Star Tours: The Adventures Continue Review
★★★★☆ Smart update, stunning 3D ride film, but is it too late?
On Thursday the 30th of March 2017, I finally got to ride Star Tours: The Adventures Continue (aka Star Tours: l’Aventure Continue) at Disneyland Paris, one of the highlights of the resort’s 25th Anniversary celebration. Technically I’d already experienced the attraction in May 2016 when I went to Walt Disney World, so some of the surprise element had already gone. Nevertheless, I was still interested to see what the Imagineers had been working on, and how the French version differed. What follows is my spoiler-filled review of the attraction.
30 Years In The Making
If you go back to January 1987, when the original Star Tours opened at Disneyland in California, George Lucas already said that one of the advantages of doing a simulator ride was that the ride film could be changed, that there could be new adventures.
“One of the basic ideas behind this, is that it’s reprogrammable. It relies a lot on software, rather than hardware, so that the ride can be changed rather swiftly, relative to the way normal rail rides, hardware rides, are changed. And I think this will give us a big advantage in being able to upgrade the ride, after a certain period of time, to improve it or change it, or make it into something else.” — George Lucas on Star Tours News Kit (January 1987)
Of course, 24 years passed, with the ride staying exactly the same, only offering one adventure, the same old flight to Endor. But finally in 2011, Star Tours: The Adventures Continue, the new updated version, opened at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, with the other Star Tours attractions around the world swiftly following suit… except for Disneyland Paris.
- Disney’s Hollywood Studios – Friday, 20 May 2011
- Disneyland – Friday, 3 June 2011 (2 weeks after DHS)
- Tokyo Disneyland – Tuesday, 7 May 2013 (2 years after DHS)
- Disneyland Paris – Sunday, 26 March 2017 (6 years after DHS)
In that span of time, a lot changed. Disney bought Lucasfilm, The Force Awakens was released (which incidentally contains a StarSpeeder 1000 cameo), and Star Wars Land was announced. Then finally on Wednesday 16 March 2016, after 24 years of service, when it was desperately showing its age, Star Tours had its Last Tour to Endor at Disneyland Paris. The attraction closed for approximately one year, and the new show was installed.
There have been very few changes to the exteriors in Disneyland Park since Space Mountain opened, back in June 1995. Very few structures have actually been added to the park. Buzz Lightyear Laser Blast brought a new colour scheme (and some tacky decorations) to the Visionarium building, Last Chance Cafe got expanded, and Central Plaza gained the Disney Dreams! control booth. But other than that, not a lot.
So the reconfiguration of the whole Star Tours area is rather historic. As you enter Discoveryland, you can actually now see the 11-ton X-wing in the distance, high above the Star Port building; a weenie far more identifiable as “Star Wars” than the satellite dish it replaced.
Based on the 2016 concept art, I was expecting the area to look dull, uninspired and generally disappointing. However, as I walked in for the first time at sunset, I was pleasantly surprised. With its new grey and blue colour scheme and extensive block paving, it looks really smart. The quality of finish is impressively high, with so much stainless steel and precision engineered metal being used, I was reminded of an Apple Store.
Lighting plays an important role. The hundreds of lights really help bring the area to life and give it that magical “Disneyland” quality after dark. You now enter the ride under a new entrance marquee, on top of which is a huge spire representing the Star Tours logo, with animated LEDs sending pulses of white light up into the sky. It’s a simple effect, but really energises the space, and draws you straight in.
I must admit, I was disappointed to still hear David Tolley’s synthetic Discoveryland Area Loop blaring loudly, as it has done since 1992. Yes it’s playful and nostalgic, but I think using John Williams’ iconic music, “Parade of the Ewoks” or “Rey Meets BB-8” for example, would immerse you even deeper in the Star Wars films.
And there’s something else that bothers me about this whole area, which is, where are we actually supposed to be? If this area represents a Star Wars airport, then why is there an X-wing (belonging to the Rebel Alliance) parked on top of a building where Darth Vader (of the Galactic Empire) is happy to meet tourists? At Imagineering, they always say that the “story comes first”, but I’m really not sure what the story is here.
Queue: Main Terminal
Entering the Main Terminal, a space formerly known as the Maintenance Hangar, everything is familiar and very similar to how it was before, yet sleeker, cleaner and shinier. Animated blue and orange lighting is used extensively, co-ordinating with the colour scheme of the Star Tours Travel Agency. A huge departures board (which is an LED display, not a rear projected screen) advertises Star Tours getaway packages. The StarSpeeder 1000 looks slick, in its new glossy red and white paint job. And a faster C-3PO animatronic figure shines like a freshly polished trumpet, behind a curiously over-engineered safety barrier.
I should perhaps mention that Star Tours: The Adventures Continue is one of the few attractions included in Extra Magic Hours. What that means is, if you’re staying at a Disney Hotel or you have an Annual Pass that includes Extra Magic Hours, you can ride it for an additional 2 hours (from 8:00 am to 10:00 am) before Disneyland Park opens to the general public (at 10:00 am). #DLPtip
Queue: Cargo Bay
Imagineer Tom Fitzgerald said (at D23 Expo 2011) that Star Tours is basically “Star Wars plus going to LAX”. So, while it lacks the ragtag charm of the original Droidnostics Center, the new Cargo Bay makes more sense storywise, in terms of you being a passenger at a Star Wars airport. The two G2 “goose droids” have been changed, not only with new blue and white outfits and new jobs, but with new mechanics. These brand new animatronic figures move very fluidly and fast, and are fascinating to watch, even if you have no idea what they’re saying!
In the two U.S. versions, G2–9T (the luggage-scanning droid) is voiced by Tom Fitzgerald, in English. Strangely though, for the new Disneyland Paris version, Tom decided that all the dialogue throughout the attraction should be in French. So here he’s voiced by someone else, entirely in French, and you really do miss out on the humour if you don’t understand the language. The Scanning Station, which x-rays all the luggage coming in, reveals a lot of familiar Disney items hidden inside “our” suitcases. However, I think they went a little too far with the silly Disney references (Mickey Mouse Ear Hats, WALL-E, Major Domo, Madame Leota, etc) because they really took me out of the Star Wars story and reminded me that I was at a theme park.
In the two U.S. versions G2–4T (the thermal-scanning droid) is of course voiced by the hilarious Patrick Warburton (aka Kronk from The Emperor’s New Groove). But again, here he isn’t, and loses all of his English humour.
In terms of theming and special effects, I noticed some interesting things in the Cargo Bay. Gone are the baskets of spare parts, cycling around on the overhead conveyor system. However, there’s a clever lighting effect in the shoot extending out from the Scanning Station, which creates the illusion of luggage travelling along a conveyor belt. Also, if you look down at all the luggage on the floor below the shoot, you’ll notice a wall of mirrors being used to extend the perceived space (although these were apparently there in the original).
Other than G2–4T’s thermal imaging camera, which is fun to wave at for a few seconds, there’s absolutely nothing interactive in the Cargo Bay, which I found a bit disappointing. However, there are some familiar droids you can try to find, such as Captain Rex and more challengingly ROX-N, from the original Star Tours attraction.
Arriving at the Concourse, Gates F E D are on your left, and Gates C B A are on your right. The Concourse essentially looks the same as it did before, only more metallic. Unfortunately, because the attraction uses 3D “flight glasses”, obtrusive storage boxes now fragment the space, ruining the formerly long clean lines.
The decision to do the new version of Star Tours in 3D was made back in 1998, with concept art depicting guests wearing custom-designed glasses resembling Anakin Skywalker’s Podracing goggles. Today, guests wear generic black Dolby 3D glasses, the same as those used on Ratatouille. With their expensive dichroic filters, these glasses apparently offer the best image quality possible, with minimal ghosting (crosstalk between the two channels). However, they’re a one-size-fits-all design, supposedly suitable for the small heads of children (meeting the 1m02 height requirement) all the way up to the big heads of adults such as myself. As someone with poor eyesight who requires prescription glasses, my issue with them is that they’re too small and don’t actually fit over my own day-to-day glasses. So, I actually had to have a smaller pair of prescription glasses made up (which wasn’t cheap) simply so that I can continue to enjoy modern theme park rides. I never had this issue before, with the simpler and larger polarised 3D glasses of Captain EO and Honey, I Shrunk The Audience!. So, this is a completely unnecessary new problem and the result of bad design.
Anyway, having picked up your “flight glasses” you’re instructed to proceed to your allocated Gate, and stand in your allocated row, where you wait to board Star Tours Flight #1401, a not so subtle reference to the address of Walt Disney Imagineering in California.
Now, I have to say, I’m not a fan of the new CGI-heavy pre-show video shown to you on the three monitors overhead. The quality of the graphics is really poor, like something out of a video game, so it’s very hard to “buy into” and believe what you’re being shown. The safety information is delivered, not by a charismatic French lady as in the original, but by a cold CGI character. Based on the design of the WA-7 waitress droid from Attack of the Clones, Aly San-San is a Spokesbot for the Star Tours Travel Agency. She speaks completely in French (fortunately with subtitles) except for the only 18 words of English you’ll hear in the entire attraction:
“For your safety, remain seated throughout your flight, with your restraint securely fastened. And please, watch your children.” Aly San-San (voiced by Allison Janney)
OK, so let’s talk about the ride itself. Once the automatic doors have opened, you proceed across a ramp and into the StarSpeeder 1000 cabin. Immediately I noticed some subtle differences. The 40 leather seats are now blue instead of orange. The grey rubber armrests, which were worn-down and decaying for many years, are now fully refurbished. The storage nets beneath the seats are no longer broken, so you can safely stow your bag, without worrying about it going missing mid-flight! It’s also very chilly and well ventilated in there, which I believe is to help prevent motion sickness and nausea (useful if you get the Kashyyyk sequence).
While the original Star Tours used a 70 mm film projection system, Star Tours: The Adventures Continue uses twin digital projectors to achieve its 3D imagery, at 4K resolution (3840 x 2160 pixels) and at 60 frames per second per eye. Industrial Light & Magic’s 4-minute CGI ride film is absolutely stunning, and the clarity and depth of the 3D is superb.
“My jaw dropped when the screen lowered, and I was not looking at a screen there 10 feet in front of me, but I was looking out a window into a world. It was an amazing moment.” — Tony Baxter on ForceCast (3 June 2011)
The ride film is now split up into four main scenes, each with multiple options/destinations chosen at random. 13 sequences of video are randomly assembled by the computer for each ride, enabling 96 different combinations in total, excluding minor variations (e.g. there are actually two versions of the Naboo finale).
- 2 Launches: Darth Vader, Probe Droid
- 4 Detours: Hoth, Tatooine, Kashyyyk, Jakku
- 4 Hologram Transmissions: Admiral Ackbar, Princess Leia, Yoda, BB-8
- 3 Finales: Coruscant, Naboo, Death Star
In total, I rode Star Tours: The Adventures Continue six times at Disneyland Paris, and what I found was, with some combinations I loved the ride, and with other combinations I came off thinking it was only just good. With a dynamic, unpredictable ride film, comes the probability that some ride experiences will be more enjoyable than others.
I never went to Tatooine, which is ironic because George Lucas’ original concept for the new Star Tours ride film, back in 1998, was podracing on Tatooine! However, of the three Detour sequences I did experience, I’d say that Jakku is my favourite. Reliving “The Falcon Flies Again” scene from The Force Awakens, chasing the Millennium Falcon as it spins over the desert planet, is incredibly exhilarating and fun. And then, crash landing inside the derelict Star Destroyer is totally unexpected, the way everything stops and you’re physically left hanging there at an awkward angle. With these new sequences, Imagineering has really been able to explore the full range of motion the ATLAS simulators are capable of delivering.
When Star Tours: The Adventures Continue first opened in 2011, it was firmly set between the two sets of film trilogies, between Episodes 3 and 4, which gave Imagineering the most freedom to include as many places and characters as possible. However, by adding locations (Jakku) and characters (BB-8 and Finn) from The Force Awakens (Episode 7) to the ride film, they’ve actually broken the timeline of the attraction. With some sequence combinations, you’ll see Darth Vader and Finn within the same ride, which is logically impossible because the two characters never co-existed; Darth Vader died before Finn was even born! So, in addition to travelling at lightspeed, your StarSpeeder 1000 can now also travel through time, which really doesn’t make any sense.
Anyway, all three of the Finales are excellent. The Death Star (above the planet Geonosis) sequence is particularly exciting, as you’re chased under-fire by Boba Fett to the soaring sounds of “The Asteroid Field” from The Empire Strikes Back (although I do wish the music was mixed louder, in general). The sequence culminates in an awesome sonic bomb explosion, that sends a wave of light through the cabin, thanks to some precisely synchronised in-theatre lighting effects.
But, Naboo has to be my favourite Finale. After plunging into the ocean and almost (very satisfyingly, I might add) knocking over Jar Jar Binks, you’re attacked by a giant sea creature. This sequence is incredibly well done and utterly convincing. You really do believe that the sea creature’s tongue is licking the windshield of your StarSpeeder 1000, and there are some wild “yaw” movements as it swings you around underwater. But the best thing about the Naboo sequence is that there are actually two different versions of it. You always skid out-of-control into a repair hangar, directly towards the tail of a Naboo N-1 Starfighter. Sometimes you break the tail off, but sometimes the tail smashes through the windshield and into your cabin, in a surprising 3D effect! So, by having variations within sequences, you really never know what’s going to happen until the very last minute.
One of the most significant changes about Star Tours: The Adventures Continue is that the pilot inside your StarSpeeder is no longer Captain Rex.
“Unfortunately we couldn’t have Rex anymore, ‘cos Rex as you know, it was his first flight, his first day on the job, and going back in time we thought, ‘oh, we gotta have another robot’.” — Tom Fitzgerald at D23 Expo 2011
Ultimately, systems analyst C-3PO became the new pilot. You now see him, not only in the Main Terminal, but in the pre-show video, and finally inside your StarSpeeder 1000. I can understand Imagineering’s decision. Having one of the most iconic characters from the films, actually there inside your simulator cabin, does make it a more authentic Star Wars experience. However, personally I find C-3PO quite annoying and a lot of his dialogue (at least, in the two U.S. versions) makes me cringe! Captain Rex was a far cooler and more likeable pilot, in my opinion.
The biggest drawback of Star Tours: The Adventures Continue is that, unbelievably, the entire experience is in French, from the queue, to the pre-show video, to the ride itself. Ironically, despite being “fluent in over six million forms of communication”, here C-3PO only speaks French! Given that 56% of Disneyland Paris’ visitors are not from France, automatically a large chunk of the audience will not be able to fully understand and appreciate this new attraction.
So, they’ve introduced a new problem, a new barrier, that wasn’t present in the original. There’s no attempt to offer both languages in one presentation, no clever mix of French and English, as used in recent attractions such as Ratatouille: The Adventure and Mickey and the Magician. And so, if you don’t understand French, you really will miss out, in terms of understanding the story and finding the jokes funny.
There are several ways they could solve this problem. Why not simply bring back a mix of French and English? Or, why not add little LED subtitle displays throughout the attraction? Or, why not make full use of those six StarSpeeder 1000 simulators, and assign three of them to deliver the ride in French, and three of them in English?
Star Traders Boutique
Coming off the ride, a big change awaits you. The former IBM L’Astroport Services Interstellaires interactive area, which ultimately devolved into a dingy video games arcade, has been completely transformed into a dazzling new Star Wars shop, the largest in Europe apparently.
No offence to the people who took them, but the first photos that were posted on Twitter, of Star Traders, were terrible and didn’t do the space justice. The problem with news photography is that, in the race to be first, there’s no attention paid to aesthetics and to faithfully capturing how something looks in person. Admittedly, in response to those photos, I tweeted that the shop looks “very generic and forgettable”.
But, Star Traders is far from that. I was pleasantly surprised the first time I stepped inside. There’s a lot of theming going on, especially up above you. With all the gantries and droids, even the back of a full-size StarSpeeder 1000, it truly looks like a film set. The space is lit beautifully, John Williams’ triumphant music plays in the background; even the counters magically light up when you touch them. It really is a massive upgrade over what was there before. And best of all, it’s 100% focused on and committed to Star Wars merchandise only. You won’t find any Marvel or Buzz Lightyear items in here, which makes it all the more immersive.
The Future of Star Tours
So, what does the future hold for Star Tours: The Adventures Continue? The good news is, the two U.S. versions of the attraction will definitely be receiving new sequences, which presumably will also be added to Disneyland Paris shortly after.
“One of the fun things about The Adventures Continue, is that we can always come back in and add new and exciting surprises and destinations for our guests. So that number will continue to increase, and increase, and increase.” — Kathy Rogers on MousePlanet (16 November 2015)
More specifically, it was recently announced that one of those new sequences will be Crait, from the upcoming film The Last Jedi. So George Lucas’ original 1987 vision of Star Tours continually being reprogrammed and changed is definitely being fulfilled.
“We’re going to Crait. We are going to the mineral planet of Crait, and we are deep in production with ILM right now, and I can tell you, it’s going to be an amazingly fun sequence for the show. So we’re really excited.” — Tom Fitzgerald at Star Wars Celebration Orlando (15 April 2017)
But, in addition to locations from the sequel trilogy, I personally think it would be nice to have some new sequences that revisit locations from the original trilogy. For example, how about a speeder bike chase on the Forest Moon of Endor, or a visit to Cloud City above the planet Bespin? And, for fun, how about seasonal sequences that only show up if you visit the park during Halloween or Christmas? Star Wars Holiday Special, anyone?
Star Tours: The Adventures Continue’s randomised ride film is a true innovation in the themed entertainment industry, and overcomes the problem all media-based attractions eventually suffer from, which is, how many times can you keep watching the same film before you get bored? The repeatability of the attraction is great! You want to go back on it again and again, to either experience new sequences that you still haven’t seen, or to get your favourite combination.
The bad news is, the pair of 14-acre Star Wars Lands currently under construction at Disneyland in California and Disney’s Hollywood Studios, set to open in 2019. One of the land’s two major attractions will be an interactive simulator ride that could easily make Star Tours seem very dated and irrelevant.
“Guests will be able to step aboard the Millennium Falcon and actually pilot the fastest ship in the galaxy, steering the vessel through space, firing the laser cannons, in complete control of the experience.” — Thomas Smith on Disney Parks Blog (22 February 2016)
So the question is, why would you want to sit there and watch C-3PO be the pilot, when you can be the pilot? Why would you want to be a passenger on Star Tours, when you can actually fly the Millennium Falcon yourself? Why would you want to be a passive viewer, when you can be an active participant?
At least in the U.S., how long Star Tours: The Adventures Continue remains open, once Star Wars Land is up and running, is the big unknown. The adventures will continue, but for how much longer?
Back in Paris, where Star Wars Land isn’t under construction and perhaps never will be, the future of the attraction is surely safer. Did it open too late? Yes, 4 to 6 years too late! It would’ve been perfect for Disneyland Paris’ 20th Anniversary in 2012, not its 25th Anniversary in 2017. That said, I’m glad that it’s finally here. It’s added some much needed sparkle back into a very tired and dated attraction and, with even more new sequences in production, should prove fresh, repeatable and popular for many years to come. ■