Just after 2 p.m. on Saturday, May 14, 2011, while hundreds of Disney fans were attending the D23 fan club event Destination D: Walt Disney World, the rope was dropped at Disney’s Hollywood Studios theme park for “flight testing” of Star Tours: The Adventures Continue. This soft opening preview was the first time park day guests had the opportunity to ride the new version of the popular Star Wars-based attraction, which opens officially on Friday, May 20.
A crowd of 40-50 excited fans had gathered outside Star Tours after hearing rumors of the ride opening. A few minutes of rain didn’t dissuade this crowd from standing in front of the attraction. While rumors don’t always pan out, this time they proved to be true and shortly after the rain let up, Cast Members, wearing their new Star Tours costumes, opened the ride for previews.
Many Cast Members, managers, Imagineers, and even the vice president of Disney’s Hollywood Studios were there for the moment, watching guests’ reactions as they stepped inside. It was also being strictly enforced that no photos or videos were allowed inside the attraction or its queue during this testing period. But I did record the excitement of the crowd when the rope dropped outside and when Cast Members greeted the first group of guests off the ride in the gift shop, which you can watch in the video below:
I had the opportunity to ride the new Star Tours: The Adventures Continue four times today. With 6 familiar Star Wars destinations and 54 combinations of scenes and events guests can see when riding, my four trips through gave me only a sampling of all that is available to enjoy aboard this new version of Star Tours. Having visited five of the six destinations and seen several of the other elements, I can safely say that this version of Star Tours is an amazing improvement over the version that dated back to the 1980s. All the fun of the Star Wars film saga is packed into the roughly five-minute ride.
But the story begins before even stepping aboard the Starspeeder 1000 vehicle. The Star Tours queue has been given a makeover, mostly in the form of a sprucing up. It’s an improved version of the previous queue, with today’s technology replacing older effects and screens. New jokes replace old as do new, yet completely familiar droids. But there are plenty of in-jokes and tributes to the old version of the attraction to be found throughout. Star Tours fans will still feel at home inside.
While the queue scenes and pre-show video set the basics of the new Star Tours: The Adventures Continue story, the real action happens once aboard. Each ride aboard Star Tours: The Adventures Continue follows the same basic plot, but with many variations, keeping it fresh every time. Popular characters from throughout the Star Wars universe are spotted throughout the experience, some playing major roles in the plot and others appearing only for a moment or two. Among the six different destinations that are visited in the new version of Star Tours, some scenes are more entertaining than others. They’re all interesting, but the humor and surprises are more prominent and enjoyable in some scenes whereas others depend on enjoying the scenery.
Star Wars creator George Lucas and the Walt Disney Imagineers that have improved this attraction have found a perfect balance between the original beloved Star Wars trilogy and the good, but less-enjoyed prequels. Only the best parts of these films are used, leaving guests with a sense of having journeyed through some of their favorite Star Wars scenes from decades of film history.
The ride is based in the same basic motion simulator motion that has always been there. But the ride is no longer beat-up and rough. Guests are still bounced around, but perfectly in time with the new 3D video. And yes, the old dusty, and scratched film prints are gone, replaced by high-definition 3D projections that look crisp and clear with no artifacts, ghosting, pixelation, or any other distractions. The flat, squared, and somewhat uncomfortable 3D glasses Disney usually uses for its 3D attractions are replaced here by comfortable rounded, sunglasses-style glasses that feature advanced lenses allowing the most clarify in the image.
The 3D aspect of the attraction mostly adds depth to the image, offering much more realism than the old film version. But there are occasional “out of the screen” 3D surprises that aren’t cheap 3D tricks, but genuinely a fun part of the show.
While the picture does look beautiful and never blurred, these new glasses do suffer from one flaw that left me unexpectedly dizzy after my third ride. The beveled edges of the glasses distort the projected picture if your eyes happen to peer through them. It’s important to look directly through the center of the glasses to avoid unwanted visual issues.
That one minor flaw aside, the technological improvements within the Starspeeder 1000 cabins are obvious. The music and sound effects sound better than ever, surrounding and immersing guests when combined with the stunning 3D visuals. And the motion of the cabin matches perfectly with it all, creating an exciting experience traveling through the Star Tours universe.
Star Tours: The Adventures Continue satisfies exactly what Star Wars fans have been craving for years. It’s an update to a classic attraction that keeps the same fun spirit it has had for more than 20 years but enhances it with new technology and more stories, characters, and excitement to be had. The Force is strong with this one.
Soft opening previews may or may not continue in the coming days leading up to the official grand opening of Star Tours: The Adventures Continue on May 20, 2011 at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. The attraction also officially reopens at Disneyland in California on June 3, 2011.