Star Tours: The Adventures Continue (AKA Star Tours 2.0) kicked off on May 20, 2011 with hearty fanfare and excitement. Its inauguration kicked off Star War Weekends 2011 at Disney Hollywood Studios, underscoring the expansion of the event’s footprint and perhaps foreshadowing further future expansions of the Star Wars Universe into the Disney park.
The launch of Star Tours also represented a landmark in the Disney Parks continuing interaction with fans. For the first time, Disney offered an official “meet” of the type previously held in California for fans on the East coast. Having given warning via Twitter the night before, the official Disney Parks Blog posted an announcement of the Star Tours meet on May 5. Those interested were to respond by email, and the first 250 respondents were included in the event, each able to bring one guest for a total of 500 attendees.
The evening of the May 19 started out with a media event at Hollywood Studios which finished with an abbreviated version of the Symphony in the Stars fireworks performed at Last tour to Endor. No doubt much of the set up used for one event was carried over into the next.
At 10:45, meet-up attendees began gathering in the parking lot of Blizzard Beach. A long, red carpet had been laid out, and a white Humvee with video screens and speakers was parked between the bus shelters. A pair of DJs asked trivia questions, handed out Disney Social Media pins, and kept upbeat music playing as the guests arrived and checked in. Everyone was asked to sign waivers, since Disney would be photographing and recording the event, and all were given yellow or green wristbands. We were then loaded on busses…and we waited.
In all actuality, the bus wait was fun. When you pack around 100 people, all of whom are Disney lovers, most of whom have blogs and Twitter accounts, in a small space for 30 minutes with their cell phones and ustream feeds, things get…interesting. Nonetheless, when the bus started rolling across darkened roads and then through the backstage area of Hollywood studios, a surge of almost tangible excitement went through the bus.
Guests were welcomed to the meet by a constellation of “planets,” huge, beautifully lit balloons floating above a red carpet and fog-filled white tunnel leading into the park beside Star Tours. The beat of music wafted out through the fog, and Star Wars characters, from the Bith cantina musicians to Jawas lined the carpeted walkway.
Inside the park, the Jedi Training stage had been repurposed as a DJ platform and was occupied by a DJ costumed as a rebel pilot and Stig and Oopla, the the usual hosts of Hyperspace Hoopla. Characters were roaming the crowd with Photopass Photographers, taking pictures with guests. Tables had been set up along the pathways at both sides of the attraction, and long, covered tables offered ice cream, toppings, and drinks to guests.
With all of the characters swarming through the crowd, the set pieces on display, the food, and Star Tours available for unlimited rides the time passed quickly, and Stig and Oopla announced the Q&A with the imagineers. Bree Starliner (a former Adventurer’s Club cast member), the host of the mall preview events run previously around Florida to promote Star Tours, emerged and introduced Kathy Rogers, show producer, and Steve Spiegel, writer for the attraction. The imagineers did a brief interview with Bree, and then Stig and Oopla went into the audience and took questions for them. The Q&A produced a variety of tidbits such as
- Writers went to consult with Lucasfilm about every 3 weeks
- A simulator was built at Imagineering so that developers could ride the attraction over…and over…
- Star Tours 2.0 had been in development since the release of Episode 1 in 2000
- Destinations were partially chosen because of diversity of landscape and the potential for unique, “different” motion experiences
- Many original voice actors were brought back, most notably Frank Oz as Yoda. Oz is usually hesitant, but he remembered such a good experience working on Muppets 3-D that he was willing to return.
- The imagineers chose to “customize” the ride, even having the messages change gender references depending on the gender of the guest chosen as the rebel spy.
- Spiegel finished the session by explaining that the greatest joy of being an imagineer is getting to do everything. No two days of work are the same, no two projects require the same knowledges or skills.
The event continued approximately another hour after that, with seemingly too much to do and see for the time allotted! Around 2 am, the characters began to disappear, and guests were gently filed out of the park and taken back to busses and Blizzard beach.
Overall, the meet was a well produced event. Although its first-come, first-served presentation irritated many, it was actually quite democratic. Social Media (who sponsored the event; most CM tags there were social media) rewarded Twitter followers with a preliminary warning, and the sign up was completely open. There was no charge or prerequisite for the event, which made it quite unique, and the meet was certainly packed with things to entertain guests. Certainly, I believe Disney should offer further events for Annual Passholders and other vested groups to enjoy Star Tours, but overall, I felt the event was a great success. It expressed an interest in East Coast Walt Disney World fans which has seemed lacking recently, and the meet, combined with the spectacular opening ceremonies featuring George Lucas and Bob Iger the following morning turned the spotlight to the sometimes media-neglected Walt Disney World.
- A Look Inside ‘Star Tours – The Adventures Continue’ with Ashley Eckstein (chipandco.com)
- George Lucas and Disney’s Bob Iger Launch Star Tours Attraction at Walt Disney World Resort (chipandco.com)
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