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Disneyland Article
How Star Tours Saved Disneyland At A Low Point In The Park History

Star Tours
Brady Macdonald
July 20, 2021
July 31, 2021
Disneyland was struggling for new ride ideas in the 1980s after a slate of mediocre Disney films when Walt Disney Imagineering turned to Star Wars creator George Lucas for a boost of creative inspiration that would eventually lead to Star Tours coming to Tomorrowland.

“I wanted to have an involvement in Tomorrowland,” Lucas said in a new Disney+ series. “I thought that was a portion of the park that had always been a little less than it could have been.”

It certainly helped Lucas was a lifelong Disneyland fan who had visited the Anaheim theme park on the second day it was open in 1955. Star Tours allowed Disneyland to tap into the pop cultural phenomenon of the original Star Wars trilogy that had just wrapped up in 1983.

The alliance between Lucasfilm and Imagineering proved wildly successful. Massive crowds of Star Wars fans forced Disneyland to keep its gates open around the clock for three straight days when Star Tours debuted in 1987.

Walt Disney Imagineering takes a behind-the-scenes look at Disneyland’s Star Tours ride in the new 10-episode “Behind the Attraction” series, debuting on Disney+ on Wednesday, July 21.

The first five episodes dropping on Wednesday focus on Star Tours, Jungle Cruise, Haunted Mansion, Space Mountain and Twilight Zone Tower of Terror/Guardians of the Galaxy — Mission: Breakout. Future episodes will feature It’s a Small World, Hall of Presidents/Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, the Disneyland Hotel, Disney theme park castles and Disney trains and monorails.

Walt Disney wanted Tomorrowland to be “science factual” — which meant the attractions in the futuristic themed land quickly became outdated. A Star Wars ride based on the science fiction space saga promised to be more timeless and a big draw for fans of the original film trilogy.

Imagineers weighed a series of options for a Star Wars ride at Disneyland — including a roller coaster, thrill ride and an attraction where riders would make choices that would determine the outcome of the journey.

“We were getting pretty scared,” Imagineer Tony Baxter said in the Disney+ episode. “How are we going to deal with this? How do we create a galaxy far, far away?”

Imagineering found a solution at a company called Redifussion in London that made flight simulators for pilots. There were only two problems: Reliability and nausea. The Imagineers broke the system by putting the flight simulator through a rigorous set of tests — and riding the motion simulator required regular doses of Dramamine.

“It pretty quickly made you motion sick,” Imagineer Tom Fitzgerald said in the Disney+ episode. “That turned out to be an art and a science that we had not mastered that we had to master at Imagineering so that it is fun and not nauseating.”

The “Behind the Attraction” episode shows video footage of the actuator legs beneath the Star Tours simulator moving the ride vehicle 15 feet in four directions — up, down, left and right.

Imagineers developed three options for a Star Wars ride — a military training-style dog fight, a point-of-view experience where riders play the role of Luke Skywalker and an intergalactic tour company called Cosmic Winds. The third option morphed into the Star Tours backstory that takes riders on trips to Star Wars planets.

The biggest challenge Imagineers faced with Star Tours was creating a point-of-view perspective for riders through the front “window” of the StarSpeeder ride vehicle.

“You have to film something to match what the simulator can do,” Baxter said in the episode. “We learned we were going to have to create the content around the limitations of what the machine could do rather than the other way around.”

Scenes in the “Behind the Attraction” episode show rare footage of the 1987 Star Tours opening ceremonies with a “Darth Vader ballet” where Han Solo and Princess Leia danced together.

The release of the “Star Wars” prequels gave Imagineering the opportunity to update Star Tours with new storytelling, technology and 3D visuals in 2011. Imagineers took a “slot machine approach” to the storytelling that allowed for more than 50 story combinations.

The “Behind the Attraction” episode ends by making a connection between Star Tours and Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run. The Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge motion simulator relied on another Tomorrowland attraction for inspiration — Carousel of Progress, where the audience moved in their seats around a series of stages.

“When you cross that threshold into the cockpit of the Falcon you’re actually walking into a Carousel of Progress,” Imagineer John Larena said in the episode.
Attractions Referenced

Carousel Of Progress

Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln

Haunted Mansion

It's A Small World

Jungle Cruise

Millennium Falcon Smugglers Run

Space Mountain

Star Tours

Star Tours: The Adventures Continue

Lands Referenced

Star Wars Galaxys Edge


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