Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Leave Star Tours alone.

5/30/11 EDIT: It's been nigh two years since writing this post, and the ride has been completed and is being opened currently. My opinion at this time is less reactionary and disappointed, and more apathetic - and early reports are that the new ride is "just fine," or "amazing," depending on who you ask. I'm not going to boycott it or anything like that, I'm not a "for the sake of it" sort of hill-battler. I'll always treasure the original, and hopefully YouTube bootlegs remain accessible for the forseeable future.

I feel I come on too strong in this post. But rather than deleting it and re-writing history, I simply addend - here, at the beginning - and let you make of my old opinion what you will.


Hey everybody, Teague here.

Last week, SlashFilm reported that Star Tours was officially being re-imagined. In the spirit of the prequels (and hopefully to the same overwhelmingly positive response from fans), the ridefilm adventure that has been installed at Disneyland since 1987 is to be stricken and rebuilt into a brand new adventure, with a brand new CG destination, as yet undisclosed. As I cannot find any reason think otherwise, I currently operate under the impression that this means the original film and motions will be replaced wholesale with a new experience.

Most will probably continue in their lives unhindered by this news; another repetition-worn rolling of the eyes in George’s direction, maybe, the same shake of the head at the continued fingering of what used to inspire you. The revelation that Star Tours is to be disassembled and replaced with a prequel probably doesn’t affect many of the remaining fans in any specific way.

I am one to whom it does.

The actions of George Lucas spanning the gap between this year and 1997 seem to indicate he is of the opinion that he really, seriously does not owe me anything. (As many have said, we’re the ones who see his movies, and this attitude on his part may be unfounded.) (To say the, you know, complete fucking least.) Arguments so levied, it is still the case: we got the Special Edition releases, and then we got the prequels.

Astounding, the impact of what is contained in such a small sentence. It took you two seconds to process the information that Star Wars was raped right in front of you. Two seconds to review what took an excruciating ten years to experience. We walk away from it with little more than the cold, awkward understanding that this all means more to us than it does to him – and for many, that fire of love and inspiration that came at the hand of Star Wars has shrunk to an ember, and for some, one which has long since burnt out.

I was one for whom it hadn’t. Because I had freaking Star Tours.

As far back as I can remember, Disneyland has been a part of my life. My first memory is one of Disneyland, getting popcorn next to the outdoor cafeteria in Tomorrowland. (In that plaza at the foot of Space Mountain, next to where Captain E.O. used to be and Honey I Shrunk the Audience now is.) (Unfortunately.) The same day I rode Star Tours, and fell completely in love.

I ran all the way down the ramp, past the vacation posters depicting Tatooine and Dagobah, through the Star Wars store you have to walk through after exiting the ride – completely oblivious to the tall, shiny helmeted black suit man and the little green guy with giant ears – and back outside, in front of the ride, to see if I could see the next ship taking off and going out to space. I always just missed it, my five year old brain reasoned, and I’d try to run back outside faster the next time. It was the reason to go to Disneyland.

My mom later told me that they had made a whole movie out of Star Tours. My five year old brain reasoned, again, this time that I could pop in the movie and watch it from the plush rocking chair in our living room, and just rock the chair around to simulate the movements of the ship. Alas, it was not Star Tours the movie; it was Star Wars.

Insert the story of everyone’s childhood here. Everyone who saw Star Wars at a young age was completely changed by it, and I came to it through Star Tours.

The ride itself may be the single most impressive optical compositing accomplishment of all time. As with ‘Bohemian Rhapsody,’ it is to this day the most complicated example of its kind, due to a staggeringly complex use of old methods right before the dawn of a new technological era. Over four minutes of continuous, unbroken optical compositing, playing out a wild, first-person dogfight in the Star Wars universe. A seamless experience, every moment visually tied together to form a cohesive stream of events built entirely from the ground up.

Maneuvering through a hangar filled with ships, out into space, leaping into lightspeed and coming back out again, blasting past a moon and into a field of icy comets, one of which you actually tunnel through for several seconds, out the other side into the waiting tractor beam of a Star Destroyer, only to escape into the chaos of space battle, exchanging fire with the massive swarm of spaceships, being chased low across the expansive surface of the Death Star and around into a trench, over and under trusswork, delivering a fatal blow to the battle station before leaping back into lightspeed and nearly crashing upon re-entry to yet another hangar, complete with a live, tracked comp of a flustered technician staring you in the face.

They really did this. In one shot. With models.

Something that has lasted all these years, still unfucked by George Lucas. I’ve almost completely circumvented the feeling of an important connection to your childhood being taken from you in the Special Edition/prequel mess, because…as many changes as he could ever make to the original films, as many horrible sequels he could ever make to lessen their impact, it wouldn’t change Star Tours. For me, Star Tours is what’s really special about Star Wars.

I got a chance to experience the ride for the first time since I was very young a couple of months ago. Not only did it completely hold up for me – an adult, a visual effects artist, a discerning patron of many ridefilm projects in the years since first experiencing Star Tours – it was still a spectacle changing the lives of children, blissfully unaware as I was that they were simply watching an incredible work of art, not actually flying out into the galaxy. If you think I’m being overly wistful, I am, but consider this: a little boy behind me, as much a Calvin as I was at his age, experiencing Star Tours for the first time, actually said “this is SO much better than going to Endor!” upon being detoured into battle.


When it’s gone, it’ll really be gone. In retrospect, I wish I had predicated my entire life on the existence of the original trilogy – at least you can still watch those and try to forget the Special Edition releases and prequels exist. I’m never going to get to experience Star Tours again, and not because the park decided the space it occupies would be better used as a restaurant…but because, as we’ve all learned; Lucas can’t just keep his dick out of the things we love.

Teague Chrystie is a visual FX artist in Hollywood, California.
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