Interplanetary Launch Premiere Party

by Alex Newborn on August 27, 2009

Star Tours is officially 20 years old! Let’s kick off the celebration with a retrospective of the Interplanetary Launch Premiere Party’s sneak preview skit– a short sketch performed at Disneyland which marked the very first meeting between Disney characters and Star Wars characters!

INTERPLANETARY LAUNCH PREMIERE PARTY Thursday, January 8, 1987

The Paperwork

On Thursday, January 8, 1987 from 7pm to Midnight, Disneyland threw Star Tours an Interplanetary Launch Premiere Party in Tomorrowland. The ‘launch ticket’ had detachable sections at the bottom.


Click to Enlarge.

At the front gates, they would tear off the bottom-most section, which was numbered to match the top section. The bottom stub was void if detached from the rest, so you weren’t allowed in without the entire ticket.

Another smaller section was detachable for redemption for one special meal at The Space Place or Tomorrowland Terrace dining establishments.

The obverse of the main ticket also mentioned “Unlimited use of attractions (except Arcades)” as well as “All live shows and entertainment” and “Complimentary parking”. And it stated “If you leave the Park and plan to return during the party, please have your hand stamped at the exit. NOT FOR SALE”

A separate, harder-to-obtain ‘boarding pass’ for January 8, 1987 has also been reported. It lists the flight number as “101″, which is an inside joke; 101 is the code used by Disneyland operators for rides that break down or are otherwise offline.

Once you entered Tomorrowland, you would have no problem finding the party, as the lights from the temporary stage guided attendees like a beacon.

The Stage

Right outside of Star Tours’ marquee, in front of the T-shaped junction where the departing PeopleMover tracks split from the returning tracks, a temporary stage was erected for the nighttime skit of C-3PO’s arrival and first meeting with Mickey Mouse.

This stage was then augmented and redressed for the daytime ribbon-cutting ceremony on January 9, 1987. The main stage was about three feet off the ground, with an elevated walkway upstage that ended in two spiral staircases down to the main stage at either end. A triangular thrust stage extends outward into the audience. It can be raised up vertically, but will not be seen in that configuration until the ribbon-cutting ceremony. A complex rock concert-style lighting grid surrounded the stage and extended out in several directions.

The ‘First Encounter’ Sneak Preview Skit

The show begins with a piece of sweeping John Williams Star Wars music, although the grandiose nature of the selection is somewhat muted since it’s being performed on a synthesizer. The rock-concert lighting pulses in pre-programmed patterns, and an announcer intones gravely, “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, the efforts of the Rebellion have brought peace to this remote part of the Galaxy. Two giant empires, renowned for their excellence in fantasy entertainment, have joined forces and established a home base for intergalactic pleasure travel. Soon, all will be able to know that Now the Adventure is Real!”

Obviously the two empires he refers to are the Walt Disney Studios and Lucasfilm Ltd., though there’s a certain twisted irony in praising the ‘Rebellion’ in one sentence and also lauding ‘empires’ in the next breath. The tagline ‘Now the Adventure is Real’ was an original marketing slogan for Star Tours, and can be found on t-shirts and various other advertising of the era.

They let the synthesizer music breathe for a bit after the announcer concludes, and after a particular flourish, the next voice we hear is that of actor Anthony Daniels as C-3PO, though the stage is still empty.

“Artoo-Detoo, this time you have really done it! You know we have a most important appointment, and here we are, lost in space! Oh, whatever shall we do now?”

He is answered by an equally invisible R2-D2, who chirps a sensible suggestion, the Star Wars version of the ever-dreaded advice to ‘stop and ask for directions’.

“Oh all right, if you insist!” the as-yet-unseen golden droid relents. “Ahem, this is See-Threepio, human-cyborg relations, with my… companion, Artoo-Detoo, calling any ground control station. Come in, please!”

Artoo tootles for good measure.

To everyone’s surprise, certainly mine, they actually receive this immediate answer: “This is Disneyland Air-Space Control responding. How may we help you?” [The Control voice is very familiar, I know I've heard it on other Disney attractions, but I can't place it with any certainty.]

“Oh my! Did you hear that?” asks an excited-but-still-offstage Threepio. Artoo whistles a ‘yes, I did’.

“Disneyland!” exults C-3PO. “Isn’t that where we’re supposed to be?”

Artoo, ever the navigator of the pair, electronically assures him that it is.

“Pardon me, Sir,” the disembodied voice of Threepio says to Disneyland Control, “we seem to have muddled our coordinates, but we do have most important business in your galaxy. Therefore, we request your permission and… assistance… to Beam down.”

[Yes, he really said 'Beam down'. I know, I know. Wrong franchise, right? Because as we all know, Threepio isn't very knowledgeable about things like teleportation or time travel. But whoever wrote this skit seems to have been a fan of all science fiction, and not just Star Wars in particular. You caught the 'lost in space' line of dialogue earlier, right? And even the design of the set, once the triangular thrust stage is raised into its vertical position for the ribbon-cutting, seems to be heavily influenced by Star Trek's uniform insignia. But we won't hold it against them. Much.]

“Permission to Beam down is granted,” responds Control. “Please standby to lock into beaming coordinates. And take precaution for the spectators on the ground.”

“But of course!” bristles the unseen See-Threepio. “Did you hear that, Artoo?”

Artoo bloops an affirmative.

“Well, we mustn’t go *that* quickly,” says Threepio cryptically. “And, for once,” he asks with some trepidation, “can we do this *without* bouncing?”

The astromech blatts a trio of wounded-pride notes, and apparently throws the necessary ‘transporter’ switch. [I feel dirty just typing that.]

Finally, the audience’s eyestrain is broken by a sudden flash of pyrotechnic streamers, which cascade down from the middle of the lighting grid to either side of the stage floor.

Laser lighting effects along the upstage walkway also begin to flash. When the downward pyro streamers hit the walkway and dissipate, fountains of upward sparks begin to backlight a familiar silhouette, who doesn’t shut up the entire time he makes his entrance amid the fireworks:

“Oh really, Artoo! Can’t you ever do anything simply? Artoo, this time you’ve gone too far! Oh! Oh! Oh! I’m travelling so fast, I can hardly keep my balance. I hope I’m conveying myself with some kind of dignity!” Or words to that effect.

Finally, at last, everyone in the audience can… well… *see* Threepio. There’s a huge collective gasp and then a burst of applause. Maybe they thought he was *just* going to be a voiceover for the entire skit. They don’t even seem to mind the fact that Artoo has stayed in orbit aboard their spaceship, ostensibly to Beam C-3PO back up later.

The fire-fountains dissipate as the audience applauds, and now Threepio is standing on the bare walkway in all his gleaming golden splendor.

“Oh my! What an exciting landing,” the android observes rather sedately in his pre-recorded voice. I can only imagine what Anthony Daniels must have been thinking inside the costume, having just walked through an explosion atop a walkway with no rails, wearing a mostly-plastic costume and a mask that gives him tunnel vision!

Threepio continues his speech: “That Artoo is certainly a showoff. Always doing things with such a flair.” And then he laughs at his own bad pun. (Flair/Flare, get it?) Little did we know back in 1987 that Anthony Daniels would develop a fondness for bad C-3PO puns which wouldn’t become really evident until 2002′s Attack of the Clones.

“What kind of world is this?” the protocol droid wonders aloud. “Of course, there’s no one here to meet me,” he complains. “Typical, it’s always the– [same].”

But his rant is cut short by two HUGE fireballs on either side of him, which herald the arrival of a certain sorcerer’s apprentice.

Threepio turns and looks upstage, making him able to spot the approaching figure before the audience can make him out. “Why, goodness me! What an odd-looking creature,” he murmurs. There’s a smattering of applause from onlookers with better night vision, and then out of the shadows at center stage steps Mickey Mouse, joining Threepio in the middle of the catwalk. The applause swells, and even a few whistles can be heard, no doubt in appreciation of Mickey’s snazzy silver Tomorrowland uniform with all the Captain EO-inspired rainbow piping.

Exactly as Mickey speaks for the first time (probably Wayne Allwine doing the pre-recorded voice), another giant fireball goes off right behind the two characters.

“Uh, hi there! I’m Mickey Mouse,” he explains to the humaniform robot. As always with costumed characters of the period, I find Mickey’s gestures and constant movements to be a bit hyperactive, but you have to admit, he’s remarkably spry for a rodent pushing almost 60 years of age at the time.

“You’ve landed right in the middle of Disneyland,” Mickey continues. “Tomorrowland to be exact!” Now, a lot of Disneyland fans will be quick to point out that Tomorrowland is NOT to be found in the middle of Disneyland, but I don’t think Mickey is being geographically literal, he’s just speaking idiomatically.

“Oh! So I have!” realizes C-3PO, who then introduces himself in turn, and for a rarity, omits the part about being a human-cyborg relations expert… possibly because Mickey is not a human? “I am See-Threepio, from the planet Endor. We monitored stories about you and your friends as we passed the planet Pluto.” Then the pair do a quick double-take, looking at each other and then back out at the chuckling audience, who most definitely ‘get’ the play on words. Folks, please don’t laugh when he makes bad puns! It will only encourage him.

“I’m most pleased to make your acquaintance,” Threepio continues. “I assume this is your kingdom?” An understandable question, as Threepio has certainly spent his fair share of time among royalty.

“Uh, well, kinda,” Mickey demurs. “We call it the Magic Kingdom!” And then he makes a magical gesture, accompanied by a fitting sound and lighting effect.

The audience murmurs, and there’s some mysterious ‘teletype’ sound effect as Mickey continues. “You know, you and your friends are pretty well-known around here, so it’s a pleasure to meet you, too! In fact, we’re here tonight to give all these special folks a sneak preview of our Star Tours travel agency… and to commemorate the meeting of the George Lucas and Walt Disney families for the very first time! So, on behalf of all of us in the Disney family, welcome to Disneyland! We’re glad you’re here!” They shake right hands, and Mickey also pats Threepio on the right shoulder with his left hand.

The synthesizer music swells with a medley of Star Wars snippets which segue surprisingly smoothly into ‘When You Wish Upon A Star’. Mickey and Threepio stay on the upstage catwalk, while more Disney costumed characters appear on the main stage below them. Visible are Minnie, Donald, Goofy, Chip, and Dale in their own silvery Tomorrowland uniforms, plus Pluto wearing only his collar as usual (adding more fuel to the endless ‘If Pluto’s a Dog, What is Goofy?’ debate) and other Disney characters in their classic costumes, like Captain Hook, Smee, Pinocchio, Foulfellow the fox, Gideon the cat, the White Rabbit, Tweedle-Dum and Tweedle-Dee.

Here’s a cool publicity shot from EPCOT of Pluto, Mickey, and Goofy in their silver 1980′s futuristic wear. (Mouseketeer Alison, of the Walt Dated World website, refers to these as their ‘Rainbow Brite’ outfits.)

But wait, there’s more! Next more Star Wars costumed characters file out in front of the edge of the stage, practically in the first row of the audience. Only the Stormtroopers and Chewbacca are easy to make out on the videotape that I am referencing, but there are at least a dozen of them visible. Considering that the next day’s ribbon-cutting festivities would include costumes for more than thirty characters from A New Hope and Return of the Jedi, they had plenty of Lucasfilm wardrobe to choose from.

The Star Wars characters basically march in place, while the Disney characters have only slightly more ambitious choreography due to having more space to move around in. Laser lights and other lighting effects go off, and at the ‘Dreams Come True’ crescendo, everyone raises both arms just as fireworks shoot into the sky.

As the pyrotechnics continue to pop in the distance, the synthesized music ends and we hear an announcer who sounds suspiciously like Disney Air-Space Control say, “Thank you, ladies and gentlemen! We invite you to experience for yourself that Now the Adventure is Real!”

Another music selection comes up, the end title of Star Wars if memory serves, except this time it’s an actual soundtrack recording rather than being played on a synthesizer. Apparently the synth substitutions were only being used so they could fuse familiar Star Wars songs into familiar Disney songs there at the climax. Now that that’s accomplished, it’s on to the authentic orchestral tracks.

Mickey and Threepio exit back the way they came. The Star Wars costumed characters all file off stage right (even though they entered from both sides and met in the middle) while the other Disney characters trickle offstage, with a few seeming to linger and dance. The entire skit lasts only about five minutes.

Sometime after this skit, the stage was redressed with silver mylar streamers forming curtains along the back edge, the addition of a Star Tours Disneyland logo in the middle of the horizontal piece of light-grid directly above the stage, the introduction of two movable central wall sections on the main stage which could be configured differently as needed, and the vertical positioning of the hinged triangular thrust stage.This will be lowered at the beginning of the ribbon-cutting like a Tomorrowland equivalent of the drawbridge at Sleeping Beauty Castle, whose lowering signalled the opening of Fantasyland when Disneyland opened in July, 1955.

SPECIAL THANKS:

  • Peter Flessas
  • Garrett Gilchrist
  • Jim Peavy
  • Aaron Snyder
  • Mouseketeer Alison