Today, May 14 2011 at 2:35pm, Disney's Hollywood Studios began the very first soft opening previews of the all new "Star Tours - The Adventures Continue" for park guests. Without further delay, it has to be said right away that the new Star Tours is absolutely stunning. I'm even going to go as far as to say that Star Tours is now the best simulator based attraction to be found anywhere. Read on to find out why.
This report is not going to reveal detailed story information, but it will describe a few elements of the attraction that may be considered a spoiler. If you have been following the progression of Star Tours you will likely know these already, but if you do wish to be completely surprised when you visit, stop reading now, or be selective in which paragraphs you read. This report also contains no photos due to the express request of the park. Photography is not yet permitted in the queue area, and will not be possible inside the ride vehicle.
Approaching Star Tours, you'll find the exterior to be largely the same. Only the new signage and attraction marquee tell you that something has changed. Stepping inside, the first change that will be notable is the removal of all the "working set" themeing. You are no longer heading into a soundstage, but instead directly into the Star Tours port. How this relates to the rest of the park is a discussion for another time, but the new theme certainly works better in my opinion.
The first part of the queue area with the Star Speeder 1000 and departure board remains very similar to before in basic layout. The Star Speeder is now the 1000 edition, and the departure board shows all the new destinations in a greatly update display format. The refurbished animatronic C3PO and R2 look fantastic, and the area has been thoroughly refreshed, complete with new carpet, lighting and paint everywhere.
The second part of the queue area has seen probably the most dramatic change. Gone is the droid room, and in comes the security screening checkpoints. The animatronics here are very entertaining, and there are some fantastic visual effects involving luggage and passenger screening. There are so many hidden details here it will take many trips through to uncover them all. There are even nods to the old Star Tours pilot Rex, and Buzz Lightyear.
Moving into the load area, you'll find it has been completely refreshed. All new decor, lighting and displays are in place. The overall effect reminded me somewhat of the new Space Mountain load area, with a bit of Soarin' and Spaceship Earth post show mixed in - think lots of blue overhead mood lighting.
Once the boarding and safety video kicks in on the boarding area display, you know that the old Star Tours is firmly in the past, and things are now looking a lot more 2011. The video display is HD, immaculate looking, yet retains the humor of the old video, whilst adding a lot more new detail. Once the safety video is complete, the load process begins, and is very much the same as before, with guests lining up into seat rows, and boarding the Star Speeder from the side.
Inside the Star Speeder, everything has been refurbished. New seating, new lighting, new audio, and importantly, the most incredible display system I've ever seen in a theme park, or anywhere. Something that gives you a hint of how special this display is are the 3D glasses that you pick up in the boarding area. These are not your typical economy feeling glasses found in other attractions. These things are heavy duty, serious looking glasses - similar to something you might find in an Oakley store.
The ride begins in much the same way as before, with the passengers strapped in, and the pilot being revealed. This time of course, C3PO is our pilot - and in perfect audio-animatronic form. The blast shield slides down revealing what makes Star Tours II so special - the screen. The video display here simply has to be seen to be believed. It is super high resolution, saturated with color, sharp, with absolutely no 3D blur, regardless of where you sit in the cabin. Within seconds of the show starting, you forget you are looking at a screen, and really believe you are looking through the window of the Star Speeder. The 3D is marvelously utilized. Unlike many 3D attractions which I feel tend to overuse the 3D effects, Star Tours uses the 3D to simply recreate a realistic looking scene rather than for shock value - and wow does it deliver. I could talk about this display for a long time, but let us say you have to see it to believe it - it's amazing.
An incredible display is nothing without something pretty spectacular to put on it, and here Industrial Light and Magic and WDI have excelled. The environments spanning all six movies are absolutely spectacular. The detail that brings the story to life is all there as your race through them at high speed in your Star Speeder. Fans of Star Wars are going to delight at the details (and humor) found here. There is so much to look at that you'll need hundreds of rides to take it all in. It is clear that a large budget and massive amounts of time went into producing the imagery of the attraction, which really is the cornerstone to this experience.
The next trick that Star Tours has up its sleeve is a killer feature, and something that will keep guests coming back time after time. Unlike the old Star Tours that had just one storyline, the new Star Tours has 54 story combinations, which are chosen by the ride system at random. This gives the ride massive re-ridability, with guests having the quest to try and see all the combinations and destinations. The switching of story-paths is very cleverly done and seamless. The story-lines even make use of a rider in the Star Speeder through some great imaging technology - it is not overdone, and fits perfectly. Also unlike before, the new version features many characters who take part in the story from all six of the Star Wars movies.
As you know, Star Tours is a motion base simulator, and WDI have also enhanced things here with the new Star Tours. The motion feels incredibly well timed to the visuals, very dynamic and realistic feeling, and most importantly for many riders, not a hint of feeling motion sick. This simulator experience gels the motion with the video better than anything else I have experienced. The motion programmers deserve special applause for their achievements on this.
Ride time for the attraction is the same as before, at around 4 minutes and 30 seconds from show start to stop, with the ride concluding similar to before with a successful(ish) landing.
It has been over 10 years in the making, and many Disney and Star Wars fans had given up hope of ever seeing a refresh to the classic attraction. Today with the introduction of "Star Tours - The Adventures Continue", fans can enjoy a cutting edge attraction fully worthy of the Star Wars universe. I think it is safe to say this will become the new "must-ride" attraction at Walt Disney World, and will do great things for the attendance at Disney's Hollywood Studios. Dare I even say, the new rope-drop FASTPASS rush will be a charge to Star Tours instead of Toy Story Mania.
Congratulations to Tom Fitzgerald, everyone at Walt Disney Imagineering, and of course George Lucas and Industrial Light and Magic for their achievements on this new attraction - the bar has been raised yet again.
Star Tours officially opens on May 20 at midday. Like today, soft opening previews are possible and expected on the run-up to the 20th, but there are no guarantees it will be open. If you are heading to a preview, good luck, and may the force be with you.
If you have ridden new Star Tours you can leave your review on our review page here
. To discuss the ride and see even more reviews, visit our Star Tours threads on our forum here
For a look back at all the Star Tours news and pre-opeing information, go here.
May 14, 2011 / 6:00pm EDT