The second week of January in 1987 was perhaps one of the most formative weeks of fandom in my entire life. It was the opening weekend of Star Tours at Disneyland, Anaheim and the year that marked the 10th anniversary of the beginning of the Star Wars saga. I was 6 years old, but my parents saw fit to bring me to Disneyland to be one of the first in the world to experience Star Tours. The line was hours and hours long and my parents and Uncle took turns taking me on the other attractions in Tomorrow Land until the queue entered the building. I went on the Rockets, Space Mountain and the People Mover three times before that point.
And then I entered the building and was transported magically into the Star Wars universe. This was the first time I can remember being happy to wait in a line for an amusement park ride. It would train me quite well for my wait in line 12 and a half years later for The Phantom Menace, which consumed much, much more time than a morning. But once inside, I really thought I was in a space port in the Star Wars Universe. And for the first time in my life, there they were, R2-D2 and C-3P0, talking back and forth to one another in the most hilarious ways, just like in the films. They were larger than life and the moment I saw R2 duck into the Star Speeder 3000 and damage something and smoke came flying out I might have been in heaven.
But I didn’t know anything about the ride, and the video screen kept giving us options of destination… I remember telling my mother, “I want to go to Endor!”
But I really had no idea what was in store for me.
The line wound around, past some maintenance droids (who I thought were the funniest droids I’d ever seen in person) and there we were.
Flight attendants from Star Tours placed us in line for our Star Speeder and we watched our boarding procedures and before I knew what was happening I was buckled in and ready for my first flight. And when the pilot, Rex, said it was his first flight too I began to worry, doubly so when we took that first wrong turn and I almost dropped out of my chair. And when I experienced the kick of hyperspace I nearly began to cry. Hell, maybe I did.
In any case, this was one of the most magical experiences of my childhood. When we left the ride, I had to work to catch my breath, but it was impossible. The line let right out into the Star Trader, the gift shop that had all of the Star Wars merchandise I could ask for. Most of all were the Don Post masks on display. The next two Christmas’ were wonderful, my parents got me a rubber Yoda mask (which has since disintegrated) and a Darth Vader Helmet that I have on display in my house to this day.
As a teenager there were a couple of years I had an annual pass to Disneyland and there were entire days I would spend going on Star Tours over and over and over again.
After that, years passed. I moved away from California, got married, had a pair of kids and the news came out last year that Star Tours would be re-imagined. The original attraction that caused me so much joy and escapism as a child was closing and new 3D version of the ride will be opening in 2011.
I didn’t think much of it, but then I realized my children hadn’t been to Disneyland and had never experienced the glory of Star Tours. Anakin was two years older than I was my first time, and Scout was just a year older than I was. It was the perfect time. I didn’t have a choice. And so we went to Disneyland on July 26, 2010, the last day that Star Tours was open.
As opposed to Star Wars on its first weekend, the line on its last day was barely 20 minutes long. We entered the park, whisked through Main Street and got immediately in line for Star Tours. The queue was every bit as magical leading up to the ride. The kids were excited, not knowing what to expect. We teased them, “Where do you want to go? Endor or Tatooine?” to which Anakin replied, “Hoth!”
They were enthralled with R2 and 3P0, laughed out loud at the maintenance droid and were captivated by the severely dated boarding procedure video. I couldn’t contain my smile, reliving it again for the first time through them. And during the ride it almost brought a tear to my eye to see their jaws drop and enjoy it almost as much as I did the first time.
It was a special time, and sure, we dropped some money at the gift shop which had changed over the years. We spent most of the rest of the day exploring the other offerings of Disneyland (hitting the Indiana Jones ride twice) and came back at the end of the night, to ride Star Tours again for the last few times.
Those in line at this point were all hardcore Star Wars fans. Members of the 501st were everywhere (with nametags, not armour) and most people (myself included) were in Star Wars shirts. The feeling in the air was bittersweet. Pictures and video were taken by everyone around. The news was there taking video, and we all kept getting back in line until the clock struck midnight and the Star Tours attendants closed the glass doors for the last time and we were officially the last group in line for the original Star Tours experience.
No one seemed to want to advance beyond the first room with 3P0 and R2. As long as we were still in line, we weren’t on our way out.
There were cheers and tears, of course. And finally we had to do it.
Once more, for the final time, we boarded Rex’s Star Speeder and he made his final first flight.
The thing I noticed most about the ride was that it was far too short, and it was never shorter than that last time. Sure it was a bit dated, and the mechanics of it were a little silly (really? easing off on your main thrusters gets you out of tractor beams?), but it was a hell of a ride and it provided a magical experience for probably millions of little kids like me and my children for more than 20 years.
And for that, I was very sad to see it go.
I will get one last chance to go on the ride. I have tickets to “The Last Tour to Endor” in Florida during the Star Wars Celebration, but it won’t be the same. I’ve never been to Florida, and no matter how similar the ride is, it won’t have that magic and nostalgia. But it’s still Star Wars, and that will always count for something.