Goodbye Endor My Old Friend

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On September 7th 2010, the Walt Disney World version of Star Tours closed for renovations and upgrades.  It was the third incarnation of the attraction to open – the first two being in Disneyland and Tokyo Disneyland – and the second to close.   Prior to closing, the ride was basically a motion simulator (box) that held 40 people and a movie screen.  The combined effect of the movie and the motion provided the guest with the feeling of being flown around the Star Wars galaxy by a crazed mad lunatic of a driver.

Seriously, there was something just plain wrong with that droid.  Even his own fellow droid talked about the RX droids onto the way into the ride, pointing out their flaws as guests walked past in the attraction queue.  It’s amazing that these droids were even allowed to ever pilot a starship let alone one carrying people.  That is perhaps why they had chosen Paul Reubens, who most people remember best as Pee Wee Herman, to voice the role of RX-24 (a.k.a., Rex) the pilot droid for your journey.

The attraction queue was always, to me, one of the more fantastic parts of the ride.  The very front of the queue provided the appearance of walking onto a “hot” film set for a Star Wars movie.  Moving forward, you were suddenly on the flight preparation deck for a trip to the forest moon of Endor – the planet featured in the movie Return of the Jedi.  There is a large arrival departure board depicting advertisements for your journey, Mon Calamari up in the flight control room, and before you a Starspeeder 3000 going through it’s pre-flight check performed by R2-D2 and C-3PO.

If you watched long enough it will become fairly evident that this ship had problems.  And not just small ones either.  It smoked, hissed, made funny noises, caught fire, demonstrated stability issues, fired its lasers intermittently.  And on and on.  The problems that you see are all further driven home when the same droid that told you about the RX droid problems also tells you about the Starspeeder 3000 problems.  It was something to look forward to considering you were about to board one.

As the queue twisted and turned you would walk through a combination droid repair area and scrapyard, with numerous hidden elements.  This included a Kermit the Frog assembled out of spare parts.  There are also the G2 repair droids, a.k.a. “Goose Droids” because they were the old audio-animatronic skeletons from the former America Sings attraction at Disneyland.  I only ever figured this was true of the ride in Disneyland itself and the ones at Disney’s Hollywood Studios were just replicas.

And then, after a pre-show involving Wookiees and seatbelt safety, you board your Starspeeder 3000 for your trip.  And due to a series of unfortunate events involving Rex, R2-D2, secret exits, a hyperdrive failure, comets, a Star Destroyer, a Death Star (it is presumed this is not one of the ones destroyed in the Star Wars movies), and several “near death” experiences, you arrived back at the docking station where you started.  Never quite getting to Endor, though you did pass it by before the Comets? Comets!  Sorry we did that already.

Now I’ll be honest, this was never my favorite ride in Disney World, but it’s never been a ride I hated either.  It’s just always fallen somewhere in between.  So when my wife, Cheryl, and I decided to attend the D23 event “Final Flight to Endor”, which allowed for the public to have one final ride on Star Tours on the night it closed it’s doors, I was a bit skeptical about the whole thing.  I even said as much to Matt Hochberg while waiting for the event to start.

The basic event was to be escorted to the attraction , ride it, and be escorted out, which to me was a meh.  I already had plenty of pictures of Star Tours, and had ridden the attraction more times then I can remember.  Leave it to Disney to get me with swag and  Stormtroopers. The first 100 people to arrive got a “vintage” Star Wars coin set from 2007.  Also handed out were a boarding pass for the Final Flight, a FASTPASS for the attraction telling us we can receive another in 2011, and patch to commemorate the event.

So the Stormtroopers, escorted us from the main gate past the Sorcerer’s Hat and Echo Lake, to Star Tours.  Out there was an X-Wing parade float that they use during Star Wars weekends with a driver to greet us.  After lingering back for a bit I entered the attraction with Matt and April Baker.  It was at this point that I learned the Stormtroopers could talk.  I caught one checking out the Ewok village, and I asked if that was his home.  He told me, “No sir, I live on Coruscant.”  Oh yeah! Talking Stormtroopers, that changed the game.

We took our sweet time getting through the queue.  Matt was livecasting the event on April’s phone with additional power provided by my battery pack.  And I was soaking it in – as I said the queue was my favorite part of this attraction.  There was no rush, no sweep, none of that.  It seemed we could stand there in that queue for as long as we wanted, and you can bet the three of us abused it as we were some of the last people to get in line to board a Starspeeder 3000.

The experience itself was no different than it had ever been before.  But the emotion was clear.  This ride would never be the same.  Everyone there knew it.  Right down to the castmember who gave us our sendoff spiel – she did it on the verge of tears her voice cracking some.  She honestly loved the ride, and being a part of it.  I talked with her after we were done riding, she posed for a picture both with my iPhone and her own camera.  And gave her a big hug, she was hoping to be back as a castmember for the new version of the ride next year.

As we exited the attraction, I mouthed off to a Stormtrooper by making fun of his fanny-pack and got a blaster pointed in my face.  Heading into the store we were handed the patch mentioned above, and got to pose in a picture with castmembers, lightsabers, and Stormtroopers.  In the store the Stormtroopers shopped a bit, and there was one final castmember photo shoot in their orange and blue Star Tours jumpsuits.  Before we were escorted out of the park by the Stormtroopers there was final photo opp of the parade float with the Stormtroopers.  (note: apparently not all the Stormtroopers were castmembers).  The last flight had flown.

So what do we have to look forward to?

Well I know that castmembers were telling us that construction (de-construction?) was set to begin at midnight after the event.  However, when I went back this past weekend expecting the usual construction walls they were nowhere to be found.  Instead the ride was simply roped off with castmembers standing out in front.  From talking with them I learned that they would just be sealing the entrance and that while they were initially planning to wall off the Ewok village area apparently, for the time being, that is not going to occur.  Jedi Training Academy was still operating unimpeded.

It was announced that the new ride is set to reopen on May 17, 2011 (my anniversary), but dates that far out are always subject to change.  We also learned that the new ride will be called “Star Tours: The Adventure Continues” from a video presented for the first time at the Star Wars Celebration V fan event that took place earlier in the summer.  The video implies heavily that the new ride will include travel to three well known Star Wars galaxy destinations: Bespin, Endor, and Alderaan with the latter being declared as, “recently voted safest planet in the galaxy”.

There was a prior scene released that you can view at this page started by StudiosCentral.com where we see podracing scenes that end with racing over the crowd and into the clouds.  This included a clip of a Starspeeder 1000 participating in the race as well as a sneak preview collectible release as well.  This would also imply a trip to the planet Tatooine as well – presumably this would be the detour part of the journey.

There is also speculation that the three planets Bespin (air), Endor (forest), and Alderaan (high mountains) will be presented as a choice to the riders in a fashion similar to the greatly loss lamented Horizons attraction.  We also know that the movie itself will be done using Disney’s Real-3D technology – I’d love to see other 3D movies in the park get this treatment as well, my eyes convert this 3D much better than the older style.

So what about you? Do you miss the old Star Tours?  What is your fondest Star Tours memory?  Are you looking forward to the new Star Tours?  What are you looking forward to most?  May the force be with you (oh, like I was going to end with anything else here).

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Posted on September 16, 2010

18 Responses to “Goodbye Endor My Old Friend”

  • Great summary Todd, sad that we can’t ride Star Tours anymore

  • I lament it’s passing, but it was definitely time for an update. I love the big Imperial Walker at the entrance and remember my first trip to Disney every time I see it :)
    I’ll be excited to see what the new ride has to offer since my son is HUGE Star Wars fan and he loved everything there but the ride. Kids these days!

    • From what we’ve seen the new version of the ride appears to be a mix of the newer and the older Star Wars movie. I’m hoping this gives it that cross generational appeal that it will need. I really think it will be a better more modern ride. And one that will be in the Studios for a long time to come.

  • I really hope it opens by then. That’s only a few days before my Disney Wedding and Star Tours II would be like a cherry on top of the sundae!

    • First, congratulations. Second, save me some cake! Which wedding venue are you using?

      I’m hoping it swings earlier or later than that as I’ll be on the Disney Dream for my anniversary next year and therefore be unable to visit it that first day if it sticks to May 17th.

  • Great post, Todd. My favorite thing about the (now) “old” Star Tours was that it involved the original 3 movies, the ones that I grew up with. The Death Star scene always brought me back to 1977, 9 years old, watching the original in the theater and my friend and I sitting in our theater seats imagining we were X-wing pilots. For me, it was one of my favorite rides in the Studios. I thought the prequel films were only “okay,” and didn’t live up to the originals. Thus, I’m fearful of the new version, but trying to keep an open mind.

    • I think an open mind will be necessary for a lot of people. Some folks are old standouts.

      I have two personal favorite scenes from the old version. The first is, being inside the comet because I like the effect inside the simulator. The second is that point where you do that swoop and dive into the equatorial canyon on the Death Star – it reminds me of the old vector based Star Wars game which has the exact same scene only in vector graphics.

      I don’t dislike the newer movies, but I think the Clone Wars animated series is better then they are. Though the lava battle (spoiler!) that I waited 20 years for after reading the Return of the Jedi novel was completely worth it I thought – despite the teenage angst stuff.

  • I will miss the attraction in its original design. Oddly, I loved the Star Tours flight departure board the most. The combination of the video and scrolling messages about the gates made the attraction unique (and always reminded me of Horizons). Thanks for the summary, good sir!

  • Star Tours always envoked Star Wars memories and I always enjoyed the experience. We will be in WDW in April 2011 with our grandchildren so I hope that the new Star Tours will be ready for us.

  • I was there when it opened, “A long time ago, in a galaxy far away.” Back then, you could buy travel posters featuring planets in the Star Wars galaxy. I had Tatooine, Hoth, and Endor pinned up in my office at Bell Labs Summit Facility in NJ. Alas, the Summit Facility closed ages ago, and I left the posters behind–along with a whole can of silly string strategically shot at the ceiling tiles.

    Leaving the silly string was cool. I regret leaving the posters because you can’t buy them anymore. Now I have a bobble head Yoda sitting on my desk at work. He is holding a Mickey Ice Cream Bar, wearing mouse ears, and scowling at the “you must be this height to experience this ride.”

    Star Tours–it let the force be with us!

  • by Joe Saltarelli on October 19, 2010, at 7:31 pm EST

    I will be headed to Disney May 13th, 2011 through May22, 2011. Looks like Star Tours is planning on re-opening while we are there. My question is regarding Star Wars weekends…will they still start on Fri, May 20th as predicted? Will they postpone them if Star Tours has not re-opened on schedule?

    • Can’t be sure when they’ll start next year until they’re announced, basically any date right now is a guess based on prior dates. Based on those dates 5/20 is what most seem to feel would be the date. The Star Tours reopening date of 5/17 (my anniversary) also would make 5/20 the best start date as well. Again this is all speculation until official dates are announced, which is usually in January of the same year.

  • by Carey Goldsmith on October 21, 2010, at 2:28 pm EST

    We are heading down in a couple of weeks – I am so glad that the Jedi Training is still going on for my 2 children – do you know if the gift shop is still open during the renovation?