Thursday, October 17, 2013

Star Tours: The Adventure Continues!

I would definitely review any new Star Wars film upon its release, and I suppose the upgrade of the Disney Theme Park attraction also counts.  The purpose of separating this out is to cater to those who desire to learn of the ride’s changes, without having to wallow through the long, detailed, and stupid joke filled travelogue of the entire trip. (Disney 2013 Trip Index)

Starting at the beginning-

The Entrance:

The outside line has not changed. It continues to be as awesome as ever.  Guests still enter by walking underneath a looming All Terrain Armored Transport, and then pass by the underside of the Ewok village treehouse. 

I’m old enough to remember when the attraction first opened.

A Long Time Ago, in a Galaxy …well a long time ago, anyway.

The line would frequently snake through the Ewok trees before entering the starport.  Throughput is fairly high these days, and watching the MyDisneyExperience wait times during our off season visit, and even checking before our trip when crowds were greater, the wait rarely spiked above 20 minutes.

I originally thought this was because the new ride was shorter.  However, it still runs four and a half minutes. I guess being sectioned makes it feel faster. (More on that later.)

I think the real reason is they’ve added a ridiculous amount of extra attractions to the park, and parks to the World since it opened.  Therefore any ride that isn’t a star feature, and has good throughput, automatically keeps the wait times down.  They have a bunch of Starspeeder 1000s lined up, and any time the line increased at all, they’d pop open another one.

One cast member was specifically surprised when an unexpected influx happened, stating as he powered up a new Starspeeder, “We never back up, unless Indiana Jones lets out.”

Anyway, back to the review.

The Line:

The Starport is slightly cooler than it was before, and that’s saying quite a bit. I’ve often claimed Disney lines are frequently more immersive and entertaining than the actual rides at other theme parks.  Star Tours was a big reason behind that.

The various R2 and technical droids (which used to be geese in a long gone attraction) are still there, as well as the Mon Calamari in the control room, plus R2-D2 and C-3PO working on the Starspeeder.  There are however, enhancements.

One of the tech droids is screening luggage and cracking jokes.  Yes, they are bad jokes, but I love them anyway. The other is by one of two “windows” which show the people on line with an infrared camera. The cameras are at weird angles making it difficult to see yourself when you are in the window, adding to the illusion of more travelers working their way through the busy spaceport, since you can rarely identify those around you on the screen.

There’s also the addition of poor Pilot Rex from the original attraction being packed into a crate marked “defective” and spouting random Pee Wee Herman voiced lines from his appearance there.  However, this new version is supposed to take place BEFORE the original version.

(Probably because George Lucas has problems counting in order.)

I’m guessing that means somewhere in the Star Wars Expanded Universe there’s an unwritten tale of Rex’s escape and bold return to Starspeeder 3000 command. Or - knowing the Star Wars crowd like I do - a fan fiction crossover with Doctor Who, where the defective Rex is brought back in time in the T.A.R.D.I.S.

The big board also gets an upgrade with many new videos, signs and gags.

Trust me, even if there’s no line at all; take your time in the queue to enjoy all the hard work the imagineers put in for your entertainment. They all have mothers, you know.

Boarding Area:

The boarding area contained the supply of “Flight Goggles.”  

They are never just “3D Glasses.”

Star Tours has “Flight Goggles,”
Muppets 3D has “Lab Goggles,”
It’s Tough to be a Bug has “Bug Eyes,”
Philharmagic has “Opera Glasses,”
Spider-man over in Universal has “Night Vision Goggles,”
And Captain Eo has…
Things to wear that make everyone look weird so Michael Jackson looks a smidge more normal by comparison.

Once goggled, the cast member directed travelers to the proper row.

Cast members are still about an even split between normal college age Happy Disney people and first generation Star Wars fans who don’t quite measure up to the physical specifications to be Masters at the Jedi Training Academy show.

Try to get one of the second types in the loading area; they make the trip far more immersive and fun.

The preloading show was funnier, had more aliens in the safety lecture, and explained why the ship was in the hands of a more capable than he actually thinks, but very entertainingly neurotic, C-3PO.  This allowed the classic vaudevillian interplay between him and R2-D2 during the trip.

Sometime during the boarding is when the cast member selected who the rebel spy is. Sadly, I did not know this, and thought it was a seat pattern that I failed to figure out, meaning none of us was worthy to buy the “I was the rebel spy” t-shirt conveniently located at the ride’s exit.

The Ride:

The ride itself is definitely an improvement over an already great experience. 

And since I am notoriously cranky when Disney changes things, you can believe that claim.

The 3D worked best, like most modern 3D does, by increasing the realism of the depth of field of the environments the ship flies through.  There were a few good poke in the eye 3D gags, but not many, especially because there is a windshield on the Starspeeder, preventing almost all 3D experiences from “Comin’ Atcha!”  It did work well in its intended role of increasing the immersiveness of the experience.

Overall, the ride itself is provided greater entertainment and storytelling.  The 3D added a little bit, but mostly this came from the increases in both CGI technology and the amount of existing Star Wars to draw from. The original ride was fun, but I don’t remember any “giant comet ice crystal asteroid field” in the films.

The multiple choice nature of the experience also enhanced the ability to enjoy repeated rides. However, it is the cause for my one complaint.

There were two possible openings, and three each of the initial flight, urgent message, and final flight segments.  Either the randomizer was as bad as the one I-tunes uses, or they used certain missions less often, making them like the short packed “chase” action figure in each wave.  Neither is a good thing.

We rode about seven or eight times on three different days, the break down was as follows.

The opening either featured following the Millennium Falcon, or escaping Darth Vader (YAY!):
They were about evenly distributed, but clumped - all Vader one day, all Falcon another.

Flight one: either soaring through trees on Kashyyk (That’s the Wookie planet for the non-incredibly geeky in the crowd.), a Pod Race on Tatooine, or flying through walkers on the Ice planet Hoth.

This is where the random elements really broke down.  We got to see the two of them only once each. Every other trip passed through Kashyyk. 

Don’t get me wrong, I love Wookies. Seeing them roaring at us, or occasionally falling on the windshield was great.  More variety in the variable ride would have been nice though.  The Hoth experience was definitely my favorite of the three. It felt the most real, the 3D working excellently for the close scrapes through the AT-AT’s legs.   Hoth also had the greatest mix of types of motion for any of the opening jaunts.  It switched between speedy straight flying, low level dodging, and sliding on ice.

The Tatooine trip deserves special mention for a couple of reasons.  First, because the nature of the Pod Race was a different feel from most of the free flying missions.  Unfortunately, we got it on one of the few rides my wife (who does not like thrill rides) joined my daughter and me on. She was concerned that, while some riders may find it thrilling, the increased side to side bumpiness could pop a kidney stone free.

The best part of Tatooine was a character moment for our accidental pilot, C-3PO.  For almost the entire ride, Goldenrod varied between the entertaining panic that Anthony Daniels has mastered after over three decades in the role, and resolute acceptance when called to aid the Rebel Alliance.

However, upon seeing the pod-race, Threepio showed his one true moment of excitement, and exclaimed one of Captain Rex’s lines from the original, “I’ve always wanted to try this.”  Considering his main experience with pod-races was watching his young creator compete in them, I thought this was an exceedingly cool character insight.

After hyperspacing out of the first area, a message came in from the rebel alliance concerning the spy, and transmitting coordinates.

We saw a single message from Admiral Ackbar, two from Yoda, and the rest from Princess Leia.   A minor point since they’re all kind of the same, but still, some more variety would have been nice.

Heading to meet the rebels brings one of three two-phase chases, with more scenes directly from the films.  The mix was a little better for this set.

We saw Coruscant more often than the others but not by much.  It began in the insane space battle high above the city planet from Episode III, and then transitioned into a flying car traffic chase much like the pursuit of the assassin droid in Episode II.

Another option started in asteroid field space combat with Slave I, similar to Obi Wan’s altercation with the Fetts over Geonosis in Episode II.  This section ended by finding the rebel fleet after a detour through an in-construction Death Star, yet another tribute to the original ride.

My favorite, by only a small margin though, was Naboo, again because of variety.  It started out in the space battle with the Trade Federation from Episode I.  Instead of an atmospheric flight, the ship next headed under the ocean to pass the Gungan city and travel through the planet’s core, with all the bizarre creatures that entailed.  Finally, it included one of the few “in your face” 3D gags of the ride at its finish.

After some combination of the four sections, the ride ended, the Throne Room music cue played, and all of us Star Wars geeks exited with our heads held a little higher, full of temptation to buy everything in the Tatooine Traders.  The temptation has grown exponentially now that Disney owns Star Wars, and can cross pollinate their characters in awesome ways.

In conclusion, and this is a guy that is still boycotting Test Track because of the removal of World of Motion and refuses to call Disney Studios anything but MGM:


The ride is more of a hoot, features more of the Star Wars universe (including the extra awesome addition of C-3PO), and has more re-ride-ability due to the variations.

Final Thoughts:

I think Star Tours is an excellent illustration of the differences between Disney Parks and others.

Universal’s Spider-Man ride won all sorts of awards.  From viewing it purely as a thrill ride, it is better.  There’s more different types of movement, the spinning, twisting and shifting are faster and more “thrilling” and there are changes in the visual medium throughout the ride (from video screens to animatronics).

However, Star Tours is a far more immersive experience, starting from the line. I didn’t realize until my second trip onto the Spidey ride that the random Daily Bugle artifacts and cartoons were connected as part of the back story. Once the Star Tours building is entered, the effect of being inside the spaceport is immediate, thorough and obvious.  Same thing goes for the ride itself.  I think the extra motions and changes between mechanical and video effects that add to the thrills of Spider-man, also serve to remind you regularly that it is only a ride.  The Starspeeder environment is enveloping, complete and consistent. 

The same comparison can be made between spinning and jolting through references in  the Cat in the Hat dark ride at universal (with it's draconian anti-photo security) and entering the world Under the Sea the new Ariel dark ride in New Fantasyland. 

Oddly, it is also true comparing the line to Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey which feels much more like a real trip into the Wizarding World than the ride itself...

I’ll choose immersive, fantastic storytelling over cheap thrills any day.


Anonymous said...

Well done Jeff. Once again you manage to do jusice to the English language. BRAVO! However I'm a little concerned about your liking bad jokes. Well, I guess we all have our quirks.
cuz mike

Jeff McGinley said...

Many thanx for reading and posting Mike.

I don't "like" bad jokes...