Star Tours: The Adventures Continues – Review
Theme park ride reviews aren’t usually our thing. We don’t do travel. For that matter we rarely go outside (the light burns us!) but occasionally exceptions need to be made. I was fortunate enough to have ridden Star Tours during its opening week back in 1987 thanks to parents who weren’t strangers to my obsession with all things Lucas. It took 24 years to update a ride that was designed to be easily updated. Maybe it was for the best though. 2011’s updates may have taken their time to get here, but they are excellent changes, albeit a bit lacking in continuity.
This review contains a hefty helping of spoilers, so consider yourself warned. From here on I leave few details out. And to start things off, here’s the video we captured of the pre-flight video, just before boarding.
We visited the Disneyland Resort in California during a special preview event. The outer facade remains largely unchanged save for a few touch-ups to the murals on the walls and a freshly animated marquee. The new Fast-Pass dispensers, located next to the Buzz Lightyear ride, are characters themselves. Fans will recognize them as GNK Power Droids (Gonks). Similarly, the indoor overflow queue area got a fresh mural treatment and a shiny new Star Wars sign.
Once inside the main building, those who’ve ridden before won’t notice much out of place, but things have changed. The most obvious is the orange star-speeder. C-3P0 still holds his post at the diagnostics stations and R2-D2 is still in his spot in the speeder as they banter back and forth with new dialogue, including a few jabs at Jar Jar. The most impressive and welcome change in here is the video wall. Several high definition video video sequences, galactic weather reports and gate change notifications make waiting in line much more entertaining.
Once you get up past Threepio, ride veterans will note the missing baskets of droid parts rustling around overhead. Instead there’s more to see down below. Droid customs finds a somber line of automatons awaiting processing, including a couple of malfunctioning, Styrofoam boxed Rex pilots from the previous ride. Listen close and he occasionally stutters a phrase or two. A luggage inspection droid scans incoming bags and the x-ray screen behind him reveals plenty of in-jokes and surprises.
Just up ahead a spaceport security droid harasses and harangues guests to keep the line moving, watch their luggage and not to remain in the thermal scanner too long. And yes, there IS a thermal body scanner displaying the line live as you pass through. Listen close, and you can recognize Patrick Warburton (Family Guy’s Joe Swanson, Emperor’s New Groove’s Kronk, and the captain from Soarin’ Over California) as the voice of the bot.
Once you make it up to the flight deck and grab your 3D glasses…oh, did I not mention? I’m not a 3D proponent by any stretch, but a theme park attraction is the perfect place to make use if it. Glasses in hand, you’re ushered to one of 4 loading areas and are treated to the bit of prologue seen above. Once the doors open, you take your seats and wait for the show to begin.
The blast shield is lowered to reveal a life size animatronic C-3P0, reluctantly at the helm. From here on out, the 3D motion-movie tells a singularly story, using randomized events. There are 54 possible story-path combinations that’ll have you whizzing about familiar locales. This is accomplished using a branching system. First, one of two intro sequences where it’s found that a rebel spy is among the passengers, demonstrated by a photo taken of an actual rider being displayed on the screen. A daring escape is made where you rush off to one of three planets. After leaving that planet’s atmosphere, 1 of 3 rebel communications are played providing coordinates to a safe haven. Finally, you’ll travel to one of three final planets and land, relatively safely.
It’s a helluva ride. The ride itself is much, much smoother, but to tell the truth, I think the jarring motions make for a more convincing illusion of motion. The depth provided by the 3D helps to enhance things however. One scene in particular takes you underwater through the core of the planet Naboo where a creature latches on using his tongue and bites the craft. It’s very impressive and not quickly forgotten.
If you want to get nit-picky though, there are a few continuity issues. There’s no real telling where, or more accurately, when all this takes place in the Star Wars timeline. One of our two rides had us confronting Darth Vader (Episode IV) just before fighting off ships involved in the blockade of Naboo (Episode I). This kind of detail is likely only going to throw the fan-boys for a loop, but it does break established story conventions.
Even the gift shop exit has received a small overhaul. Old fans will be delighted to see the life-size X-Wing fighter, that once hung overhead on the second story of the Starcade in Tomorrowland, now finds itself docked above the cash registers. Additionally, have a look at the back wall to see a myriad of aliens and characters silhouetted on a moving sidewalk, luggage in hand, making their way to their departure gate.
It’s been a long time in the making, but the new Star Tours successfully freshens a classic ride with state of the art technology for new AND old generations to enjoy. From a roller coaster enthusiast’s perspective, the new Star Tours is relatively tame. It’ll surely excite younger riders, but it doesn’t have the edge-of-your-seat speed or thrills of a traditional coaster. But, it was never meant to. It’s a fun, even exhilarating chance to virtually take part in a few of the greatest scenes from some of science fiction’s most famous films.
Now if you’ll excuse me, Gate 1138 is a bit of a walk and I don’t want to miss my flight.
Star Tours: The Adventures Continues reopens to the public at Disneyland, CA, June 3, 2011. Currently open in Florida.