Seated left to right on the dais were: Dick Nunis (DN), George Lucas (GL), Michael Eisner (ME), Marty Sklar (MS), and Jeffrey Katzenberg (JK). Lucas, Eisner, and Sklar answered most of the questions.
Q: How long did you work on Star Tours?
GL: Well, I was actually working on the Star Tours project before Captain EO. And it was out of working on Star Tours that Captain EO evolved. I’m not sure exactly how long it’s been, but it’s been a couple of years, I think. Hasn’t it, Marty?
MS: About two years, George.
ME: Two years and three months.
MS: That’s [since] day one, right, Michael?
Q: How will a guest feel while you riding Star Tours?
GL: Exhilarated. I think it’s kinda beyond Space Mountain, as far as I’m concerned.
Q: Is Star Tours basically like a commercial flight simulator?
GL: Well, it is like that. But this is a little more adventurous than that. Most airline simulators don’t have the problems that Rex, our pilot, has… considering this is his first flight.
Q: Does Star Tours live up to the standards of previous Disney rides?
GL: I think it does. First time I ever rode it, it was very crude. It was the first time we got the whole thing put together and all the pieces there, and a little tiny video monitor operating it… [yet] I was very excited when I first rode it. And I said ‘this is the same sensation as the Matterhorn, the same sensation as Space Mountain”. Only it’s better.
ME: Well, what’s great about it is– other than the actual thrill of riding it– it’s a combination of the Disney creative forces with George and his creative forces. It’s the combination of creativity and new technology. And when you add technology as one element and creativity as another, I think you get one [plus] one equalling four, frankly. And the ability for Disney to be the leader in not only creativity but technology, and the marriage of the two, to me is a great accomplishment. And I believe it is the beginning of that kind of new thinking– about anything– that you want the public to get excited about.
Q: What considerations were given to how violent to make the ride?
GL: What do you mean, the danger factor? Or the excitement factor? [inaudible clarification from questioner] Well, I don’t think there ever was a danger factor, because the first thing that the guys at Imagineering did was test the whole thing and do the safety specs on it, and determine that it was absolutely not dangerous at all. ‘Cause we had a few discussions about this. On the thrill factor part, there was a lot of discussion about how exciting it should be because it can get a little more exciting than some people would like, and I think we found a medium ground that is very exciting but isn’t gonna have most of the people walking off sick. (laughs)
Q: Will Star Tours also open at Walt Disney World?
ME: We are considering whether or not we are going to open it at the Magic Kingdom or at the Studio/Studio Tour in Florida, but I suspect at some point, Star Tours will end up in Florida.
Q: [someone else asks about Star Tours in Florida later on, and I have moved Eisner’s subsequent quote to this placement]
ME: But I think, based on the nine thousand people who should be in school as we speak, who are out on Main Street, we probably will be taking it to Florida.
[The Orlando, Florida version of Star Tours would open at Disney/MGM Studios December 15, 1989. Anaheim was first, and Tokyo was second. Orlando was third.]
Q: Can you tell us more about the reprogrammable design of this attraction?
ME: Well, one of the great things about the technology, and George can speak– and Marty can speak– much more specifically about it, is that technology gives you the ability to reprogram it. It’s not as easy as just shooting a new film. When you go through it, you’ll see that the humor, the pre-show, the characters that are built into the American consciousness, all that culture and history that George created with the Star Wars characters, are in that show. So you just cannot shoot a new film and have a new ride. And that will be the mistake that other people make, I think, as they use this kind of technology. But yes, we don’t have to build a new building, we don’t have to do a new motion-base system.
GL: But I have a lot of good ideas for new entertainment using this technology, I’ll tell ya. (laughter)
Q: How do you feel being a guest contributor to Walt’s park?
GL: I like it. I’ve been approached to do a lot of amusement parks, to develop them from scratch and to become a part of them. And I’ve always felt that there’s really only one first-class amusement park in operation, and this is it. You know, this is the Rolls-Royce of this genre. And, when I did something, I really wanted to make sure that it was done right and it was maintained right and that is was operated correctly, and this is the only place in the world where that can happen.
[The Rolls-Royce comment, which Eisner will callback later, invariably reminds me of another Lucas quote, about buying his then-wife an expensive car with the profits from Star Wars, only to find that it broke down just as often as their old station wagon, and frustratingly required far more expensive repairs.]
Q: What do you think Walt Disney would think about this ride, and the association with Lucasfilm, Ltd.?
DN: I think, first of all, Walt– in his lifetime– dealt with a lot of creative people. If you’ll remember in 1955 the moon ride opened and Dr. [Werner] Von Braun was part of that. I think [Walt]’d be extremely proud that a tremendously creative guy like George Lucas has joined forces with our Disney Imagineers. And he’d be very, very happy with the response to Star Tours, because it truly is unbelievable.
MS: (overlapping) You know, the other thing, Dick, is Walt loved to find the technology out there and adapt it. That’s how Audio-Animatronics happened in the first place. I was telling this story earlier that, actually the [idea of] being able to program and play back our shows– opening the curtains, opening the doors, and what the figures do– was actually made possible by a piece of technology originally invented for shooting off the missiles on a Polaris submarine. And when it became declassified, we adapted it to program and play back our figures and Audio-Animatronics. That’s the big breakthrough at [that] time. I think this is the same kind of idea. Walt did that so often, in adapting technology for a whole new purpose.
ME: (overlapping) You should understand that Walt Disney was a motion picture director, writer, producer… and when Jeffrey and I came to Disney, our background is in television and motion pictures. And if you saw the way the Walt Disney Imagineering group– and by the way, they’re not a group, they’re a series of very creative individuals– the way they develop rides is through a storyboard process. When Jeff and I came here, and Jeff particularly encouraged George– who didn’t need any encouragement to come work with the Disney people– it really was an evolution of the film-making process into [an] amusement environment. And I think Walt Disney would be very happy that the gem of new ideas is based on the ideas of entertaining people through film, television, so forth, as adapted here at Disneyland.
Q: Does this new partnership between Lucas and Disney mean we can expect a motion picture partnership as well?
ME: We very much, at Disney, would like to to do motion pictures with George. George is extremely prolific, and there’s a lot of comp… (interrupts self) There’s very little competition, as George said, in the amusement park ‘Rolls-Royce’ (to George) to use your word, business. There’s a lot of competition in the motion picture business. So we are just not letting Jeffrey ever get more than twenty yards away from George, and hopefully before the day is over, we’ll have a film.
***A 1987 Starlog article credits Eisner as also saying “Well, Jeffrey Katzenberg (Chairman of the Walt Disney Studios) isn’t on this dais by mistake,” before the part about not letting him get away from George’s side. Perhaps Eisner said this while the camera was off.
Q: Will Star Wars merchandise be marketed in the parks?
ME: Well, the very existence of the Star Tours attraction is a marketing of the Star Wars merchandise. We do not participate, I mean, that’s George’s, but I think one of the reasons that he was extremely willing to use the characters– because we really went to get George, we didn’t go to get Star Wars. George wanted to use his characters– and I’m speaking now for him and he should speak for himself– the very existence of it is an enhancement of the characters.
GL: The characters will be sold in the parks. And marketed in the parks.
Q: Is it true that Star Tours cost more than Disneyland itself cost when it was built?
ME: Two things that are of interest, I can answer that. Yes, the ride cost more than Walt Disney– (corrects himself) than Disneyland cost when it opened. And the second thing you should know is that Disneyland made more money in October, November, and December than the park cost when it was built. So, uh… so does a hamburger! So everything is relative.
Q: Why is Star Tours not in 3-D like Captain EO?
GL: Part of this is pushing the technology. Actually, Marty can probably have some words on this. But we decided to take one thing at a time before we try to do everything in one big lump.
MS: I was just talking to a lady down here from the UK earlier. She sat in the back row, just a few minutes ago, of the show and her glasses were thrown off, and that would be difficult in 3-D if we were doing it. [Meaning the rider’s 3-D glasses would be thrown off, I presume.]
JK: She thought it *was* in 3-D.
GL: There’s also a conceptual issue, which is the fact that you’re in a spaceship and there’s a front window. And 3-D would sort of defy that front window effect. When you see the ride now there are things like ice crystals and things that break apart against the front window. And when they break, they splatter water across the front window and things like that. If you had things coming at you, into the ship, in this particular concept, I don’t think it would work.
Q: Can we expect other space-themed attractions in Tomorrowland, or will those types of attractions only be developed with Mr. Lucas?
ME: Well, we definitely continue to want to be in business with Mr. Lucas, and we certainly are looking everyday at Tomorrowland. Which, you have to be very careful about keeping it futuristic and the like. So the answer to the question, I guess, is both. Yes. Although space is just a piece of the future. An important part of it, but just a piece of it.
Q: Are there plans to update some of the more dated-looking attractions in Tomorrowland, now that the new technology of Star Tours is here? In particular, the Mission to Mars exhibit.
ME: You wouldn’t believe it if I told you Mission to Mars was our most popular ride. We have been talking about Mission to Mars. George particularly has been talking about it. Although when we planned to put Star Tours in the location where the ride to Inner Space was, and I proudly told the New York Times that we were going to retire Inner Space because it wasn’t up to the technological world that we now lived in, I got killed. With the love of Inner Space. So, I don’t want to say “Mission to Mars is gonna leave tomorrow”, but it is certainly a targeted attraction to update.
[Mission to Mars eventually closed on November 2, 1992, and was replaced by the sensory thrill attraction ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter, which was co-created by Disney and Lucas.]
Q: Does this open the door to more outside filmmakers contributing to other lands of the parks, potentially Fantasyland, other areas?
ME: Well, there are not that many… I’d say yes, except for I can’t think of very many people that are in that league. I don’t want to, er, have each of us overcompliment each other, but there aren’t that many people that did what Walt Disney does, or did, and what George does, and what a couple of other [filmmakers do.] I mean, it’s just not a long list. But as people become… I mean, as we identify very young creative people, we’ll bring them into our Imagineering company and they’ll work with us at WED. [Because] WED is a group of these kinds of people. George happens to be a very extraordinary individual in this area. So we’re always open. We’re never closed.
Q: Did the two groups feed off of each other?
GL: Yes, we did. I mean, I’ve had a lot of fun over at WED with the Imagineers. Basically, things are giant brainstorming sessions to begin with. We sit around the table and throw out lots of ideas. It’s a lot of fun, it’s real exciting. And as things evolved, then we have a good cooperative, collaborative relationship.
MS: I’d like to say, on behalf of our group at Imagineering that Michael said earlier, one plus one equals four, I think working with George and the people from ILM and our group at Imagineering, I think are one plus one probably added up to more than four. And it was such a wonderful creative collaboration, the give and take, the flow of ideas. Uh, Tony Baxter and Tom Fitzgerald, the rest of our group, they really worked so well with George and think something magic came out of it that was beyond what either organization could do by itself.
Q: Mr. Lucas, what sort of activities do you enjoy to relax?
GL: Uh, my daughter. And playing tennis. And, I don’t know, going to the movies. Just, you know, my things that I enjoy. I don’t think they’re that different from what most people enjoy.
Q: What considerations go into designing a ride?
GL: Designing a ride is very much like designing a movie. You do what you like, and you hope everybody else will like it. Now and then, other considerations come into it, and you get in a more practical state of dealing with the day-to-day problems. But I think the original spark is something that a group of us sitting in a room find exciting.
MS: I think at this point with Disneyland, with Walt Disney World, with Tokyo Disneyland, we have a pretty good sense of what the audience is looking for and enjoys. We can see it everyday. We can feel it everyday. And I think that’s of tremendous benefit to us at this point in time.
Q: What’s next after this?
MS: Somebody already asked us today, “How do you top this?” I think that’s a fantastic way to start. I mean, how do you top the best thing you’ve done? And that’s what we all try to do the next time out. We say, “Well, we did that. That’s yesterday.” We’re already onto something else. And I think that’s the fun of creating. And we hope the next one will be as exciting, more exciting, [and] different than this one.
GL: I think part of that question is answered by the fact that the rides here are created. They’re not just bought off the shelf. And a lot of the rollercoasters and rail rides [at other parks] are basically bought off the shelf.
Q: Can you tell us more about the Imagineers?
ME: I would like to say just one thing. You know, the Wall Street Journal did an article on the Walt Disney Imagineers**. I think George would be the first one to say this… We really don’t want to say that much about them because it’s proprietary and we have a place where they do their work, but they are individuals. Marty mentioned several of them by name, and I see some of them around here. They spend every day thinking up ways to entertain people, going around the world looking at new technologies, figuring out how to adapt those technologies to a creative form. I was surprised at how selflessly they embraced George and the meetings with George Lucas were… just meetings with a lot of creative people in the room. They respect George because of what he’s done in his movies. And her resepcts them for what they’ve done in these parks, and I really want to underline– because we’re all up here and have our own exposure– but these guys, with George, and all of the things we do all over the world are unbelievable. And I hope nobody ever learns their names so they’ll go out and try to steal them from us, so I won’t mention them anymore, but they are really fabulous.
GL: I was gonna say also that it’s, you know, in the discussion of what Marty said, it’s not just the Imagineers and myself who were working. It was also my organization, Industrial Light and Magic, and a lot of other people who also contributed. It was really the matching of two companies as much as it was individuals, and there’s a lot of people… The effects supervisors, Dennis Muren and Warren Franklin of ILM and all the other guys of ILM and you know, there’s a whole rack of them here [today] too, who also contributed enormously to this whole project to make it work. And it was really a melding of two different companies and organizations and creative organizations, it wasn’t just, you know, me coming in and giving some ideas to a few guys in a room.