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07 June 2011

Star Tours, Revamped: Martin Palicki reviews Disney's latest attraction

Walt Disney Co. president and CEO Bob Iger (left) "Star Wars" creator George Lucas (center) and actor Anthony Daniels, who portrayed C-3PO in "Star Wars" (right), pose with "Star Wars" characters May 20, 2011 inside a "Star Tours" ride vehicle at Disney's Hollywood Studios theme park in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. during grand opening ceremonies for "Star Tours -- The Adventures Continue," a new 3-D attraction based on the "Star Wars" films. The attraction, which features more than 50 possible random ride experiences, opened May 20, 2011 at Walt Disney World in Florida and will open June 3, 2011 at Disneyland Resort in California. (David Roark, photographer)
See Star Tours press notices here and here (+ photo gallery).

AFTER YEARS OF ANTICIPATION, the dated Star Tours attractions at both Disneyland and Hollywood Studios (Walt Disney World Resort) finally received makeovers. While some aficionados had been hoping for more drastic changes, the upgrades utilized much of the same theming and ride equipment as the original.

Even as a child of the '80s, I can’t say that the Star Wars franchise ever really resonated with me. I didn't have the big emotional stake in the Star Tours retrofit that a devoted fan would. So, on my recent visit to Walt Disney World to check it out, I decided to experience the attraction as an average Orlando theme park tourist might: waiting in a relatively long line, riding once, and then moving on. I tried to leave as much of my insider knowledge at the queue entrance as I could. 

I came away feeling that Star Tours - The Journey Continues lives up to its promise. The revamped attraction improved in three areas: the Experience (ride), the technology, and the story.

THE EXPERIENCE

I have to admit I was slightly nervous getting on the attraction. My prior experiences on the motion simulator in the original ride left me feeling generally a bit queasy and a little worse for wear. My fears were quickly put to rest this time around, once the ride started. Instead of jarring stops, shaking and wild undulating, the simulator seemed to move more fluidly and calmly. While there were some intense moments, they were spaced at well-timed intervals. There’s even a nice, calm break built into the ride in the middle to really allow a rider to regain his or her sense of equilibrium.

THE TECHNOLOGY

The highly touted digital upgrade to the ride included a new 3D projection system and it was worth every penny. The graphics are remarkably crisp, the animation is realistic and the interaction that takes place between the film and the few in-theater effects is seamless.

The 3D glasses required for the ride are even stylishly futuristic, yet still comfortable to go over a standard pair of specs.

THE STORY

Part of the benefit of the digital upgrade was the ability to mix up the story sequence, so that no two rides are quite alike. This of course accommodates devoted repeat riders. While I am not certain to what extent each ride is customized, it appears as though the general story of a spy being on board the ship is found in every iteration, but the obstacles and environments the ship travels through vary greatly.

A benefit of the variations is they certainly make the ride more accessible to those who may not be deeply familiar with the Star Wars franchise, because they give the attraction a life of its own in addition to the associations of the IP. At the same time, however, it makes the narrative more elusive, and I found myself not really understanding if we had defeated a bad guy, or even who that bad guy was, really.

As a result, although the ride was gentle enough to make me feel like I could comfortably go back to enjoy another round, I didn’t feel strongly compelled to do so, and I suspect the average park goer wouldn’t even realize the differences between their ride and another guest’s.

Overall, I found the new Star Tours attraction to be a clear improvement over the former tenant. It seems well positioned to help extend the Star Wars brand to another generation of happy theme park guests and bring back die-hard fans to ride again and again.




Check out the video taken by Orlando Attractions Magazine for a detailed look at the queue and some of the on-ride footage.