Star Tours makeover at Disney World gives 'Star Wars' fans 54 ways to geek out

Star Wars characters celebrate the opening of the revamped Star Tours motion simulator at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

SCOTT KEELER | Times

Star Wars characters celebrate the opening of the revamped Star Tours motion simulator at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

ORLANDO

For the first time ever, you're going to be happy — even ecstatic, if you're an unabashed Star Wars dork — to see that floppy-eared annoyance Jar Jar Binks appear onscreen.

After 22 years of Starspeeder 3000 flights to the moon of Endor, the Star Tours motion simulator (in layman's terms, watching a movie in a rumble seat) at Disney's Hollywood Studios was in desperate need of interstellar juice. The ride was wheezy, pallid, out of date, which just doesn't happen on George Lucas' tech-savvy watch.

So Walt Disney World Imagineers and the Star Wars brain trust, which released three more movies since the ride first opened, have rebooted the thrills, filming new sequences in 3-D (coolest theme park 3-D glasses ever) and souping up the queue by adding a new spokesbot, Aly San San, voiced by Allison Janney. The "motion" part doesn't change much — and those cabins are still drab and gray — but the ride is definitely improved. It officially opened Friday.

Star Tours' original story line took place after Return of the Jedi, technically the sixth flick in the series; the reimagined attraction is set in the past, between Revenge of the Sith, the third, and A New Hope, the fourth.

If that last sentence just read as "Blah blah I hate geeks blah blah," don't fret — you'll still have fun even if you don't know the difference between a Wookiee and a W'iiri.

The new vehicle is a Starspeeder 1000, but there's nothing retro about the makeover. A ho-hum RX-24 droid was your old pilot; in constantly moving animatronic glory, an exceptionally shiny C-3PO, as always voiced by Anthony Daniels, sits with you, taking guests on a possible 54(!) adventures — all random, like the new Tower of Terror variations — with enough Easter eggs and winky references to appease the obsessives in Star Wars Nation.

I rode the new Star Tours twice. My first trip, in which I was seated in the third row of the enclosed capsule, was just okay, too similar to the old ride: We flew to the ice planet Hoth, zipping under a crumbling Imperial Walker. There was also bang-bang Boba Fett action and a Darth Vader appearance. Nice, but a little disappointing considering all the current hullabaloo.

My second ride was altogether different — and altogether awesome. I sat in the front row (which is key), right by C-3PO. The highlight was an underwater journey to Naboo, home of the much-maligned Jar Jar Binks, who makes a quick cameo. If the Naboo scene was clunky at the cineplex, it's a 3-D dream here, including a final battle with beasties that is ridiculously cool.

Drooly chatter in the gift-shop exit was all about "Did you go to Bespin?" "Did you see Yoda?" and so on. It's safe to assume that Star Wars fanatics will spend days, weeks, lifetimes "collecting" all 54 ride variations. To tell you the truth, I wouldn't mind seeing that lil' green guy, either.

. If you go:
Hollywood Studios

If you go: The single-day admission to Disney's Hollywood Studios: $82, $74 ages 3-9, 2 and younger free. Check for Florida resident discounts and package deals at disneyworld.disney.go.com/parks/hollywood-studios/. Opens at 9 a.m. every day. Hollywood Boulevard, Lake Buena Vista; (407) 939-6244.

Star Wars Weekends: The annual weekends for die-hard fans include the Jedi Training Academy and celebrity appearances. This weekend has Ashley Eckstein (voice of Ahsoka Tano in Star Wars: The Clone Wars), James Arnold Taylor (voice of Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars: The Clone Wars), Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), Bruce Spence (Tion Medon) and Dee Bradley Baker (voice of Captain Rex in Star Wars: The Clone Wars). Included with daily admission. Continues through June 12.

Video: Get a look at the ride and see Sean Daly chat with Anthony Daniels (C-3PO) at tampabay.com/themeparks.

Star Tours makeover at Disney World gives 'Star Wars' fans 54 ways to geek out 05/23/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 25, 2011 5:41pm]

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