Did the original version of “Star Tours” predict how the Star Wars Saga would play out in “The Force Awakens” & “The Last Jedi” ?

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The original version of Star Tours (which – because the initial iteration of this thrill ride opened at Disneyland Park back on January 9, 1987 – is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year) was many things:

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  • A ground-breaking theme park attraction.
  • A skillful mix of immersive storytelling & (for that time, anyway) cutting-edge technology.
  • Such a densely-packed piece of entertainment that – no matter how many times you’d previously boarded a StarSpeeder 3000 – there are always some fun new detail, something that you’d never noticed before that would then suddenly pop out at you as you watched the original “Star Tours” ride film.
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And speaking of things you may not have noticed before … Did this long-ago collaboration between Walt Disney Imagineering & Lucasfilm actually foreshadow that First-Order-is-determined-to-crush-the-Resistance-and-then-bring-the-New-Republic-to-its-knees storyline which was introduced with 2015’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens and is expected to continue with The Last Jedi come December.

Let’s review the evidence: The original version of “Star Tours” (which – FYI – was almost called “Cosmic Winds” ‘til then-Disney CEO Michael Eisner came up with an even worse name for this motion-based simulator attraction. Which was “Star Rides”) was supposed to be set in the post-Return of the Jedi universe.

That’s actually why C-3PO & R2-D2 (according to the back story that the Imagineers cooked up for “Star Tours”) had sought employment at the Tomorrowland Spaceport. After the Rebel Alliance had defeated the Galactic empire at the Battle of Endor, these two droids were now out of a job. Which is why they then wound up working as astromechs in some maintenance bay repairing StarSpeeder 3000s.

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And the dialogue that C-3PO & R2-D2 would spiel in this section of the original version of “Star Tours” would clearly back up this narrative conceit. Take – for example – what the gold-plated droid would say after that giant video screen in the maintenance bay would run an ad for “ … exclusive tour packages to Hoth.” In response to this video (which mentioned that galactic tourists would soon have the chance to visit “ … the famed Echo Base of the Rebellion forces”), C-3PO was heard to exclaim “Well, you’ll never get me to go back to that iceberg.”

Likewise when an ad for the Endor Express ran on that same giant video screen, the animatronic version of 3PO would either say “Endor? Things have certainly changed since we were last there. I thought we were doomed for sure” OR “I really don’t understand why they’re not sending me on the Endor tour. After all, I am something of a legend with the Ewoks. What with my magic and all.”

And then – when a commercial for “Star Tours” Trek to Tatooine ran – C-3PO was emphatic. “Well, that’s one tour they can keep!,” this droid would state. “I have no intention of getting another case of dust contamination.”

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As you can see, by having 3PO reference places & events that “Star Wars” fans would have only seen / be familiar with if they’d previously watched A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi, Walt Disney Imagineering & Lucasfilm were clearly establishing that “Star Tours” was set post- “Jedi.”

More to the point, given that – in that Special Edition of Return of the Jedi which George Lucas had released in theaters in 1997 to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the original release of Star Wars: A New Hope – people on Bespin, Coruscant, and Tatooine were seen celebrating the defeat of the Empire, it would appear that the Galactic Civil War is now over and that peace has finally come to this outer space place which is so “ … far far away.”

Another interesting little side-note here: According to the back story that the Imagineers created for “Star Tours” backstory, one of the main reasons that this intergalactic travel agency started up in the first place is that – now that the galactic war is finally over – it’s once again safe to travel among the stars. Which is why Star Tours has just begun selling vacation packages / offering excursions to some of the more picturesque planets & moons around the galaxy.

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But – again -- if the galaxy is really now at peace … Why then – in the original version of “Star Tours,” after we barely manage to escape that massive comet after RX-24 blasts our StarSpeeder 3000 right out through its icy side – do we suddenly find ourselves caught in a Star Destroyer’s tractor beam as X-wings & TIE fighters battle all around us?

So what’s the deal with this deep space battle (which will soon have Rex saying “I’ve always wanted to do this” as he joins a ragtag group of Republic pilots who are making a run on the Death Star III. So that – just like Luke Skywalker did – they can then & take out this planet-sized killing machine by firing two proton torpedoes down its exhaust port) ? If peace has now come to the entire galaxy thanks to the fall of the Empire, why then does Red Leader – after he sees your StarSpeeder 3000 caught in that Star Destroyer’s tractor beam – say “Star Tours?! What are you doing here? This is a combat zone! it’s restricted!”

So what exactly is going on here? Why this deliberate deviation from the conclusion that George Lucas had so carefully crafted for the original “Star Wars” trilogy? Long story short: The Imagineers wanted “Star Tours” to recreate some of the more memorable moments from A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi. And the No. 2 choice on WDI’s wish list for this attraction was to give Guests the sensation of “ … riding along with Luke as he flies through that trench and tries to blow up the Death Star.”

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“And what was WDI’s No. 1 choice?,” you ask. According to Mark Eades (i.e., the Imagineering vet who was not only media producer on the original version of “Star Tours” but also the person who did much of the initial research when Disney was first considering adding motion-based simulator attractions to its theme parks), the Star Wars-related experience that the Imagineers most wanted to give Disneyland guests was to put them in the Millennium Falcon and then give them the chance to fly along with Han Solo & Chewbacca.

Better yet, to cap off this experience, WDI wanted people to be able to exit the Falcon and then find themselves in that cantina in the Mos Eisley Spaceport. Where – if they liked – these theme park visitors could then grab a drink with the residents of that “ … wretched hive of scum and villainy.”

Mind you, back in the early 1990s, this Millennium Falcon-based ride idea got dropped largely because of hourly capacity concerns. That’s actually why the Imagineers came up with the concept of the StarSpeeder 3000. Which was basically this space bus which allows 40 people at a time to travel to Tatooine, Endor, or Hoth. Which is what then solved WDI’s hourly capacity concerns for this “Star Wars” -inspired attraction.

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Interestingly enough, one of the centerpiece attractions that the Imagineers have designed for those Star Wars Lands that are now being built at Disneyland Park & Disney’s Hollywood Studios (and – if all goes according to plan -- should open to the public in the late Spring / early Summer of 2019) is a ride that will then allow theme park visitors to fly the Millennium Falcon. So as you can see, no good idea ever really dies at WDI.

Anyway … So why then did “Star Tours” step away from that peace-has-finally-come-to-the-galaxy storyline that George Lucas had initially established with the ending of the original 1983 version of Return of the Jedi and then re-enforced with the Special Edition of that Richard Marquand movie in 1997? It was largely done because the Imagineers really wanted Disneyland Guests to feel the thrill of flying thru that trench on the Death Star, doing just as Luke did in A New Hope. And because Lucas had been a long-time fan of the Happiest Place on Earth (How long? George’s family first visited Disneyland Park on July 18, 1955. Which was the very first day that this theme park was open to the public), he decided to disregard the storyline that he’d already established for the Star Wars Saga and let WDI have its way with this motion-based simulator ride.

Mind you, the purists always grumbled about this departure from Star Wars canon. Until – of course – Star Wars: The Force Awakens arrived in theaters back in December of 2015. And what did this J.J. Abrams movie reveal? A galaxy that looked an awful lot like the one that Disney theme park visitors had previously seen whenever they’d ridden the original version of “Star Tours.” Where the Galactic Empire – now reconstituted as the First Order – continued to do battle with the Rebel Alliance.

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So should Disney’s Imagineers be applauded for having predicted where the Star Wars Saga might go in the future? Or did the guys at WDI just catch a lucky break when they were crafting a storyline for the original version of “Star Tours” ?

I’ll leave that for the truly hardcore Star Wars fans -- who are no doubt celebrating today (May 4th AKA Star Wars Day. As in “May the Fourth be with you”) by knocking back a glass of blue milk – to decide that one.

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