Long before Disney’s acquisition of all things Star Wars, in the 2012 Lucasfilm deal that paved the way for The Force Awakens, the two companies collaborated on a project that foreshadowed events to come.
Star Tours, a ride immersing visitors in the galaxy far, far away, was unveiled at Disneyland Park in January 1987. Space tourists board the StarSpeeder 3000 and embark on a sightseeing tour of the Endor moon. But things don’t go as planned, thanks to an incompetent robot pilot, and passengers are caught up in a battle between the Empire and the Rebel Alliance.
The idea for Star Tours grew out of a failed plan for an attraction based on Disney’s 1979 live-action sci-fi film The Black Hole, which the studio had hoped would be its answer to Star Wars. The movie was a flop and the ride, which was expected to cost over $50 million, was shelved.
Rather than scrap the concept entirely, Disney officials approached George Lucas about the creation of a Star Wars ride(if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em). Lucas was receptive and the companies inked a deal.
Work got quickly underway with Disney Imagineers modifying four newly-purchased military flight simulators, which would serve as the ride vehicles. Meanwhile, effects artists at Lucas’ Industrial Light & Magic began creating the first-person film that would be projected during the ride.
After months of construction, Star Tours opened to throngs of theme park visitors, many of whom came dressed in Star Wars costumes. Disneyland even kept the park open for a 60 straight hours to celebrate.
The ride was a massive hit, and it was soon replicated at Walt Disney World, then at nearly all of Disney’s parks around the world.
The original Star Tours closed in 2010 and was updated with a prequel adventure dubbed Star Tours: The Adventures Continue.
We don’t know what Disney has planned for Star Tours once their 14-acre Star Wars Land themed areas open, but we’ll never forget the ride that started it all.
Elsewhere in January 1987:
- G.I. Joe and the Transformers: G.I. Joe and the Transformers #1 is a hit with comic book readers. The unprecedented mash-up of Hasbro’s biggest franchises follows the Joe team on a mission to protect the Alpha power station, which attracts the attention of the Autobots — as well as Cobra and the Decepticons. But the battle lines aren’t as clear as usual. The first issue builds to a shocking climax as the Joes blast Bumblebee to bits.
- Unsolved Mysteries debuts on NBC: Unsolved Mysteries made its debut on NBC with the first of three TV specials. While Robert Stack would serve as presenter on the eventual series, the pilot special featured Raymond Burr as host and narrator. The prime time documentary-style program was primarily focused on missing persons in the beginning, but its success prompted producers to broaden its scope to include re-enactments of real-life mysteries of all kinds — unsolved crimes, missing persons cases, conspiracy theories, and unexplained paranormal phenomena (alien abductions, ghosts, UFOs, and “secret history” theories).
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