DHS Awareness: Imagineering the New Star Tours

Welcome back to Hollywood Studios Awareness Week! On our recent cruise aboard the Disney Magic, James and I were lucky enough to attend 2 presentations by Jason Surrell from Walt Disney Imagineering.  Welcome James back as he discusses Jason Surrell’s work on the newly redesigned Star Tours: The Adventures Continue.

Some background:  Jason Surrell, a Senior Show Writer for WDI, worked on the original concept and story for the new Star Tours attraction in Disney’s Hollywood Studios. While he worked on drafts of the attraction script, he shifted to Creative Entertainment during the process and returned to work on pre-show commercials and the C3PO and R2 dialogue. Steve Spiegel was the lead Show Writer on Star Tours and Tom Fitzgerald served as Creative Director.

And the geeks shall inherit the earth.

That was basically how Jason Surrell began his recent presentation aboard the Disney Magic on his role as senior show writer for Star Tours: The Adventures Continue.  Surrell had given a presentation earlier in the cruise on his involvement in “The Art of Marvel’s The Avengers” and he proudly wore his geekdom on his sleeve.  One of the most striking themes I took from both presentations was that it takes a stratospheric level of uber-fanboy geekiness to successfully design and complete an attraction like Star Tours or a film like The Avengers, especially considering the immense backstories, mythologies, and fan dedication they both possess.

Surrell may be a senior show writer and show director for Walt Disney Imagineering, but he’s just an easygoing guy from Cleveland. For what felt like a very fast hour on the Magic, he gave an insightful and informative talk on the history of Star Tours, past and present.

A few nifty nuggets:

  • The original Star Tours was developed because Michael Eisner and Frank Wells wanted a marquee attraction that could be developed quickly.  Since the Imagineers had already planned a flight simulator type ride for MGM Studios, they were able to easily put together a Star Wars-themed film to complete the attraction.
  • The Ewok village and AT-AT Walker at the front of the attraction were deliberately designed to look like movie props and set pieces to fit the theme of the park area as a studio backlot. 
  • However, once you step inside you are supposed to be transported into a functioning starport and directly become a part of the story, thereby removing the backlot element established in the exterior area. 
  • There are approximately 40 different ride combinations in the new ride.
  • Surrell and the team decided to set the time period for The Adventures Continue as roughly Episode 3.5, set after Anakin’s fall from grace and rise as Darth Vader in Episode 3 and before the maturity of Luke and Leia as rebels in Episode 4.  This way, Surrell explained, the ride could appeal to fans of both the old and new trilogies, noting that many younger fans have grown up with and are deeply attached to the new prequel films and the Clone Wars animated series.
  • Surrell was initially skeptical of using Hoth as a setting, since the historical canon meant that the Empire wouldn’t even have known that the rebels were on Hoth during the time period that the new ride is set in, and therefore they wouldn’t have Walkers there.  However, Surrell was overruled by – of all people – George Lucas, whose response was, “Who cares?”
  • One aspect the team really tried to improve upon was the use of the motion simulator technology for more than just travel, such as how Vader’s force grip shakes the ride vehicle.
  • The team had planned to include the speeder battle on Endor from Return of the Jedi as one of the scenes, but the issue of continuity came up again; with the ride being Episode 3.5, there would be no reason for the rebels to be battling the Empire on Endor.  Eventually they decided to use the same basic premise but set the scene on Kashyyyk, the Wookiee homeworld, at the suggestion of Pixar’s John Lasseter. 
  • If you watch the baggage screening monitors in the pre-show queue, you may be able to spot some Disney related items.  I don’t think I’ve ever actually stopped to watch this myself, and Surrell didn’t mention what items were featured, so we should all make it a point to check this out on our next trip.
  • While planning the redesign, the Imagineers agreed that they wanted to change the pilot, but couldn’t decide who to use to replace Captain Rex, who is now in a bin along the queue line with a tag stating he is, indeed, “defective.”  They were planning to create an entirely new character until George Lucas himself said that he liked the original ride’s bumbling, unlikely pilot because it was funnier. Tom Fitzgerald, Creative Director, suggested using C-3PO, the biggest bumbler in the Star Wars universe, instead of creating a brand new personality.
  • Bonus tid-bit: Another continuity issue was discovered when the gift shop “Tattooine Traders” opened in 1999.  Surrell decided to have the name written in Aurebesh, a fictional language from the Star Wars universe, above the English sign.  Unfortunately, Aurebesh is an Imperial language which would not have been present on Tattooine as there was no Imperial presence there. Again, the team ultimately decided, “who cares?” because the language was official. (Of course the diehard fans loved the addition of the Aurebesh but immediately wondered if it made sense because the Empire was not on Tattooine.)

Listening to Surrell’s presentation, it was obvious that he and his team put a tremendous amount of effort and love into creating The Adventures Continue.  Surrell’s glee at being a Star Wars fan who got to write and develop the ride shone through his entire presentation and is easily apparent to everyone who experiences the attraction.  It’s not perfect, of course; no WDW attractions are.  But as a diehard Star Wars fan, I can say that I truly love The Adventures Continue and somewhere behind those 3D glasses, I may have shed a tear or two.  Thanks, Jason.

4 thoughts on “DHS Awareness: Imagineering the New Star Tours

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