Disneyland officially opened its version of the new Star Tours ride this morning, with an opening ceremony featuring Darth Vader, Stormtroopers and Disney Parks chairman Tom Staggs, but no George Lucas.
If The Little Mermaid ride stumbles a bit the more you think about its plot hole, Star Tours: The Adventure Continue just grows stronger the more you think about it. Truly, this is a radical attraction, and I'm don't mean that in surfer-speak.
Try this scenario: You're in an airport, awaiting a flight. You wind your way through the security agency lines, eventually making your way onto your aircraft. But before you can take off, security forces stop your flight. A suspected terrorist is on board one of the planes, and the authorities are looking for him.
Turns out, this anti-government terrorist is on your flight. But before the authorities can apprehend him, his compatriots take over the plane, flying him (and you) out of the airport. You land in a far-away land, where another anti-government leader orders you to fly on to a rendezvous point. You evade the authorities once more, then are greeted by members of the anti-government alliance, who welcome you as one of their own.
"Remember, the [authorities are] always watching," they warn.
Chilling? Perhaps. But welcome to the new Star Tours - this is the ride's plot.
The droid factory in the old queue is gone, replaced by a checkpoint run by the "DSA" (the Droid Security Agency). You even walk past a ghostly negative projection of others in the queue (and eventually, you), evoking the infamous "backscatter" machines now in U.S. airports.
All in snarky fun, perhaps. But by juxtaposing modern security theater within the context of the Star Wars universe, Disney's Imagineers have challenged riders to think a bit more than they might be used to in a theme park. Uh, just whose side are we supposed to be on here?
Why, the rebels, of course. Star Tours: The Adventures Continue not only exceeds its predecessor with superior high-definition 3-D projection and a smoother ride, it engages the rider as an active participant in the narrative, in a way that the the old version of the ride never did. Then, we were just a passenger, helplessly along for the ride as Captain Rex stumbled across the universe. Now, we are driving the action. One of us is the rebel spy. By the end of the ride, we've all become members of the Rebel Alliance. We are the ones doing something now, not Captain Rex. (Who, by the way, is packed up for shipment back in the ride's queue. Just look for the droid with the "Defective" sticker affixed.)
George Lucas' Star Wars long has won praise for its stunning visuals and special effects. And the new Star Tours lives up to that standard. But Lucas also snuck in some prescient social commentary in Star Wars film. (Gee, a government leader lying to create a fake justification for war? When would that ever happen?) It's nice to see a touch of that subversiveness on display in the new Star Tours, too.
After all, Lucas always taught us to root for the rebels.
Update: Here are a couple photos I shot as the crowd gathered before the ceremony:
Local TV personality Sam Rubin chats up a slightly confused (isn't he always?) Darth Goofy before the show. You're not a superhero, Goofy. The underwear goes inside the pants.
Fans queued up back and forth in front of the Plaza Inn, out into and around the Hub.
By the time the ceremony was over, the queue filled the Hub, and was beginning to spill into Main Street. Some cast members were claiming a five-hour wait, but the longest report I've heard from someone in the back of that line at that moment was three-and-a-half hours.
Finally, here's Disneyland's cute commercial for Star Tours. This is the longer, online-only version:
FWIW, the music is the most brilliant thing about this video. It's "Imperial March" throughout, but with a very Disney spin.
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