“Star Tours is closing,” Sarah urgently texted me from a panel at the D23 Expo in 2010. I immediately called her but she did not answer. It was just announced that STAR TOURS was going to close after 23 years only to make way for the new updated, STAR TOURS: THE ADVENTURES CONTINUE which would be a prequel to the original. The renovation will take less than a year, which in the grand scheme of Star Wars wait-time is a breeze.
July 27, 2010:
Sarah, Dave and I went to Disneyland that night looking to be the last of the general public to be a passenger aboard Star Tours. This was a part of Star Wars history in the making so I wanted to be a part of it.
It was nearing midnight. The park and the ride would soon close and we now had to secure our positions. There were lots of other fans also hoping to be on the last ride. We all hung out in the queue as long as we could until an announcement was made that they were making their final boarding call of the night… and forever. It was now or never.
This was it, we all had to board or miss our chance. The Starspeeders were slowly filling up. Now, which was going to be the last speeder to take off, thus having the passengers who would be able to say they were the final riders.
Answer: We were!
Dave and I spontaneously started up a conversation with the ride controller and watched as the other Starspeeders were boarding. We each knew what our game plan was: The longer we kept this Cast Member talking, the more we were assured we would be on that last tour to Endor.
A minute and a half later the ride controller had to usher us on board, and that was all it took. We were now the last of the general public to ride Star Tours at Disneyland! The enthusiasm inside this Starspeeder was amazing. Everyone cheered, repeated dialogue and threw themselves around as the ride rapidly tilted and buckled.
When the ride ended and the ship doors slid opened, forty of us raced out, arms pumping in the air. The adrenaline was still surging, and, we wanted to let everyone else know that we were indeed the last to ride. We all parted ways with lots of hand-shaking and hugs like we were old friends from a long long time ago. (Hard to believe this ride concept was first optioned as an attraction for the sci-fi Disney extravaganza, The Black Hole.) (The Black Hole. Remember? 1979 Disney flick that tried to capitalize on Star Wars. The Black Hole? No? Anyone?)
Friday June 3rd, 2011.
Unfortunately not all of my adventures at Disney are full of good times. One particular incident even goes to the edge of darkness. What should have been a magical day was quickly thrown into the trash compactor only to be strangled and submerged by a Dia-Noga. (Oh, you better believe there is a back-story to this.)
STAR TOURS: THE ADVENTURES CONTINUE was ready to open to the awaiting public. Disney scheduled a big opening ceremony to kick off the new ride. The week before the event, we called up the Disneyland information line to get any news on the opening ceremony. We were told this is something for the fans to see before the ride opens. Since this was Disney AND Star Tours, our mind was made up. We were GOING to see this opening ceremony.
There was already lots of talk on Twitter about forming a line the night before so Sarah and I got to Disneyland at 2:00am. We arrived to see that 50 other fans already had the same idea. It felt like a new movie opening with the waiting fans, the speculation and the sleeping on sidewalks.
I asked several Disney Cast Members (for reasons you will see in the next couple of paragraphs I will only now refer to them as employees not Cast Members) about the opening ceremony and will it be able to seat the now over 200 fans waiting in line. We were told, ‘yes.’
Five hours later the line started to move inside the park. I was getting worried since the ceremony was scheduled to start in an hour and they had to get all these people inside and seated. I felt a tremor in The Force as if millions of thoughts screamed through my head and would not be silenced. Just as a reality check I asked other fans if they were also told they would be able to see the opening ceremony and they said yes. We were lead right up to the Star Tours ride. I began to feel better since we were now within reach. However, we were suddenly stopped about 500 feet away from the main stage.
It might as well have been on the other side of the galaxy because the stage was situated just out of sight around a corner. What we COULD see were the stands filling up by the media and press. I asked another employee why we weren’t being seated. This 19 year old kid said something I thought I would never hear a cast member (or even employee) say. He said, “I don’t know”. (And this is why I will not call them Cast Members!)
I know that real Disney Cast Members are trained to take care of park guests and if they didn’t know the answer to your question then go ask someone who may. But he said he didn’t know. Then he went to find a comfortable spot in the shade. I was now seeing red. Not just any red, but Sith Lord-red.
The Star Wars theme blasted from the speakers. The ceremony had begun.
Stop! How could they be starting when we’re still outside? Is this the reality we now have to accept? Did we really just get misinformed and waited 7 hours? And now without even so much as an explanation we are not going to see the Opening Ceremony!
TV cameras were all swish panning to catch the action of the running Stormtroopers who raced above and on stage. The media were snapping pictures and cheering. What was going on? What were they cheering for? I didn’t know because I couldn’t see anything. Well, I did see the kid that didn’t know anything walk out of the comfort of the shade to watch the show.
Our blood was at a boiling level. We were about to burst like a Mustafar volcano. That’s it! If Disney wasn’t playing by the rules then neither were we. Sarah and I ducked the ropes and pushed through the crowds over to where we could hopefully see the show already in progress. We pushed as far as we could but the only thing we could see were the backs of peoples’ heads. Who were these people anyways? Did they even understand the importance of this ride we’d all been waiting 23 years to see? They probably didn’t know Star Tours from Star Search!
We were quickly spotted as line-jumpers and were approached by Paul Blart, the security guard (I will keep his real name out to protect the guilty). He gave us a glare that suggested we should go back to our place in line. I tried to tell Mr. Blart what was going on. He kept saying, ”if there is a problem go to the town hall on Main St.” I think he repeated this 8-9 times. Meanwhile we had now missed the opening ceremony.
I turned around to Sarah. She loves Disneyland and I could see the pain in her eyes as they started to tear up. This made my blood boil even darker and hotter (enough to turn any Jedi to the dark side).
Now, it was on! We burst into the town hall and demanded to see a supervisor. I could hear the record scratch in my head as everything and everyone came to a complete stop. The supervisor came out and greeted us with a wide Disney smile. I attempted to control my rage as I explained to her what the problem was.
After listening to my rant, she offered us a complimentary lunch coupon for our trouble (which we turned down). Then came the cherry on top, a Fastpass for Star Tours. You mean you’re giving me the same thing I could get by going up and pressing a button on the Fastpass Gonk Droid?
We turned everything down that she offered. I just wanted to hear the explanation as to why we were told we could see the opening ceremony by many Disney employees (I told her why I would not call them cast members). She told us that as far as she knew it was only open to the media.
Blood was now dripping from my ears. Did I just hear that correctly? Let me add this up: Sarah and I just slept on the sidewalk, got heatstroke from standing in the Southern California summer heat and had to stand next to a guy who smelled like the Bog of Eternal Stench (yes, that is a Labyrinth reference) because no one was on the same page or could have even inquired to a higher power when I repeatedly asked if we were going to see this ceremony.
I couldn’t even think straight at this point. I got her card and said we’d be in touch. At this point, Sarah now just wanted to leave. I could not let this experience sour her Disney memories, so I insisted that we stay, say hello to some friends and pick up a few of the Star Tours exclusive items. We even quit our diet for the moment and got a Yoda cupcake which seemed to bring the anger level down from a Mustafar level to Utapau. (If only Obi-Wan had given Anakin a Yoda cupcake he could’ve saved him from killing younglings.) We ran into other disgruntled fans at the Star Trader shop. We told them that if they wanted a free lunch then go to City Hall and complain about missing the opening ceremony and they will give you a lunch coupon. We told as many people as we could, even people who weren’t there for Star Tours. We even tweeted it. (Was I really turning to the dark side?) I don’t know if they were going to offer everyone a free lunch, but I just wanted them to hear how disappointed their others customers were and if they were overwhelmed by the I-was-told-mis-information-and-now-I-want-a-free lunch mob, well so be it. (I really was turning to the dark side!).
We didn’t end up going on Star Tours that day since the wait time was, and I’m not exaggerating, 5 hours long!
We didn’t mind since we were lucky enough to attend a handful of soft openings two weeks earlier. We were now ready to head home and get some real sleep. But our adventure didn’t end there. After a much-needed nap, we ended the bitter day rather sweetly, with a John Williams concert at the Hollywood Bowl. There’s nothing like John Williams’ triumphant music to bring you back to the light side.