As a fan of the Star Tours attractions on both coasts, I was excited to go to the D23 panel on the making of Star Tours: The Adventures Continue… I crowded into the 1,000+ seat ballroom, not knowing what Imagineer insights awaited me.
In true Disney fashion, the panel was a professionally crafted presentation, with no room for questions..errr, I mean error. In this panel, lead Imagineer, Tom Fitzgerald, spoke with the aid of Powerpoint and took us on the journey to bring this attraction into the future.
Tom Fitzgerald, began his Star Tours story in 1998 when George Lucas summoned the Imagineer team to his ranch to watch the pod race, and only the pod race. After seeing the infamous scene, the Imagineers decided to wait to see the rest of the film, hoping against hope that it would the pod race would be scrapped for something way cooler.
Ok, so Tom said, “In fact, we did think it was a great idea”, but I can read between the lines. Interestingly back in 1998, way before the 3D onslaught, the Imagineers knew the ride was going to be in 3D.
The team made the expert decision to not base the entire ride on the pod race and wait until 2003, in order to view the new Episodes. Picking just one location was too tough, but with new technology, also came new options. Tom said it’s like that old Imagineering joke, “How many Imagineers does it take to screw in a light bulb? Well, why does it have to be a light bulb?” They pitched the idea of many possible adventures to George Lucas as a story-telling slot machine and George was happier than a Wookie riding shotgun.
Then the Imagineers created an Episode Matrix, or a flow chart, which featured 13 locations. By summer of 2005 they whittled the list down to the following locations:
• 2 Openings: Launching bay either confronting Storm Troopers or Darth Vader.
• 3 2nd Acts: The Pod Race on Tatooine, Snowy Hoth, Wookie Planet Kashyyyk (John Lasseter suggestion).
• 3 Transmissions: Yoda, Bail Organa (replaced by Admiral Ackbar), or Leia.
• 3 Finales: Government Capitol Coruscant, Water Soaked Naboo (replaced with an underwater version), or the Death Star.
In January 2007 they ventured to the Skywalker ranch again, this time with completely fleshed out storyboards. They showed them to the man with a plan, George Lucas, who looked at them funny, and said, “I don‘t do storyboards anymore”. The Imagineers then stared sheepishly down at the ground and ran back to Burbank (artistic license) to create a CGI animatic version, which they finished in 2008.
This draft included a part where the ship had stolen plans but was replaced with technology that took a photo of a guest and made the guest a rebel spy. Look close enough and you’ll see George Lucas pop up in the scan of photos.
Tom Fitzgerald then showed the animatic version during the panel, which is about as awesome as you could imagine the ride itself being. Take a look:
Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) was next brought into the creative process to intricately design the CGI locations. ILM even wrote off a trip to Alaska to scout out the virtual Hoth.
As this ride takes place between film trilogies and Rex has yet to take his first flight, they had to choose a new robot tour guide. Rex ended up working in the ride queue and they designed an “Ace” robot who knew his way around the galaxy. But, George, ever a fan of bumbling kid-friendly side characters, wasn’t having it. So late in the game, the Imagineers went with the tried, true, and more importantly, already designed, C-3PO.
The ride queue was also freshened up. In Tom’s words, “Star Tours is really very simple: It’s Star Wars + LAX = the ride.“ So, like before, the queue is an airport waiting room with a status board. Among other additions it has new commercials and background music remixed from the Star Tours themes. There’s also an X-ray machine where if you look close enough, you’ll see a Jar Jar Binks in Carbonite being loaded onto the conveyer belt. Now if only, Jar Jar could have been stored in Carbonite sooner.
All in all Star Tours 2.0 is exactly what the doctor ordered. It’s a “Choose Your Own Adventure” for the new age with some lively stops through the Star Wars galaxy. In fact, George Lucas should’ve taken note from the Disney Imagineers and made all Episodes, prior to Han Solo, 5 minutes or less.