Why the new Star Tours will honor your childhood

News that Disney will revamp the Star Wars-themed rides at Disneyland and Disney World comes as a bittersweet announcement. Yeah, the original "shaking movie box" ride got outdated as soon as Back to the Future: The Ride hit Universal Studios. But I rode Star Tours with my dad when I was 12. I sort of want to take my kids on the same ride. Well, Bruce Vaughn, chief creative executive for Disney Imagineering (the folks who design the theme park rides, among other Disney attractions), assured fans that Star Tours is only getting better.

In the days before home editing software could turn the Star Wars Kid into a real Jedi, Star Tours was the closest you could get to visiting the galaxy far, far away. Just standing in line for the motion-simulator ride, you could watch C-3PO and R2-D2 bicker about the impending visit to Endor. Back in the '80s, Endor was the newest Star Wars world. Now the tour destinations will be updated.

"There's enough love for the existing attraction that we're going to make sure that there is a sense that this is a continuation of that world and that story," Vaughn said in an exclusive interview on Sunday in Anaheim, Calif. "We're not throwing out the whole thing."

The StarSpeeder 3000 that would take us on our Star Tour was really just a mini movie theater. There was a blank screen that would become the front window of the shuttle, thanks to filmed footage of visual-effects miniatures. Before takeoff, however, a new character, RX-24, would introduce the tour as a safety video played on smaller monitors. In this world, both humans and aliens from the Mos Eisley cantina had to wear seatbelts.

"Star Tours is a great concept," Vaughn continued. "It's been a great concept, and it's almost as if the tour company is adding different tours."

The original Tour kept us in space, dodging TIE fighters and destroying the Death Star (which would make it the third destroyed Death Star in Star Wars canon.)

The new Tour promises to take passengers to planet surfaces. "Lucas has been so brilliant at creating so many worlds," Vaughn said in our interview. "We're going to be able to take you to some different worlds."

Now part of the Star Tour will be a pod race from Star Wars: Episode I—The Phantom Menace; Disney Parks and Resorts showed a scene at D23, the Disney fan expo, over the weekend. Tatooine is only the first destination for the new Star Tours.

"We actually showed a clip of the pod race because that's one of those scenes in a movie where you're like, 'I want to go in that pod race.'" Vaughn said during a press conference. "So we're going to deliver on that."

What else? "I'll confirm that in 2011," Vaughn told reporters. "It's going to be great. It's going to be fantastic."

The new Star Tours will be digital, which means they could port some of the old film over and then continue to new worlds before returning to the Disneyland space station.

"It could, yeah," Vaughn conceded in our exclusive chat. "Our capability is pretty expansive."

The new digital Star Tours will also be in 3-D, so you'll really experience the distant planets. As for the fate of our old tour guide, RX-24, Vaughn promised we'd find out more on returning and new characters later.

"You know, we're going to have a little preview center soon at Disneyland, and you'll be able to see some more stuff on that," Vaughn said.

Perhaps the most thrilling part of the ride was the finale. Plowing back into the spaceport, our tour would skid to a halt just short of crashing into a fuel tank. Hopefully, revamped tour pilots will still be just careless enough to preserve that kitschy homage to action-movie cliches.

"Well, the team has come up with a really great storyline," Vaughn hinted. "You're going to love it. It's going to be great."

Whatever new developments are in store for Star Tours, one thing is certain. The ride must let families out right into the Star Tours gift shop so they can purchase souvenirs of their pod-racing journey.

Star Tours closes in October 2010 for the revamp and will reopen in 2011.

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