It’s a very early Thursday morning when we leave our home in Belgium and embark on a road trip to the happiest place in Europe; Disneyland Paris. Today’s not just any visit for me, but a mission to document Star Tours in its original French form. The original attraction to visit the universe was opened in 1987, the same year as the first contract was signed between the leaders of the Walt Disney Company and the French government. The plan was to create a local resort in Europe, just as they did on the other side of the world in 1983, with the opening of Tokyo Disneyland. It took just 5 years to create a complete park, and on April 12, 1992, Euro Disney Resort and its theme park, Euro Disneyland, officially opened. Including a very special version of Star Tours, as half of the attraction is in French.
While I have visited the park several times before, it has been 7 years ago since the last time I tried to visit those ‘lovable’ Ewoks in their charming tribal villages. Until now! 380 kilometers and four hours later I drive through the gates of the parking lot. The music greets me, and before I know it, I’m standing in front of the big gates. I enter the park and discover a sunny and warm morning in August when I walk down Main Street, U.S.A.. Obviously I’m not alone here! I take a shortcut through the Discovery Arcade, turn right at the Central Plaza (in front of Sleeping Beauty Castle), and enter Discoveryland. The art-deco lettering welcomes the guests entering this land of the future. I am looking for my hosts, and I soon spot the two Disney name tags for which I’m looking. Enjoying a small (and probably rare) moment in the sun are Marion, member of Corporate Communications, and Laurent, show writer at Disneyland Paris Imagineering.
Although, like many of us, Laurent is too young to have actually worked on our favorite Disneyland attraction, he is still able to give me a very thorough tour of Discoveryland. When we enter the land, he explains: “The first thing you’ll notice is that Paris is the only Disney Park in the world where the traditional Tomorrowland concept is not followed. Instead of the yesteryear view of the future, we look at our own great visionaries like Jules Verne, Leonardo da Vinci and HG Wells. So we felt that the name should reflect that. The next thing you’ll notice is there are a lot of attractions that have their own look and feel, instead of one unified futuristic look. If you take a look at Les Mystères du Nautilus (Captain Nemo’s Submarine) and Space Mountain you’ll see the Jules Verne look, while Star Tours has a more white plastic look, and Captain EO has a more eighties feel.” He then guides us to the side of the huge futurisic building hosting Buzz Lightyear Laser Blast, the Annual Passport Office and the Constellations store. On the side is a wide stone mural showing a mix of the various Discoveryland attractions. In the middle you can find our trusty Starspeeder 3000, doing what it does best: traveling the stars!
As we walk on, I see some things have been added to Discoveryland since my last visit, including Buzz Lightyear and a statue of that other lovable droid pair: WALL·E, and EVE. Laurent continues with the tour: “As you see here, we also have the Buzz Lightyear attraction as it is in the States, but as is tradition here, we always try and improve the experience. In this case, we detached the laser pistols from the dashboard, and made them handheld. It didn’t make the aiming easier, but way more fun!”
When you walk in front of the Videopolis, the first thing you’ll notice is the huge zeppelin flying through the building. “This zeppelin, an idea conceived by Tony Baxter, was originally designed for the California park, but was deemed too expensive to create back then. When ‘Eurodisney‘ (the original name of the park) was conceived, the concept seemed fitting in the shiny steampunk theme together with the Orbitron. It’s also the single biggest prop in the park.” Impressive indeed!
“An idea never goes to waste here at Disney. Ideas conceived here can be reused and improved by other parks, and in the end come back here too. Every park has its own unique things. The prime example of this is Haunted Mansion. In every resort, the scare ride is found in another ‘land’, and has its own story. In Paris it’s called Phantom Manor, and is found in Frontierland.”
We walk on, and to the far left I can see the designs of the buildings turn plasticy white, and I can see the X-Wing greeting me. We stop right before the entrance, and I have to show some restraint instead of just running in to visit Endor.
However, Laurent takes us first to the FASTPASS dispensers. He waves around, and points at all of the things we pass. “The basic idea is that it’s set ten years after Return Of The Jedi. The galaxy is safe again, so travel agencies like Star Tours had the chance to pop-up, and give you tours all over the galaxy. So if you look closely, you can see that in various places we took direct cues from the Star Wars films. The waiting time posts are based on the ‘Moisture Vaporators’ found on Tatooine.”
“When the FASTPASS system was added to Star Tours in 2004, we looked for a practical yet aesthetic way to decorate the machines. If you look at Indiana Jones or Thunder Mountain, you just can’t place some shiny metal boxes there and call it a day. Every detail has to fit in there, and have the right feeling. Fortunately for us, Star Tours is very into robots and machines, so our machines fit right in.”
“When we looked for a creative way to add some protection from the weather elements, we found inspiration at Jabba’s Sail Barge. The sails not only provide some shade, but also bring some much-needed color.”
I have to admit, this man knows his Star Wars! We walk in and get greeted by a happy CM (Cast Member). We stand still again. “This cabin to keep our CMs dry was created with the deeper idea that is should look portable. The fake pistons, exposed cables and modular design all give visual cues that it could just be packed up to a small box and moved anywhere in the universe. While the design is new, it looks like it could fit right into the Star Wars universe. “While we pass a big outside queue area, I ask Marion if it’s still necessary, because the attraction has been here from the beginning (1992). She smiles and says,” Yes! On busy days, the attraction remains one of our most popular ones.”. I guess the FASTPASS system really is needed with this high profile attraction.
We enter a red and blue hallway and encounter our very first glimpses of the universe in a very dark room.
“This is a classic trick in Imagineering. Because the attraction itself is set mostly in darkness, we want to give our guests a chance to adapt their eyes. That is why when you enter the very first room, it’s complete darkness, with the only light coming of a map from the galaxy. Apart from the light, this also shows people that are not aware of Star Wars – yes they do exist – that they are in an attraction that has something to do with space travel. It’s the first in a long list of clues that will give our guests an idea on what they can expect from a name such as Star Tours. The exact same technique is also used at other attractions as Pirates of the Caribbean“
Soon, we walk past the Star Tours sign, and the bay welcomes me; it’s like coming home. It’s been around seven years since my last trip here, and it feels like I never left. All off the details I wrote about, the Aurebesh we translated, the audio tapes we listened to over the years, … . All come back to this place. It’s almost a religious experience. Actually, forget the almost. This is home.
“Here is where we introduce the ship, and spend some time with our favorite Droids.”
It’s only when you take time to let it all in that you’ll start and see all the details, like the returning paneling, the details on the speeder, the movements of the Droids, and the Mon Calamari.
After pointing out all the details, we slowly start moving walk in again to Sector 2. Laurent continues the tour: “Here, we give another hint to the ride. We let the G2 Droids talk about RX-24 and the Starspeeder 3000, or at least how they are malfunctioning all the time. The silhouette of the defective RX droid isn’t helping much either)”.
It turns out that every one of the Droids has been recreated for Star Tours in Paris. Even the ‘recycled’ ones like G2-4T and G2-9T. “Because we live in France, we have an extra difficulty: the language barrier. In the States they all speak English; while here, we have visitors from all over Europe and further. That is why we have split a lot of the dialogues in two languages. G2-4T speaks English, while G2-9T speaks French. The same goes for C-3PO. In the Maintenance Bay, he speaks French, but during the ride he and every person on the side screen speaks English, while our Captain Rex speaks French.”
This is the room with the most hidden Easter eggs too! If you look closely, you can see one of the original speeder bike props from the movie in the pit, and the large machines in the corner are the original audio controllers from Pirates. The mirrors that flank the sides of the pit are such a professional effect, that even our guide points out the same prop can be seen “over there” too. Eagle eyed viewers will also note that this room is a mirrored version from the Anaheim spaceport, just like Orlando.
Right after G2-4t teasing the guests, a big blueprint of the Starspeeder 3000 hangs against the wall. The backlit poster is sure to be an eye-catcher. Laurent points out: “As everyone looks and see the map, they are again reminded of going into space in a starship, but what they don’t see at once, is that it is also an instruction for the ride that they are about to board in a few minutes. You can very clearly see the way you are supposed to walk, and how many people will fit in there. It’s one of the last hints of the journey to come”.
We walk on to the Boarding Area and are being forwarded to Gate 5. When we are lined up for aisle 5, it’s obvious they want us to have the best experience! To those who are unaware, the further you sit in the back of the cabin, the wilder the ride is going to be.
The boarding messages begin, and we are greeted by a French woman in a very futuristic outfit and a pixie cut. I ask if she is famous in France. Laurent gives us a smile: “She is French, but not really famous. The french actor who voices Captain Rex however is very famous here, it’s Luq Hamet, He’s the French voice for Michael J Fox, Rick Moranis, Jason Priestley and Roger Rabbit amongst others. “
The automatic doors open, the music blasts all around us, and we enter the Starspeeder 3000. As instructed in French, we fill up every available seat, and snap the seatbelt on our right in to the console on our left. I fill up with excitement when I let all the details from the Starspeeder in, and, if looking at my hosts, I can see the same excitement on their faces too! It’s obvious that no matter how many times we each have gone on the ride, it still captures the imagination of everyone, even the many people that work here. Our CM host greets us in the “most advanced spacecraft in it’s kind”, and reminds us to fasten our seatbelts, and, “no video, no pictures.”. “Have a nice flight, and May The Force Be With You!” He closes the door, RX-24 comes on the screen, and the ride begins. I won’t make any bad jokes about something going wrong and never making it to Endor. I promise.
The four minutes fly by, and I see all the little details all over again. The Mighty Microscope, the strobes in the cabin, the Death Star explosion, ‘Not George’, and so on. Before we know it, the cabin lights turn back on, and the doors open again.
The heroes of the New Republic leave their starship and walk triumphantly to the exit doors (or something like that). The first thing that came to mind was that the ride was much wilder than I remembered. The second thing was that in my mind, I automatically replaced all French dialogue with the English lines.
We walk slowly towards the exit, and enter L’Astroport Services Interstellaires, which is a hall dedicated to intergalactic games. Awaiting us is ROX-N, a multilingual droid that welcomes everyone in their own language. She used to be able to tell your fortune and future, but time has changed her purpose.
Laurent explains: “We had all these special games here before, but there were too few to serve all the visitors passing by. Don’t forget that around every thirty seconds a group of fourty people come by. So we did a bit of moving around from the other arcades, and placed all of the Star Wars arcades and other arcade games here. Unfortunately, there was no longer a use for a loud droid talking to everybody, so her role got shortened to just welcoming guests.”. We leave the arcade hall, and walk into the sunlight.
Just like every key attraction in Disneyland, Star Tours has its own gift shop, called Star Traders. “And this concludes our tour of Star Tours“, Laurent finishes. Marion and Laurent say their goodbyes, and wish me a happy day at the park. We split our ways, and I immediately go back in line for another ride to Endor. This repeats itself over for most of the day, while I let everything in, enjoy all of the details, and most of all, take many, many pictures.
After spending several hours at Star Tours, it’s time to explore the rest of the park.
As you can see here, the Disneypark is gorgeous in every one of its details and architecture. From the gorgeous Castle, to wild attractions like Indiana Jones and The Temple Of Peril and Thunder Mountain, to the more enchanting places like the Mad Hatter’s Tea Cups.
When the magic sunlight starts to fade it becomes obvious that the true beauty of Disneyland has been hidden in plain sight everyday. Details and colors seem to pop out, water seems to shine. And the moment where the lights are being turned on, you can’t help but marvel.
The moment the sun has set, you can follow the stream of people back to Main Street. When you pass the Castle, you can see the golden glow of the Victorian buildings, lit from top to bottom with gorgeous lightbulbs. Slowly but surely, the CMs start to clear the street for the big Disney Fantillusion Parade, which is the follow-up to the all-time classic Main Street Electrical Parade.
Later I head to the City Hall and ask for permission to shoot pictures from the already closed down Disneyland Railroad Main Street Station. They gladly cooperated once they learn the nature of my visit, and send a CM to assist me. This Cast Member is very happy to give me access to the abandoned platform, and more background information on what’s happening. “When the Main Street Electrical Parade finished her run here in Paris, they shipped every one of the original wagons to Florida. It wasn’t cheap, but it was simpler than creating new versions from scratch.”.
The new parade is breathtaking too, but I can’t help but be nostalgic about the Baroque Hoedown composition that made the Main Street Electrical Parade what it is. While all our favorite heroes and villains pass on the lighted floats, even the CM enjoys the parade. Even the people that work here are fans, it seems. “We rarely have the chance to see these things!”, he tells me excitedly. “I know every one of those actors performing down there, and still, the magic works. After all, it’s Disney!”.
The glorious day ended as every perfect Disney day does: with the fabulous Enchanted Fireworks display. While the glowing explosions fill up the sky, we turn around, and slowly head towards our car. Tired, but very happy to have finally made it again. While the Disney music plays once more, I know, that next time won’t take 7 years to plan.
I want to greatly thank Marion and Laurent for their tour and Mathias for setting it up. Also many warm thanks and greetings to the entire Star Tours Staff and Cast Members for helping me beyond the impossible to make sure that I got the pictures and info that I needed. Finally a great thanks to the CM’s of City Hall.
Pictures and Text created exclusively for EndorExpress.net by Kris Van de Sande.
This article is based on a tour I was given at Disneyland. While the information stated in this article is all based on actual conversations, the interviews as written have been edited and paraphrased for readability.