May the force be with you, Star Tours

It was December, 1986.  I was working as a shopgirl at Bullock’s in Westwood.  I believe it was a Monday, three weeks before Christmas, and I headed to Disneyland with three of my colleagues, who were also good friends.  Now, as many of you know, I am something of an aficionado of Disney theme parks – a mild obsession which had started after my sadly short-lived role as a toy soldier in the Main Street Electrical Parade the previous summer (the entire platoon of toy soldiers was cut from the parade the night before the first performance of the season – apparently, we sucked at being toy soldiers…) But I had a couple of good friends who worked at the park and I was well-versed in Disney lore, past, present and future…

So, as we ambled through the park, I entertained my friends with tales of Disney little known to the uninitiated (e.g. the half-basketball court located in the Matterhorn; the location of Walt’s apartment in the park; the affection with which cast members referred to the park as the “Crappiest Place on Earth). And, then, as we passed from the park’s hub at the end of Main St. USA into Tomorrowland, I started to tell them about a rumored-to-be amazing new attraction, a Star-Wars-themed simulation of a trip through outer space…  But just as I began to describe what I’d heard, I stopped short – for there in front of me was the new Star Tours ride (taking over the space previously home to Adventure Through Inner Space presented by Monsanto, a.k.a. the Shrinking Machine).  But it was no longer boarded up; there were no signs announcing “Coming soon!”  The ride was, in fact, open for business – apparently they were testing it out on the guests, since the official opening date wasn’t for another month. And since there’d been no major publicity about Star Tours yet, most other guests had no clue what it was and simply walked past, eager to board the Rocket Jets or Space Mountain.

I believe it was at this point, I screamed like a girl, then followed with a shouted “Oh my god!  It’s open! Everybody run! Don’t ask questions, just run! Run like the wind! Hurry! HURRY!”  We zipped through the elaborately-themed pre-boarding area, as there was no line whatsoever – I didn’t even have time to appreciate the appearance of C-3PO and R2D2 bickering with one another; the giant timetable announcing flight times for various departures to destinations such as Tatooine and Hoth; the busy star speeder repair shop (all marvelously executed, of course – and they would make waiting in line once the ride was officially open an enjoyable part of the experience).

We reached the boarding area, watched the “pre-flight” instructional video and boarded our craft.  Now for those of you who don’t know, Star Tours is a simulator – passengers are seated in a craft that moves on hydraulics in concert with a film of a flight through space, including a battle with TIE fighters and completing a mission to destroy the Death Star.  And in 1986, it was the complete shit.  I still remember walking off of that ride, literally slack-jawed and speechless at how fantastically excellent the ride had been.  Of course, this only lasted a minute or two – at which point I then started screaming, “Oh my god! Run! RUN! We have to go on again before anyone else finds out about this. RUN! RUUUUNNNNN!!!”

I have many, many happy memories of Disneyland, but this one is indelible – not only a really amazing experience, but getting to do it before anyone else had even heard of it, let alone ridden it.  So, it was with some sadness that I greeted the news that Star Tours is being shut down for a year – it’ll be back, with new and improved technology, a new space adventure and 3-D.  And I’m sure it’ll be excellent – I’ve been on the ride in the not too recent past and it absolutely feels dated compared to some of the other attractions that have come along since then…  But my fondness for the ride has never ebbed.  In some ways, it is emblematic of everything I love about the Disney parks – every single component of the attraction, from the ride itself to the most seemingly insignificant details of the “spaceport” theme (gate change announcements, revised ETAs, instructions on where to stow one’s luggage once aboard) all come together to create a truly immersive adventure through space.  As I say anytime I visit a Disney park, they never do anything half-way – it’s either perfect or it’s not done at all.

Gosh, I suppose this means I may have to make a pilgrimage to Anaheim, just for one last ride on Star Tours…  Though I certainly never need much convincing to take a trip to Disneyland…

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