace, Kashyyyk (the home planet of the Wookiees which was a suggestion of John Lasseter), Naboo, Coruscant or the Death Star above the planet Geonosis.
However, sharp-eyed Disney fans or Star Wars fans may catch a quick glimpse of some possible destinations that were abandoned or may give an indication of possible future adventures.
During the launch sequence, guests can see other Starspeeders painted with different color schemes and logos than the one they are on and an Aurebesh letter emblazoned on the side of each of them.
Just like the airports we are familiar with today, this busy spaceport has other spacelines using the facilities and going to other destinations. Despite the rise of the galactic Empire, interstellar travel is still a thriving industry. Different tour companies, like Star Tours, carry tourists to the distant corners of the galaxy for exotic vacations.
Those other Starspeeder 1000s are:
Dantooine Express: White with a brown diagonal at the rear with the letter “dora”. Dantooine Express provides tours of the grasslands, rivers and lakes on Dantooine, located in the Raioballo sector of the Outer Rim and far removed from most galactic traffic. On the tour, visitors see native wildlife, including the kath hound, the iriaz, the kinrath, and the graul.
Tatooine Transit: Solid blue with a white letter “nern”. Tatooine Transit provides tours of the planet Tatooine in the Outer Rim Territories. This dangerous area is controlled by the Hutts, but travelers can still visit popular sites such as Mos Espa, The Dune Sea, moisture farms and even the infamous Mos Eisley Cantina.
Bespin Direct: White with a brownish top with white letters outlined in red “wesk,” “dora,” “isk”. Bespin Direct offers tours of the gas planet in the Bespin system, located in the Outer Rim Territories. Tours include the refinery production facilities of the tibanna gas mines and the famous floating Cloud City luxury resort.
Naboo Spacelines: Gold with a brown circle at the back with a white “nern”. Naboo Spacelines travels to Naboo near the Outer Rim territories. It is a largely unspoiled world with large plains, swamps, and seas. Tours include a visit to the capital city of Theed or the underwater Gungan city of Otoh Gunga.
Air Alderaan: White with a brown “aurek” letter at the back. Air Alderaan offers tours of the second planet in the Alderaan system. This planet is considered the “Shining Star” of the Core Worlds. Wild grasslands, old mountain ranges and large oceans dominate the planet’s land surface. One of the highlights of the tour is a visit to the capital city of Aldera.
The new attraction has many familiar characters from the movies including droids R2-D2, who works for the Star Tours company as an astromech, and C-3PO (voiced by actor Anthony Daniels who has done the droid’s voice in just about every Star Wars project) who works as a systems analyst.
James Earl Jones returned to do the voice of Darth Vader and Frank Oz who rarely does the voice of Yoda also returned to do the voice for the attraction. An ageless image of Princess Leia (with the voice of Carrie Fisher) is the result of the work of Bill George, visual effects supervisor at Industrial Light and Magic, going into the Lucasfilm archives and finding unused footage from Leia’s famous plea to Obi Wan.
However, there are some new Star Tours characters that are exclusive to the attraction including:
IC-360: A camera droid accessory to the Starspeeder 1000 that delivers close-up images of exotic locales to passengers in the cabin. Of course, it is a humorous reference to “I See 360 (degrees)”.
G2-9T: A Droid Security Agent (DSA) that operates the Luggage Scan Machine in the Security Area. While he loves his job because of his curiosity of humans and their odd possessions, he is not very good at this role because of his unfamiliarity with the objects he sees. His voice is supplied by Imagineer Tom Fitzgerald. The “G2” designation comes from the fact that in the original Disneyland attraction two droids were actually Audio-Animatronic geese taken from the nearby America Sings attraction and plucked of their feathers and skin. Since they were geese, they got the “G” and since there were two of them, they got the “2”.
G2-4T: Another Droid Security Agent in charge of the Thermal Scanner. He is overly suspicious and officious but knows he must keep the line moving. However, he always thinks the passengers are trying to get away with something. His voice is supplied by actor Patrick Warburton.
Aly San San: The spokesdroid for Star Tours. Friendly and enthusiastic, her basic design is based on the WA-7 service droid waitress FLO in Dexter’s Diner in Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones. Lucas suggested the name of the character as an homage to actress Allison Janney who provides the voice.
AC-38: Also known as “Ace” is the short, stocky pilot droid for the Starspeeder 1000s. The AC series, Class 3 droids are regarded as the most confident, competent and friendliest pilots in the galaxy.
Signal Droids: Seen in the take-off bay directing ships for departure.
Seeker Droids: Equipped with a camera and identity scanner technology to look for Rebel Spies and other individuals dangerous to the Empire.
Luggage Handlers: Self explanatory.
Pit Droids: Diminutive service droids that repair vehicles.
RX-24: Also known as “Rex," he's the next generation pilot droid, but the version seen in the pre-show Security Area Droid Customs is apparently defective and being returned to the factory for reprogramming. Rex, of course, was the ill-fated pilot in the original attraction. His voice was done by actor Paul Reubens, best known for his portrayal of the character Pee Wee Herman. Rex is going through Droid Customs where droids are being cleared from their interstellar travels. Guests see droids in various stages of being unpacked and checked.
Star Tours: The Adventures Continue is one of the most successful “rehabs” of an attraction at the Disney theme parks. It will be quite awhile before Disney and Lucas take another look at updating this attraction but they clearly left that opportunity open. The attraction is rich in detail, not only many of the secrets revealed on a variety of websites, but also in some hidden treasures yet to be discovered.
(Send an email to Jim Korkis)
Jim Korkis grew up in the Los Angeles area and since the age of five was a frequent visitor to Disneyland. He was an original member of both the Mouse Club and the National Fantasy Fan Club. He attended all the local conventions where he had the opportunity to interview many of the people who actually worked with Walt Disney. Jim describes his house as looking like "a toy shop and a bookstore exploded and I decided to live in the remains". For over two decades, he has been a freelance writer and a teacher and for a while was a dealer in animation artwork and related resources. His columns concentrate on sharing stories of Disney history that haven't been recorded elsewhere.
From 2006 to 2010, Jim wrote under the pseudonym of Wade Sampson. He finally revealed his true identity in September of 2010. Those articles can be found here.