Walt Disney Imagineering's Tom Fitzgerald has been there since the beginning, writing the attraction's original story line back in 1987 and shepherding Star Tours 2.0 since 1997. On June 3, the rebooted simulator ride makes its official debut at the Anaheim theme park.
Back in 1997, Fitzgerald was summoned to Skywalker Ranch in Marin County, Calif., by director and producer George Lucas during post-production for "Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace" to look at footage of what Lucas called the "perfect sequence" for a long-envisioned update to the Star Tours simulator ride: a pod race on Tatooine.
Disney artists storyboarded an outline for a revamped Star Tours ride with the pod race as the centerpiece, but after the first prequel hit theaters, the Imagineers wondered what possibilities the next movies might hold.
"We wanted to make sure whatever we picked was the perfect story," said Fitzgerald, now an executive vice president with the creative arm of Disney. "We took a step back and asked ourselves, 'Why just tell one story?'"
In 2003 during shooting for "Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith," Fitzgerald traveled to a soundstage in Australia to pitch Lucas on the premise of a randomized, branching story line for the new Star Tours. Lucas loved it.
Work finally began in earnest in 2007, with Fitzgerald and his Imagineering team visiting Skywalker Ranch every few weeks to go over progress on what would eventually be known as Star Tours: The Adventures Continue.
"It was like the ultimate master class," Fitzgerald said.
They settled on a time frame between the prequels and the original trilogy that allowed storytellers access to all the iconic characters and locations in the film series.
Changes to the story line would start from the moment visitors entered the attraction queue, with the Starspeeder vehicle reverse-engineered into an older model to reflect the new time period.
As visitors traveled further into the queue they’d notice the preshow had grown twice as long to allow for deeper storytelling.
"It was always a simple story to me," Fitzgerald said. "It was 'Star Wars' plus going to the airport equals Star Tours."
In the inspection area, new safety equipment would allow "droids" to peer inside luggage and conduct thermal scans of passengers. In a reprisal of a role from 1987, Fitzgerald once again voiced one of the luggage droids for the new attraction.
But the biggest changes came onboard the ride, which now featured 54 possible story combinations.
"The way I describe it is like a storytelling slot machine with four wheels," Fitzgerald said. "It's completely randomized. You never know where you're going."
On each journey, riders now experience:
* One of two launch sequences where they encounter Darth Vader or a stormtrooper
* One of three detours to the “Star Wars” planets of Hoth, Kashyyyk or Tatooine
* One of three emergency transmissions from Princess Leia, Yoda or Admiral Ackbar
* One of three finales on Coruscant, Naboo or the Death Star
Along the way, depending on the story line, there are cameo appearances by Boba Fett, Jar Jar Binks, Han Solo and Rex, the bumbling pilot droid from the original Star Tours attraction.
Riders wear 3-D glasses throughout the journey as lasers and explosions fill the inside of the Starspeeder cabin in digital surround sound. At one point, a visitor is identified as a rebel spy and chaos naturally ensues – complete with high-speed chases, near misses and a successful conclusion.
An identical version of the ride is set to officially debut Friday at Disney'sHollywood Studios inFlorida.
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