Star Wars Celebration: “35 Years of Star Tours Adventures with D23”

Star Tours

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The Force was strong with D23 this past weekend, as fans got a reveal of what’s to come to celebrate the 35th anniversary of Star Tours. This amazing first look came from Star Wars Celebration, courtesy of host and Clone Wars alum, Ashley Eckstein.

The first part of the presentation detailed the conception and creation of the ride’s 1.0 version with Dennis Muren, FX master from Lucasfilm, Imagineer Chris Runco, and Disney Legend Tony Baxter.  Starting off with a showing of the gone-but-not-forgotten original safety video, the discussion quickly segued into how the attraction was created–Let’s take a closer look for those who may have missed out on the fun:

Star Tours

BaxterWell, you have to go back to the time, because Disneyland was created using all the popular shows that Walt already created, from Snow White to Peter Pan to the True-Life Adventures to Davy Crockett to even his Man in Space series from the television.  Now we had run out of all that.

We’re into a new era where they’re pretty good at entertaining children with what I call ‘babysitter movies’ like Robin Hood and whatever and we realized that for Disneyland to stay relevant it had to link with the key and best popular culture at the time.  And there’s no question that George had nailed that, first with American Graffiti…and then Star Wars comes along and of course, Indy not long after that.

And I drew the short straw and I went to Ron Miller, who was CEO at the time and his wife was Diane Disney, Walt’s daughter, and he kind of recognized that they had big hopes for The Black Hole, but no.  This is not the Black Hole convention.  Anyway, he said ‘why don’t we go up to the Silverado Vineyards,’ that they had up in Napa which wasn’t far from ILM and Lucasfilm, ‘and I’ll just get George to come over.’  I was like, ‘OH.’

You know, I wasn’t in that kind of a circle where you just say ‘I’ll have George come over,’ but we did go up there.  George drove up in a BMW and got out and said ‘hi guys,’ you know, and we had potato salad out in the backyard that day and I thought ‘it doesn’t get any better than this.’  And that was the beginning.

“George thought of his products as first class. He said ‘what I do is first class.  The only theme park company that I can think of that is first-class is Disney.  So if there is going to be a marriage, this is the only way we can do it.  

“And so that was how it started.” 

Star Tours

Translating a feature film to a dimensional attraction had its own difficulties for Muren:  “It seemed really neat, the idea of doing a film–it’s a view out the window with no cuts at all…We could assemble it so it looked like Star Wars, and the trick that I enjoyed a lot is trying to make this uninterrupted form happening thing without you just getting sick, and without it just being jostled and jostled and like fun and a good time.”

“That’s not what any sort of entertainment is coming from film, where there’s PAUSE.  ACTION. that paused or reset your mind.  More action movies are cut like that so that was sort of designed in it as we were doing it, you know?  And if you watch it, you could sort of see where the editing is.”

“We couldn’t do any shots longer than about 20 seconds, but if you’re running something, we’d have to sort of quickly bank off to get the screen blurry, or…have a laser flash flash the frame so we could have a cut.  And so every 20 seconds or so we would do this so we could have a four and a half minute film and it was hard to do, but it was a lot of fun.”

Star Tours

Runco not only came up with Captain Rex for the ride, but some of the other droids in the queue as well.  “I actually worked on the design of the conveyor belt overhead, which was full of all kinds of junk, including robot parts from MAPO’s junk drawer, you know their leftovers.  Halloween stores, costume pieces, and all the baskets had our team’s birthdays on them…and then we put robots in there, and Chris came up with a beautiful idea of the goose droids from America Sings.”

“…They didn’t get to go to Splash Mountain, they ended up as the goose droids and then Chris was busy art directing the field so I built his head based on Chris’ design.  Then mouse droids–they’re actually built on those garden LGB trains, and it was kitbashed.  I went over to Toys R Us and grabbed a bunch of toys and stuck ’em together and put LEDs and that’s how we made them.”

Bridging the gap between the original Star Tours and the current version Star Tours:  The Adventure Continues, guests got to see the original Star Tours film in its entirety before Eckstein brought out the second panel, with Imagineer Meghan Short and ILM VFX Supervisor Bill George.

Star Tours

George spoke a bit on some of the technical challenges of updating the 70 millimeter film to digital, and also on constructing the Leia hologram:  “Yeah, that was a really interesting one because I thought, ‘oh my God, this is gonna be so easy to cast a lookalike.  She’s got the bun, she’s got the hood, it’s like half a block away, of course it’s going to be her.’  They had so much trouble, both with her visual look and also with the audio. 

…So I started thinking about the film and there’s that scene in Luke’s garage where you see the hologram and you see her from all around, and I thought if they shot that, they must have done it three or four cameras in different positions while she went through the whole transmission.  So, we called up to the ranch and they had the footage and they sent it to us and we watched it in the screening room and indeed, that’s exactly the way they did it.  And what gave me goosebumps, was every once in a while there’d be a piece taken out–it would just be black, and those were the pieces that they used for the film. 

“So we took the best angle from that and then we shot an actress to get her lips so we could plop her lips over the top.  What was interesting is Princess Leia puts her head in like, three basic positions, so we shot the actress with her head locked in position saying the lines all the way through and picked out little pieces here and there and then plopped her lips in.”

Picking out which scenes to include in the attraction was a creative challenge Short enjoyed as part of her time on the project:  “We’re very fortunate with Imagineering being able to partner with the creatives from the film and work together to pick a destination that we can add that’s going to excite our audience and the fans, but we also had to be very careful and choose something that was conducive to the simulator and the motion base, and is also going to give us fun 3D events and gags.  Fortunately, we do get to work together and look and think about what’s coming. 

Star Tours

One of my favorite examples is Crait, adding that destination is great because…The crystal cavern reminds me a lot of the original ice comet in terms of some of those visuals, but then we get to have fun with ski speeders and that’s that’s totally new motion for us.  How can we program this to have that slalom experience and get those red crystals kicking up and hitting our windshield and making those rooster tails?”

“…So this was a lot of fun, but we also opened a month before the film came out, so we were developing visuals ahead of a traditional production schedule and that caused a lot of challenges and we wouldn’t have been able to do this destination without that partnership and working with them to get those creative decisions and answers really, really comparatively early.  So I’m very proud of this destination in particular in that partnership.”

Star Tours 35th Anniversary

We can’t wait to take part in the celebration and to honor 35 wonderful years of Star Tours. Make sure to stay tuned and punch it to hyperspace as we get ready to commemorate this iconic milestone!

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