I hated the original Star Tours.
I don't really like the to use the word 'hate', but even I must admit that's the only thing I felt when riding the emotionless hunk of junk dropped in the middle of Tomorrowland known as Star Tours. Put it this way- the fact that a Star Wars ride existed at Disneyland and I almost never rode it speaks volumes about my disdain towards it.
First off, it wasn't all that swell of a ride to begin with. Motion simulated rides have grown exponentially in the last few years, and Star Tours just seemed like a relic of the past. That, I could handle. But what I've never been able to grasp is Disney's inability to properly integrate key characters of the Star Wars universe into the ride. Not that there weren't any, as seeing C-3PO and R2-D2 at least meant the real die-hard fans had someone to get excited about. But once you rode the actual ride, you discovered not a world full of wookies, jedi, and sith; instead you got a newly created annoying robot pilot that had next to nothing to do with the beauty that is Star Wars. "Rex" was worse than any Ewok or CGI-generated alien. He really made the ride... hmmm, I'm not sure how to describe it...
I realize that's not a very elegant way of putting it, but sometimes simplicity serves the mood best.
You have to understand, Star Wars nerds like me have been waiting decades for Star Wars-themed rides. Harry Potter has a land. The Marvel Super-Heroes have a home at Islands of Adventure. And DC crime fighters like Batman and Superman live across the country in various roller coasters at the Six Flags theme parks. Yet Star Wars, the biggest trilogy in movie history, has one lame ride at Disneyland. It's a shame, as Star Wars might actually be able to generate enough interest and income to sustain an ENTIRE THEME PARK, let alone one measly world.
Nonetheless, when I won an annual passholder raffle to experience the new Star Tours before the general public, I was excited. Disney had spent the better part of the year updating Star Tours to include new 3D technology. More importantly, there were rampant rumors that a host of familiar faces would be included this time around. Combine that with a 'choose your own adventure' destination plot and you at least had my interest perked.
This past week, I showed up early to Disneyland and received my fast pass on Star Tours. First of all, it goes without saying that Disney's customer service is amazing. They seriously must be the best in the world at it, and for that alone they need to be commended repeatedly.
I entered the line and was immediately greeted by an old friend- Threepio. What Anthony Daniels did with that character is nothing short of astonishing, and I'm reminded of that every time I hear his bumbling protocol droid voice. As usual, Threepio does a lovely job of setting the tone for what's about to come. Namely, a whimsical trip into the Star Wars universe.
Standing in the loading dock, my anticipation grew as I watched the on-screen monitors of all activity taking place in the loading dock. Moments later, I was buckling in for my Star Tours experience.
With glasses on, the screen in front of us lowered and old golden rod waved to us again. Having Threepio on-board is a nice touch. He's the perfect choice, as his neurotic concern fits wonderfully into the bumpy ride ahead.
NOTE: As riders, we were not allowed to choose our destination, as this was still very much a test run. Apparently, there are over 50 possibilities of character/land combinations. You first meet a villain, then go to a land, meet another character, then another land... something to that effect.
Instantly, the new Star Tours gave me hope as Darth Vader himself appeared on-screen. Thank God. Angered at our departure, Vader used all of his force powers to try to thwart our ship blasting off. The kid in me loved being thrown around from Vader's force grasp. There were a host of stormtrooper as well. Follow thos with some good old-fashioned space fighting, and Star Tours was off to a great start!
Next up, we descended into the Hoth atmosphere, unaware of the fierce battle taking place below. Snowspeeders! AT-ATs! Threepio freaking out!
The 3D definitely added a lot to the archaic motion-simulated Star Tours vehicle. I was finally having fun on a Star Tours ride.
Yoda popped up next in the form of a holographic image. NOTE- I was hoping we'd get Admiral Ackbar as supposedly he is one of the possible characters. Yoda delivered his message of hope and we were on a way. I will point out that Yoda was more like the prequel version, so the fanboy in me wasn't completely satisfied. But complaining about it would be overkill, as I've long tried to erase any nit-picky geekiness about me. It was still Yoda. I was still happy.
It was announced that we had a rebel spy aboard, and on the screen flashed one of our passengers. It was a fantastic little feature that truly showed Disney's committment to its guests. We all laughed and made our way to our final world. Our group got Naboo... which meant, you guessed it...
And you know what? That was okay. Yes, I feel much the same way about Jar Jar as most of you do. But in the presence of a fun theme park ride? He works, and brought our entire group a well-received laugh. Of course Jar Jar was there! We fought our way through Naboo and finally landed safely at home. Threepio was relieved and we went on with our day.
Supposedly, this was only the tip of the iceberg, as there are lands like Coruscant, Tatooine, and Kasyyyk. Characters like Han Solo, Princess Leia, and Chewbacca dot the various landscapes.
What did I ultimately think?
I liked the new Star Tours ride a lot. The main criteria for me was how much they incorporated Star Wars into the ride, and this time they most certainly did.
The 3D helped quite a bit, and I found the ride an overall enjoyable romp. It's not the kind of ride that blows you away, but it's still worthy of a small wait every time I go to Disneyland. Would I wait for this ride if it wasn't Star Wars and instead just random created characters like... hmmm, I don't know, a robot named Rex? Probably not, but this ride IS Star Wars. And that is most excellent of all.
Well done Disney, I knew I could count on you.
Now, about that complete Star Wars land...