One of the most successful attractions for Disney has been Star Tours, an attraction that has been replicated around the world in Disney's theme parks and continues to entertain to this day. But to understand the history of Star Tours at the Disney-MGM Studios, we need to go back across the United States to Disneyland and a project that never got made to find the roots of what became Star Tours. Star Tours’ history can be traced back to Disney’s first attempt at a motion simulator. Disney first proposed a simulator based attraction as part of 1974’s Discovery Bay for Disneyland. The simulator ride would be an underwater adventure with Captain Nemo that would have operated on a motion base. However, in the 1970’s, technology wasn’t advanced enough to accomplish the goal of making that attraction a reality.
The idea for a motion simulator was shelved until 1984 when Frank Wells and Michael Eisner joined the Disney Company in 1984. In 1984, there was a great turmoil of takeover events, and many did not know what was going to happen to The Walt Disney Company. Roy Disney was partly responsible for getting it back on track and working to get Michael Eisner and Frank Wells to join the company. Imagineer Tony Baxter was looking for some new heroes that would enhance the image of Disneyland.
Baxter felt George Lucas was the man. Baxter had been developing an attraction idea that turned out to be Star Tours. Lucas was eager to develop a park attraction and Disney had been working on developing their simulators over the past years since the attempt with Discovery Bay 10 years earlier. Ron Miller was still President of Walt Disney Productions and Baxter went over to Ron and talked to him about it. Miller was uncomfortable partnering with someone from the outside, George Lucas, but he finally decided, "You are right, we need to have the best at Disneyland." So he took his plane up his vineyard inNapa Valley in Northern California. Miller flew Marty Sklar, one other designer and Baxter. George Lucas drove to Ron's house in his car. There, the idea for Star Tours was put down on paper and thought through with the Star Wars element to the attraction that Baxter had been developing all along.
When Michael and Frank came on board, Baxter took it to them and said: "We really need to do this because Disneyland needs to have an attraction based on characters that children today are growing up with. We need a mythology that really touches people's heart, like Walt used to do." Baxter later found the plethora of inspiration to draw upon from the Star Wars universe extremely useful, “"We were fortunate to have such an imaginative mythology to work with," says Baxter.”It made the challenge of expanding it to three dimensions a very exciting and rewarding experience. In some ways we actually had more creative freedom than you would with a feature film.” Eisner was already friend with George Lucas from his days at Paramount Pictures and from the Raiders of the Lost Ark film. Eisner liked the idea and Disney was looking to replace an old attraction in Disneyland, called Adventure Through Inner Space, which had opened in 1967 and by the 1980’s it was look dated. Regardless of plot of a new attraction, Imagineers had blocked out some basic ideas about the physical set-up of the interior of the simulator cabin such as all the seats would face forward toward a giant projection screen, which would serve as the stand-in for the spaceship's windshield. And so Adventures Through Inner Space closed on September 2, 1985 and plans were formulated to fit Star Tours in it’s place.
The plans for Star Tours had to accommodate a new queue, preshow, 4 simulators and an exit area and it all had to fit into the space that Adventures Through Inner Space took up. It wasn’t an easy task for Imagineers, but they managed to squeeze it all in. Design work was well underway by mid 1985, with a projected November 1986 opening. In 1985, Tony Baxter and Walt Disney Imagineering show producer Tom Fitzgerald joined Lucas and a small group of ILM (Industrial Light and Magic) designers at a story session at their Northern California headquarters. George Lucas came up with the idea of a pilot, who turned out to be Rex, the rookie. Rex began as a 'cosmic bus driver,' a counterpart to the wisecracking Jungle Cruise guides at Disneyland. By the next morning, they had the first draft of a concept for "Star Tours.
"Star Tours" would feature scenic tours of the universe aboard the Star Speeder 3000, operated by the first intergalactic tour bus company. R2-D2 and C-3PO would be part of the package, having resigned from military service to find new lives as "Star Tours" recruiter/guides. During the design of the film, the original ride video was estimated to be 20 minutes long. This was reduced to 3 minutes 10 seconds, then increased to 4 minutes to avoid the problem of the ride being too short.
In addition, originally the RX-24 pilot droid was verging on the psychotic. Given that they wanted to give guests a somewhat thrilling ride through the "Star Wars" universe, Imagineers proposed that this new character be called "Crazy Harry." That he be modeled after some burned-outVietnam veteran. The type of guy who'd retire to Hawaii so that he could then give helicopter tours to the tourists. But -- because of all the horrible experiences that he'd been through in the war -- sometimes this character would do somewhat crazy things, unintentionally putting his passengers in peril. Instead, RX-24 was reprogrammed to be a rookie pilot because Rex was meant to be eager and inexperienced, not scary. The intention was not to frighten some guests and wanted the attraction to be enjoyable by all guests. Meanwhile the model shop was busy making the sets ready for shooting with help from Industrial Light and Magic. ILM was Lucas’ company that developed the special effects in the Star Wars films.
Star Tours was shot on 70mm film at 30fps for clear, flicker free images. The film and special effects cost $6 million from ILM. Walt Disney Imagineering built full sized props along with attraction animatronics and supporting cast. Meanwhile, Imagineering were having problems elsewhere as the roof of the showbuilding needed to be unexpectedly raised for the simulators motion. So while construction was being made to lift the roof, it was discovered that the building itself needed serious reconstruction. In addition, the simulators were proving to be difficult to synchronize to the audio tracks. In order to synchronize the audio to the simulators, Walt Disney Imagineering Programmers used a "joystick" to synchronize the movements of the simulator motion base with the point of view actions of the film on a video monitor. The ride music was changed, costing $100,000 and then the buildings façade needed updating. All this lead to costs rising to $30 million, then overrun the budget again to $33 million and the opening of Star Tours slipped back.
By June of 1986, a rough version of "Star Tours" was previewed by 2,000 Disney employees and their families and the reaction was “phenomenal”. Star Tours finally opened in Disneyland on January 9th, 1987, months before the Star Wars 10th anniversary. The ride was a smash hit; So much so that plans were announced for a version of Star Tours to be built in Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, however instead the attraction opened at the Disney-MGM Studios on December 15th, 1989. The version at the Studios (like the versions that would be built around the world as well) had six simulators instead of the four that Disneyland had.
Historical Star Tours Photos, Storyboards and Drawings