War Star Tours: Inside the Secret History of Disney’s Classic ‘Star Wars’ Ride

War Star Tours: Inside the Secret History of Disney’s Classic ‘Star Wars’ Ride

War

Earlier in January, Star Tours turned 35.

The groundbreaking attraction has been a favorite of Disney Parks visitors the world over, and it would prove an influential part of the “Star Wars” mythology, even today. In Jon Favreau’s “The Book of Boba Fett” (streaming now on Disney+) a familiar-looking droid has been dealing cards in the cantina/casino hideout The Sanctuary in the Tatooine village of Mos Espa. The droid looks like Rex, the inexperienced pilot of the original version of Star Tours. Predictably, fans went nuts.

In fact, the influence of Star Tours has been felt strongly in the current era of “Star Wars” on both the big and small screen. Rex previously appeared in an episode of animated series “Star Wars: Rebels,” and the Star Tours spaceship the Starspeeder made blink-and-you’ll-miss-it background appearances in J.J. Abrams two sequel trilogy installments, while Rian Johnson admitted a looser influence over his installment, “The Last Jedi.” The sequence where the Millennium Falcon is careening through the crystalline caverns of Crait was inspired by the original ride film’s trip through a craggy comet.

But the story of how Star Tours was developed – how it came to be, what technology was employed, and the profound implications for both the Disney Parks and George Lucas’ Lucasfilm – might be even more thrilling and complex than the actual ride, which was heavily retrofitted in 2010 now goes by the name Star Tours: The Adventures Continue.

So, without further ado, lightspeed to Endor!

War A Long Time Ago …

Long before there was any kind of official partnership, Lucasfilm and Disney Parks were linked, thanks mostly to some fortuitous timing. George Lucas’ “Star Wars” hit theaters on May 25, 1977, intoxicating audiences with its depiction of bold heroes, dastardly villains, fussy droids and otherworldly creatures. Those that saw it went back again and again but itched for something more. Thankfully for Southern California audiences, Space Mountain, an adaptation of an attraction that opened at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom two years earlier, opened at Disneyland two days after “Star Wars.” Folks would go see “Star Wars” and then book it to Disneyland for a chance to ride Space Mountain, nestled in the far corner of Tomorrowland. The line for the attraction snaked from that distant part of Tomorrowland all the way up Main Street, U.S.A. Even if their pairing was still a decade away, Lucasfilm and Disney Parks were already strongly bound by the Force.

But if the actual Lucasfilm/Disney enterprise had a point of origin (something that we are painfully aware that George Lucas just loves), it was when Michael Eisner, then the head of Paramount, decided to green light “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” As Brian Jay Jones recounts in his biography “George Lucas: A Life,” Lucas’ financial terms for the movie were aggressive and mirrored those of the “Star Wars” sequels. Lucas would fund the movie himself and the studio would “distribute the completed film in exchange for profits.” While many of the studios passed right away, Warner Bros., who had clumsily distributed Lucas’ first film “THX-1138,” initially wanted to make it, but they were ultimately usurped by Paramount and Eisner.  “George came over to my house,” Eisner later said, “and he said, ‘Let’s make the best deal they’ve ever made in Hollywood.’”

On November 7, 1979, Paramount announced an agreement with Lucasfilm – they’d agreed to Lucas’ demands and would be making “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Eisner believed in George Lucas, even when other studios didn’t. This is baffling, after the astronomical success of “Star Wars” just two years earlier, but true. “Eisner was no dummy,” Jones says now. “Professionally, they spoke the same language. They got the cultural sensibilities.”

Eisner’s decision to help Lucas out on “Raiders of the Lost Ark” would have far reaching ramifications; for one, it would lead to Paramount releasing one of the most successful franchises (after Lucas’ own “Star Wars”) of all time. It would also ultimately assist in the rehabilitation of one of Hollywood’s most celebrated brands, which by the early 1980s had fallen into disrepair and disinterest.

War Rebellion Reborn

In 1984, after greenmail attempts by corporate raiders, the Walt Disney Company got a fresh transfusion of new executive talent in the form of Michael Eisner, Frank Wells and (a few months later) Jeffrey Katzenberg. As CEO and Chairman of the Board, Eisner set his sights on strengthening the company’s bottom line and refreshing the brand, which in the nearly 20 years since Walt Disney had died, became a creaky dinosaur, badly out of step with modern audiences and accompanying cultural shifts. (The year before Eisner became CEO, the top grossing Disney movie was “Never Cry Wolf,” with a whopping $29.6 million.)

Similarly, the Disney Parks had been badly neglected despite accounting for nearly 70% of the company’s annual revenue, in part because of the wobbly, extremely over-budget opening of EPCOT Center in Florida, but more pressingly because Disney wasn’t producing anything that could be adapted into rides, shows, or attractions at the parks. While Katzenberg looked to return the studio’s feature animation unit to its former glory (it existed, in the early 1980s, as a partially mothballed group that was in constant danger of shuttering completely), Eisner looked to the parks. “You couldn’t walk through the theme parks and not recognize that they lacked contemporary development. But when Frank and I walked down Main Street for the first time, Frank turned to me and said, ‘There’s so much here. There’s so much potential,’” Eisner recounted in “The Imagineering Story” documentary on Disney+.

Imagineering had reached out to Lucas before Eisner had been installed. Marty Sklar had set up a meeting between Ron Miller, who was president and CEO of Disney before Eisner (he was also Walt’s son-in-law), and Imagineer Tony Baxter. Baxter was, and remains, a superstar of Walt Disney Imagineering, the kind of persona that Disney fanatics dress up as at Disney fan conventions. (Seriously.) At the time, Baxter wasn’t even 40 and had already contributed to the Disney portfolio in meaningful, some would argue profound, ways. He was behind the Journey into Imagination pavilion at EPCOT Center, which featured some truly next-level technological breakthroughs alongside a whimsical story about the power of creativity; and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad at Disneyland, a runaway train thrill ride that would become instantly beloved and replicated at Disney parks the world over. Miller was still stinging from the failure of “The Black Hole,” Disney’s bid to challenge “Star Wars,” but agreed with Baxter that “Disneyland did need an infusion of new IP for younger generations of visitors” (according to Baxter). Miller suggested that they meet with Lucas at Miller’s Silverado Ranch. In addition to Sklar and Miller, Imagineers Rick Rothschild and Gary Krisel were also at the meeting. “There was no lag time between those initial agreements at the Silverado Vineyard, the subsequent leaving of Ron Miller, and Michael and Frank’s arrival in September 1984,” Baxter said. (Another former Imagineer had told me that after that initial meeting, “those discussions went nowhere.”)

war Star Tours concept art
Lucasfilm/Disney

Interestingly, before Eisner was hired, Disney board members had originally turned to Lucas to run the entire company in the early 1980s. “It wasn’t what he wanted to do with his life,” said Howard Roffman, who was the chief operating officer of Lucasfilm, in The Cinema of George Lucas by Marcus Hearn. Instead, the board offered the job to Eisner, the man who had the guts and the creative ambition to back “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Now Eisner quietly reached out to Lucas about projects with the Disney Parks. Lucas had been a lifelong Disneyland fan (his family had first visited the park on July 19, 1955, two days after it had opened), making annual treks to the resort. And just as Eisner had gotten behind a lucrative deal (in Lucas’ favor) for “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” he offered Lucas an equally eye-popping arrangement for his services: for every Lucas-originated project, the filmmaker would get $1 million per attraction per park per year. Lucas happily agreed. This arrangement even applied to later attractions Indiana Jones and the Temple of Peril (a fairly off-the-shelf rollercoaster with the Indiana Jones name) located in Disneyland Paris, and Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Crystal Skull (essentially a clone of the Disneyland attraction) at Tokyo Disney Sea.

According to Baxter, during their first week at Disney, Eisner and Wells asked several Imagineers to come in on a Saturday and pitch “everything we had in conceptual design.” For Baxter, that meant he showed off the “Star Wars” project and what would later be known as Splash Mountain. (This is the infamous meeting where Eisner brought along his son Breck. Eisner told Baxter that Breck “loved theme parks” and Michael knew little about theme parks.) Both Star Tours and Splash Mountain were “given the green light” during Baxter’s presentation but according to Baxter executives were “disturbed” by the proposed 3-year production time designated for Star Tours. Famously, Eisner willed the teen-oriented dance club Videopolis into existence at Disneyland in a mere 100 days, partially due to architect Chris Carradine salvaging structural elements from the 1984 Olympics. He wanted things in the parks and he wanted them now.

With Lucas onboard for a Disney Parks “Star Wars” attraction, Imagineering began spit-balling ideas. At a National Fantasy Fan Club meeting in July 1988 legendary Imagineer David Mumford, whose notable work includes the Land pavilion at EPCOT Center and the Mermaid Lagoon section of Tokyo DisneySea, spoke of a cutting-edge “Star Wars” rollercoaster that was originally proposed. In this attraction, guests in the ride vehicle would vote on whether they would follow Yoda and become a Jedi or instead choose the path illuminated by the Emperor, embracing the dark side of the Force. Depending on that decision, you would rocket past show scenes featuring animatronics of your favorite characters (Boba Fett, Darth Vader and Jabba the Hutt on one path or Leia, Luke and Han Solo on the other). It was a wonderful idea, utilizing interactivity and good old-fashioned Imagineering magic, but Mumford said that it would take at least five years just to design the complex mechanism that would allow the ride to work. They needed something sooner.

Enter Mark Eades. Eades was a young Imagineer who had moved over from the Walt Disney Studios to work on EPCOT Center. In the days after EPCOT Center’s opening, when Imagineering’s ranks shrank and viable new projects became scarce, Eades was tasked with researching motion simulator technology. He visited army bases and tested out rudimentary versions designed for entertainment purposes (including “one where they basically stuck a camera on a rollercoaster”). At the end of his exploratory journey, he wrote a memo outlining the potential uses of the technology in the parks (he notes that, contrary to much reporting, the technology was never looked at for a “Black Hole” attraction, but rather “The Black Hole” was thought of as a potential overlay for the aging Mission to Mars). “We either a) treat it as a Tomorrowland attraction where we talk about how the pilots of tomorrow are being trained and you get to go train with them,” Eades said of the simulator technology. “Or there could be other stories if we’re willing to not admit that it’s a simulator. One of them could be in the ‘Star Wars’ universe.” At the end of the memo, he even suggested a possible narrative, should the ‘Star Wars’ idea actually be chosen: “Take a ride on the Millennium Falcon and when we get off we can go over to the Mos Eisley cantina.” This exact idea would be recirculated, 30 years later, at Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.

At the urging of Imagineer Randy Bright, Baxter went to Retifusion London, a test facility, to see if the flight simulator technology could successfully be used “for entertainment purposes.” (According to Baxter, Bright had stopped at the facility following an Abbey Road recording session for some new orchestral elements for EPCOT.) “I took several leaders from Disneyland operations & maintenance along on the trip to validate the practicality,” Baxter said. Imagineers might design the attractions, but operations and maintenance keep it running. Baxter and the small group seem to have watched the same “rollercoaster” ride film that Eades had also seen. “The simulator was limited in what it could mimic, but we were impressed enough to begin the project in earnest,” Baxter said. Disney made a deal to buy one of the simulators. It was housed in a custom-designed building in the parking lot of Imagineering’s Glendale headquarters.  

War In Spite of ‘Captain EO’

war Captain EO
Disney/Lucasfilm

While work progressed on Star Tours, Michael Jackson had approached the company about joining forces for a new project. Jackson loved Disneyland and Walt Disney World (later he would fashion a Disneyland-style theme park at his home, Neverland Ranch). Eisner and Katzenberg were both dazzled by big name stars and made the Jackson project a priority. At the same meeting where Splash Mountain and Star Tours were greenlit, the executives first brought up the possibility of a Jackson project (according to Baxter). “Imagineering was challenged to give Michael Jackson three concepts to choose,” Baxter said. In his memoir, Eisner describes the concept: “Our notion was to put him in an extended 3D music video.”

One pitch had the entertainer at Disneyland after dark, when various attractions like Pirates of the Caribbean would spring to life. (It was deemed too similar to his beloved “Thriller” music video.) Another version had Jackson inhabiting the role of a Peter Pan-type character who battled an ice queen, eventually melting her heart. And yet another, dubbed the “intergalactic ‘Music Man’” had him visiting a cold, distant planet and bringing music to the people, literally transforming them. Jackson liked the space idea but had a list of demands, including hiring either George Lucas or Steven Spielberg to help oversee what would ultimately become a cumbersome, costly, 17-minute 3D film (a “miracle of a movie” according to Whoopi Goldberg in the “Captain EO: Backstage” episode of “The Disney SundayMovie”). Spielberg was busy with “The Color Purple.” But Lucas had just signed on with Disney and was happy to oblige. At the very least, it would mean another $1 million per year per park.

Instead of helming the project himself, Lucas would install Francis Ford Coppola, one of his oldest friends, in the director’s chair. And Jones pointed out, not only would Lucas be spared the drudgery of daily production (“Return of the Jedi” had nearly killed him), handing Coppola the Disney project meant that he’d be “giving his mentor a much-needed job” (this after the middling response to Coppola’s costly “The Cotton Club”). Since it was technically a film, the production for what was now known as “Captain EO” (named by Coppola after Eos, the Greek goddess of dawn) was handled mostly by the film studio and therefore overseen by Katzenberg. Initially, at least, Imagineering was consulted (they’d be brought back later to design the in-theater effects and motion). “I’d talked to them about it. I’d done an estimate and said it was going to cost $17 million,” Eades said. “The studio people said it would cost $10 million. I said, ‘Make that movie.’ They spent a lot more than $10 million and they spent a lot more than I said it would cost.”

As it turns out, considerably more than what Eades had quoted. The production of “Captain EO” was long and difficult, with original actress Shelley Long dropping out of the role as the evil queen because of the extensive prosthetics (Anjelica Houston replaced her) and Coppola struggling with the complicated requirements of shooting in 3D. (Coppola would lean on Lucas for guidance when it came to the visual effects and creatures.) Behind schedule, the production went over-budget and had to cut corners. On an episode of the “I Was There Too” podcast, comedian Doug Benson talked about his time as an extra on the movie; the production was so over-budget that they couldn’t afford to pay actual dancers anymore. Benson had to stand in the background and gyrate. While most cite the $17 million budget as the final cost, Eades told TheWrap that the actual figure was more than $22.7 million – “and that was in real money in those days.” At the time, per minute, it was the most expensive movie ever produced. Imagineers, still hard at work on Star Tours, printed out custom memo templates that read Star Tours – In Spite of EO.

The Star Tours team was assembled, involving some of Imagineering’s key talents, led by Baxter, and including Eades. Bruce Gordon was the original producer on the project and had, according to Baxter, “as to what you could and could not do in programming events to physically simulate an experience.” “You cannot just write a story and then film it. It’s impossible for many kinetic options to dovetail into one another, due to the limitations of the hydraulic system,” Baxter said. “After we matched the capability of the simulator to a list of ‘Star Wars’ ‘stunts,’ their running order became a dictate of what capabilities were available after the completion of the preceding stunt. The most notable example was being caught in a tractor beam. This motionless backward tilt was the only capability that could be achieved after exhausting the hydraulics in the preceding ice cave sequence.” They had worked out the runtime of the ride: 4 minutes and 35 seconds. “This was the maximum time before an increasing nausea curve would begin ticking upwards,” Baxter said. The Imagineers also learned that they had to put in story pauses every 45 seconds or so, “to let riders regain their bearings.” He also notes that this fact was ignored when developing Body Wars, a sort of “Fantastic Voyage”-type experience that would open with the Wonders of Life Pavilion at EPCOT Center in 1989. Guests got so sick that several seconds of the ride film were removed after Body Wars opened.

For Star Tours, Imagineering had some key collaborators in the form of the wizards at Industrial Light & Magic, the groundbreaking effects house that Lucas had started for the first “Star Wars,” although getting them to grasp the concept of the project (which Eisner wanted to call Star Ride) was difficult. There was a meeting beween Imagineering and ILM, where George Lucas, ILM artists Dennis Muran and Dave Carson (who would serve as the “directors” for ILM), and Imagineering personnel like Tom Fitzgerald, Randy Bright, Marty Sklar and Eades, discussed the project. Eades remembered the scene: “Dennis starts talking to George, ‘We could cut to this angle, cut to that angle.’ And I’m a neophyte at the time. I’m not even 31 years old. I’m the new kid on the block and I’m listening to this and thinking, They’re wrong. I stopped at one point and actually said, ‘Wait a minute, wait a minute. You guys don’t understand. This isn’t a movie. This is a window like in a jet. We can’t cut.’ And I’m looking right at Dennis. ‘However long this is, it’s a continuous take.’ He sat back and looked at me and said, ‘Gee, George. He’s right.’”

The concept of the attraction, where Star Tours was one of several “commercial companies have started business to take people across the galaxy” following the events of “Return of the Jedi,” coalesced quickly and stayed mostly in place. “That way we can give people a ride going through a ‘Star Wars’ movie without giving them a ‘Star Wars’ movie,” Eades explained. Other things remained in flux. The voice of Captain RX-24 (“Rex”), originally described by Lucas as a frazzled Clone Wars veteran named “Crazy Harry,” remained elusive, until Eades (also working as the casting director for the project) saw “Flight of the Navigator.” “Flight of the Navigator” (released by Disney) featured a UFO voiced by Paul Reubens, who had yet to gain fame as Pee-Wee Herman. Eades knew that Reubens was the perfect voice and urged Tom Fitzgerald to see “Flight of the Navigator.” After watching the film, Fitzgerald agreed. Reubens was in production on the first season of what would become the fabled television series “Pee-Wee’s Playhouse.” “We got ahold of [Reubens] on set and he agreed in principle, and we sent a recording to George and he said, ‘That’s it,’” Eades said.

At one point, Baxter and Muren went to Las Vegas to watch a demo of HD digital technology. They came back “pushing for the use of HD media rather than 70mm film.” “That decision was predicated on Sony being a sole source supplier of equipment. A safer decision was made to go with 70mm film rather than Sony HD, but it would set the variability of the ride experience back for 20 years,” Baxter said.

The troubled production of “Captain EO” actually gave the Star Tours team some cover. “They were so focused on ‘Captain EO’ and we were doing this thing and working with ILM and we were kind of ignored. Which was great for the team,” Eades said. “We had a budget and we stuck to the budget. We figured out how to get the most bang for our buck.” Somewhat amazingly, Eades explained: “We actually had Star Tours done first but they wanted to open ‘Captain EO’ and open Star Tours the next year. It was great because it gave the simulators some time to get some run time on them.”

After an equally arduous post-production, which saw Disney executives shocked at the number of crotch-thrusts Jackson squeezed into the choreographed dance numbers (amongst other woes), “Captain EO,” the tale of a singing, dancing space fighter (Jackson) and his band of puppet-y confederates, opened on Sept. 12, 1986 at EPCOT Center (then in desperate need of a starry attraction) and Sept. 18, 1986 at Disneyland. It had two new songs by the King of Pop that you could only hear in the movie (one of the songs would be reworked for “Bad”). An hour-long television special dedicated to its opening and featuring a laundry list of celebrities, including such 80s staples as Judge Reinhold (“I want to know how to dance leaving that theater”) and, um, OJ Simpson (with Nicole on his arm), aired nationally. Disneyland stayed open for 60 hours and ran the 3D film continuously just to meet demand. Disneyland was not only popular again; it was also hip.

war Star Tours
Disney/Lucasfilm

Before Star Tours officially opened, Eades was joined by a clean-shaven Lucas, Oscar-winning sound designer Gary Rydstrom (who told me that he came up with the famous Star Tours “chime”), and many of the Imagineers who had worked on the project, for a soft opening. Eades had a good feeling about it but an attraction like Star Tours was the first of its kind. Nobody knew how guests were going to react. “The first group came off and I heard this guy say, ‘Can you imagine how many miles of track Disneyland had to build under the park for this ride?’” Eades remembered. The guest thought that he was actually moving through space. Eades and the rest of the team knew they had a hit.

A few months after “Captain EO,” on Jan. 9, 1987, Star Tours would open at Disneyland. Lucas and Eisner were on hand, with Mickey and Minnie in their iconic silver space suits (with the rainbow on the chest), joined by C-3PO. Instead of a pair of oversized scissors, they used a lightsaber to cut the ceremonial ribbon. Just like “Captain EO,” they left the park open for 60 hours straight to meet demand. It was a smash out of the gate. But the success of Star Tours ultimately derailed an aspect of the attraction Eades had designed for the project: that every three years, the ride film would change. (That’s right, he said at some point you were actually supposed to get to Endor.)

In the early 1980s, Disneyland management and Imagineering had noticed an uptick in guests visiting multiple times a year, so Eades and his team had a refresh built into their proposal so that Star Tours would never get stale. “But because the damn ride was so popular, the parks said, ‘Why do you want to spend money, because you don’t need it,’” Eades said. ”And they were right.” Undoubtedly the decision to go with 70mm film also set the multiple-planets conceit back, as Baxter previously alluded to. It would be much trickier to switch out the ride film or the projection system. And he was right: it would be decades before that idea would be revisited.

War Galactic Expansion

With two successful Lucas-led projects, both Disney and the filmmaker were emboldened. This was especially heartening for Eisner, who was about to open a risky new theme park in Florida dedicated to the behind-the-scenes aspects of the entertainment business.

Disney-MGM Studios, as it was then known, was designed to be many things: a working, world class film and television production facility (complete with a satellite animation studio designed with animators in mind), a theme park, and giant middle-finger to Universal Studios, which was planning to open its own multiday resort in Orlando. (Eisner, while still at Paramount, was supposedly in the meeting where Universal executives revealed the Florida project and by 1985, just a year after he assumed power at Disney, Eisner had begun work on what would eventually be Disney-MGM Studios.) The debut of Disney-MGM Studios would also serve as the opening salvo for an ambitious, 10-year effort to rejuvenate the Disney Parks brand and expand that brand worldwide. Eisner would later publicly refer to this initiative as the Disney Decade.

By the end of 1989, Star Tours would be open at Tokyo Disneyland and Disney-MGM Studios in slightly modified configurations. Instead of the Disneyland version, which took over a pre-existing attraction (Adventure Thru Innerspace) and was converted under the supervision of legendary Imagineer Tom Morris, the Disney World version was a blank slate. This new Star Tours was just around the corner from the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular, also based on a Lucas property, which also opened in 1989. A more intricate façade was developed with a full-sized AT-AT walker (that at the time shot water from its moving turrets) and forested Ewok village and a show building that still maintained the “backlot” look of the rest of the park. It’s just an illusion, this new show building said, but what an illusion.

The Japanese version of Star Tours was even more ornate. As Kevin Rafferty recalls in his memoir “Magic Journeys,” he was tasked with Astrozone, a “unique-to-Tokyo Disneyland part of the Star Tours complex.” This new area was to include an “enclosed skyway bridge that connected Star Tours and a new two-level dine-in restaurant,” hosted by an adorable animatronic alien and eventually dubbed the Pan Galactic Pizza Port. In 1992, Star Tours would open, with a full-sized X-Wing, at the Euro Disney theme park (now known as Disneyland Paris). Fun needs no translation.

war Star Tours The Adventures Continue
Disney/Lucasfilm

But the biggest change for the attraction would happen in late summer 2010, when both the Disneyland and Walt Disney World versions of Star Tours would shut down completely. Years of rumors persisted that the attraction would be shuttered and reopened, this time themed around the pod-racing sequence from 1999’s prequel film “Star Wars: The Phantom Menace.” As it turned out, the plans were much more ambitious.

Instead of a single new theme, the ride would be re-conceived, with the idea that Eades, Baxter and the other Imagineers had concocted during the blue-sky phase of the attraction’s development. You wouldn’t just be going to one planet, you would be going to all of your favorite “Star Wars” planets, including Tatooine (hello pod-race!), the Wookiee homeworld of Kashyyyk, underneath the opulent planet of Naboo, and on the snowy planet of Hoth, made famous by the opening battle sequence from “The Empire Strikes Back.” Incredibly, you don’t visit Endor, the Ewok-filled planet that you were attempting to visit in the first iteration of the ride, despite the fact that early marketing materials suggested the forest moon would be part of the new version of the attraction.

This new Star Tours, now dubbed Star Tours: The Adventures Continue, allowed guests, thanks to a cutting-edge randomization feature, to visit many planets in the course of a single trip aboard your new Starspeeder. The new version of the ride featured additional in-theater effects and C-3PO as your new in-cabin pilot, as well, and the digital projection of the ride film could be enjoyed in 3D.

In 2011, Star Tours – The Adventures Continue opened at Disneyland and Walt Disney World (it would reach Tokyo Disneyland in 2013 and Disneyland Paris in 2017). Further randomization was added when planets and characters from the new “Star Wars” sequel trilogy, including Jakku and Kef Bir, were included. And in a full circle moment, there was a sequence now devoted to Crait from “The Last Jedi,” the planet that was inspired by the original version of Star Tours.

On Friday, May 20, 2011, there was an opening celebration at Walt Disney World for the new Star Tours – The Adventures Continue. The park that was once Disney-MGM Studios was now called Disney’s Hollywood Studios, but Star Tours was just as important to the park. Disney chairman and CEO Bob Iger, who had succeeded Eisner, was there to inaugurate the new version of the attraction, as was Lucas. Darth Vader was on stage too, as was the creator of “Star Wars: The Clone Wars,” Dave Filoni, who would go on to shepherd “The Mandalorian.”

“Star Tours is a timeless adventure,” Iger said at the event. “Guests will be immersed in the Star Wars galaxy like never before.” He touted the “over 50” combinations that this new attraction would deliver, plus the fact that the Disneyland version would be open the following month. Lucas called the new attraction “amazing.” “It turned out better than we could ever imagine,” Lucas said. Lucas also cited the original plan to switch out the original ride film every few years. “This time we figured when we did it, we would give you all the reprogramming in one event,” Lucas said. He also referred to “secret cookies,” which were further randomizations (in one version you narrowly miss Jar Jar Binks who is seen swimming underneath Naboo, in another version you hit him dead on). These weren’t turned on until the “Force Awakens” additions in 2015.

After the event in Florida, Lucas and Iger convened to have lunch at the park’s Brown Derby restaurant. According to Iger, this is where he first floated an intriguing idea to Lucas – what if Disney bought Lucasfilm? Lucas listened. A few years later, he agreed. This conversation would lead to, amongst other things, the production of the sequel trilogy and the design and construction of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, a 14-acre land that would feature the Millennium Falcon simulator attraction Eades had dreamed up all those years ago, along with Rise of the Resistance, one of the most technologically innovative and immersive attractions in the history of Walt Disney Imagineering. There’s even a “Star Wars”-y cantina, which, just as Eades had imagined it, is a few steps from the Millennium Falcon.

That cantina’s DJ might seem familiar. It’s Rex from Star Tours, once again voiced by Paul Reubens. Wonder if he ever made it to Endor.   

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