Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Best Double Preview in Full Effect

Released really recently: an in-line advertisement for Star Tours II that you'll be watching as you wait to ride Star Tours II.

Do you know what I think it all means, these three different destinations? That the ride will offer different routes, different experiences. Perhaps selected by the riders? Hopefully so, but don't everyone always vote for Bespin, I want to eventually see Alderaan.

Wait, nevermind. Who would vote for Bespin?

Seeing this Star Tours II previewy thing I thought it might be time to share something with those of you who read the blog and don't just glance at the pictures.

When I made my Disneyland post so many months ago I wrote: "If you've seen any of my previous Disney posts, you know they can get verbose. Where are all the words in this post? Trust me . . . some words are coming. Not today, not tomorrow, but someday, there will be words." Anyway, that wasn't a lie. Someday there will be words about that trip, and there will be a lot of them . . . far too many, in fact. I've been working on the post since the middle of June. Presently it is 8000 words long and so, so far from being done.

But today seems like a good day to post an excerpt. Here is the just about finished Star Tours portion of the post:

Aside from jealousy and curiosity, I had one more reason for coming on the Disney trip.

I needed to ride Star Tours.

When Star Tours opened in 1987, it was born into Star Wars-starved world. We were four years (might as well have been forty years) out from Jedi without prequels even whispered of, without Kenner toys on shelves, without new Ewok Adventure films, without anything. Star Tours was the first and only fresh taste or evidence of the viability of Star Wars in the universe and it was welcomed and revered like a gift from Mt. Olympus. From Chicago I fixated on news of the ride’s opening, where the park stayed open for sixty hours straight just to meet demand for this ride and fantasized about what dreams it could hold.

On my first Disneyland visit in the Star Tours era I waited twice in lines of the hour and a half/two hour variety—first with my family, then the second time on my own. I was a ten year old chicken who refused to ride roller coasters and was too shy to buy his own comic books but Star Wars enters the equation and suddenly I’m willing to spend two hours in the company of total strangers for another go at a thrill-ride. My first ride was a revelation . . . the hour and a half wait was just about how much time I needed to take in everything there was to see while in the line: a simulated Star Tours spaceport with C3P0 and R2D2 bickering in the first room and a couple of droids making conversation in the next room; then the ride itself was a transcendental, transporting experience for my dweebish heart. To be placed in the midst of the Star Wars universe, to charge through this galaxy so far, far away . . . it was more than tens of thousands of people just like me could ever ask for.

Nearly as thrilling as the subject of the ride was its nature. It was a simulator ride, and at the end of the 80’s, simulator rides were emerging as the obvious direction for the thrillrides of the future and Star Tours exemplified this new technology at its early height. To think that all our shaking, diving, zooming, halting, twisting and turning was happening with our Star Speeder 3000 remaining in the same place . . . this step towards the future was intrinsically exciting no matter what was on the screen. And with the contemplation of the nature of the simulator ride came the realization: If this ride has no track, if it is just a film plus motion, then . . . couldn’t the film be changed? And the ride reprogrammed? Couldn’t Star Tours be updated to feature new adventures? Like every year or two? It was a topic deserving of the enthusiastic lunchroom conversations dedicated to it.

Time passed, and Star Wars returned to the world. The original trilogy was updated and rereleased in 1997, then the prequels began coming out in 1999. Star Wars novels filled Waldenbooks around the country, disappointing Star Wars videogames began to be released regularly, and toy stores became rotten with more versions of Star Wars toys than I could have ever dreamed of in my prime toy-buying years. And while all this was happening, Star Tours and the simulator ride phenomenon began to feel a little dated and then, not much later, very dated. This attraction that once attracted throngs now sat at the gates of Tomorrowland as unpopular as the Journey Thru Innerspace ride it had replaced. Anyone curious about this pre-Phantom Menace era attraction could walk right on, as I did until I lost interest completely. The last time I rode it, in 2001 or maybe 1998, the ride was definitely looking like Disney hadn’t been keeping up on their famous upkeep with it—video monitors were burnt out, everything looked like it could use a new coat of paint, castmembers seemed especially bored. And the ride itself came across as not particularly thrilling. I just felt like my chair was being leaned forward sometimes and leaned backwards other times . . . as that was what was happening, afterall. It left me with no need to return, no compulsion to run right back in line for a second ride.

But in 2009 the news we were expecting around 1989 but may have given up on around 1999 was finally announced: Star Tours was getting its update. Not just with a new trip, but a trip that would be displayed in high definition 3D along with an overhaul of the speeders and the venue. Star Tours as I had known it would cease to exist on July 27th and I could feel in my guts that I would regret not having at it one more time before then. When I heard of my family’s impending Disney trip, I recognized an opportunity that needed jumping at.

Cory and Blake were the only other members of the group interested in taking a ride (Mom still vulnerable to terrible dizziness from these sorts of things, the rest of the girls apparently not terrible enthused by the notion of a Star Wars ride) and, although I expected a crowd of other sentimental visitors making their farewell visits, we slipped into the near empty ride building with only a handful of other guests. We cruised through the line almost too quickly for me to snap a picture of 3P0 and R2 in the first room and weren't held up until the end of the second room by the simple matter of "the-line-cannot–go-anywhere-if-all-the-speeders-are-in-use." While Blake took it all in with the proper wide-eyedness it deserved but I could no longer give it, Cory remarked to me about how much the talking droids in there looked like Johnny Five from Short Circuit, and I agreed, because they did. The woman in front of us, a member of my age group turned, around and asked, “Oh my gawwd, do you remember this thing when it opened? The lines were soooo long and now there’s nobody in here. This used to be so cool!” I agreed with her and told her I had just been thinking the exact same thing, because I had.

Approaching the ride I had been deeply curious about what the experience would hold but possessed little genuine hope of being entertained or—if it were even possible—impressed. Honestly, I think I expected to feel a little embarrassed by it. The night before, amongst my California friends, we spoke of Star Tours like a worn-out old pet. Not as fun as it used to be and a little depressing to have around, but all those loveable memories of the early years! But when we were brought to stand before the doors that would soon open to our Star Speeder, I realized something was happening. They play this safety video on the monitors above you while you’re waiting to go featuring Star Wars aliens along with normal Disney visitors sitting down on the ride and fastening their seatbelts, being reminded not to take flash photos or smoke—and it was doing it for me. The light Star Wars humor was doing it for me, I was pleasantly tickled by it all. And then I realized something: I was excited. I was so, so excited for Star Tours. When the doors finally swung open, we took seats in the very front of the ride and I couldn't believe it but I caught myself thinking to myself "Sweet! Front row!" I watched Cory make sure Blake was buckled in. He moved his be-spectacled head about, looking at this, looking at that, his mouth a little agape as it ought to be. I took a picture. I took pictures of everything. I focused my camera on where the view screen would be so I could take pictures during the ride. I had leapt into full geek-uncle mode.

The castmember that had boarded us consulted the onboard safety panel to make sure all seatbelts were fastened then shut the doors. On a video screen our robot pilot, Captain Rex (on his first day of duty as it always was these last 23 years) greeted us before lowering the blast shield in front to reveal his physical form and the front viewport (movie screen) through which we would watch our adventure. At the moment the view was of the hangar of wherever it is that Star Tours depart from, and we begin our trip to Endor with a sudden wrong turn that plummets us down a shaftway before straightening out and heading into space and making the jump to hyperspace. Right into a field of comets, as usual. And then we fly right into a Rebel/Imperial entanglement. Which leads to a Death Star trench run. It is a four minute voyage of wrong turns that always lead right into danger. Death Star dispatched (just like that!) we make a final jump to lightspeed and come out just in time to arrive at . . . I cannot say where, actually. It isn’t clear if we actually make it to Endor or return to where we started, because you land in this hanger (nearly crashing into a fuel truck) without getting a glimpse of where you are or without being welcomed to Endor or anything. Rex raises the blast shield, bids us adieu, and the Star Wars end credit theme swells as exit doors swing open.

I cannot account for my bouts of extreme Disney nostalgia, but I rode the whole thing in churchly silence, grinning from mouse ear to mouse ear, and struggling with an asteroid-sized lump in my throat. Was it Star Wars? Or was it that I might as well have been riding beside my ten year old self? The past isn’t so far away, memories of feelings pierced right through the twenty three-year gap, and I accepted the adventure. So much. I do want to go on a trench run, I do want to fight with the Rebel Alliance. I do. I want to learn the ways of the Force and become a Jedi like my father. I do. Cory and Blake lead the way out of the ride and down into Tomorrowland’s massive primary gift shop while I dabbed conscientiously at the corners of my eyes. No one, no one could see me choked up over Star Tours. In a post-hyperspace daze I tried to make sense of statuettes of Chewbacca with Goofy’s face, Lego playsets without number, Yoda knapsacks, and make your own Light Saber stations, wondering what sort of Wonderland I had stumbled into.

I'm hoping to have the whole Disneyland post finished by the middle of September. We'll see.


M said...

being risk-averse and susceptible to marketing ploys, my first choice would be alderaan since it is the "safest planet in the universe"

btw, i'm now nostalgic for star tours myself. and rex. forgot about him.

M said...

btw2, new hope, empire strikes back and return of the jedi were on tv last weekend. i dvr'd them (a little silly since i also own them) and i'm so looking forward to a marathon viewing in the very near future...

Brigham said...

Ha! We caught a lot of that marathon this weekend, it really brought my apartment together. And now that you've got them DVR'd in HD you don't have to wait until next fall for the blurays!

Anonymous said...

As an additional insight into the genuine leap forward Star Tours represented circa 1987, you might want to briefly review U.S. patents 5,021,954, 5,161,104, and 5,277,662.

English said...

"The ride will offer different routes, different experiences."

So it will finally be as it obviously always should have been.

I remember seeing the interstellar travel ads in line and wondering, if they could have possibly been brilliant and kind enough to offer more than one destination/ride/film/experience. They were not.

Come on, even the temple switches it up.