Star Tours: When Something Goes Terribly Wrong

Star Tours

Star Tours planning began in the early- to mid-80’s (circa 1985). Executive VP & Senior Creative Executive Tom Fitzgerald described it as “…a dark time for the company, and for live action films in particular.” This was the time immediately following such films as The Black Hole and The Apple Dumpling Gang. As the Imagineers and executives looked for a new attraction to add to the park, they didn’t have much to draw from when it came to current films. But there was something they did have: a new partnership with George Lucas.

Disney approached Lucas with the idea for Star Tours, and with Lucas’ approval, the Imagineers purchased four military-grade flight simulators at a cost of $500,000 (each!) and designed the ride structure. Meanwhile, Lucas and his special effects team at Industrial Light & Magic produced the first-person perspective film that would be projected inside the simulators. This was completely new territory for the ILM team, because they were used to movie techniques like cut-aways. You can’t do that in a first-person simulator film, so they employed other tricks to allow for those jumps that they needed. When both simulator and film were completed, a programmer sat inside and, using a joystick, manually synchronized the movement of the simulator with the apparent movement on screen.

On January 9, 1987, at a cost of $32 million (nearly double the cost of building the entire park in 1955), the ride opened to huge crowds. In celebration, Disneyland remained open for a special 60-hour marathon from January 9, 1987 at 10 a.m. to January 11, 1987 at 10 p.m.

Star Tours was the first simulator-based attraction to ever appear in a theme park. But there was something else unique about it as well. As Kevin Yee explains:

In Walt’s day, most rides were slow journeys through atmospheres and environments. There didn’t have to be drama, tension, or conflict. The list of long of such rides that promoted tranquility and transportation (including, perhaps, metaphorical transportation through time).

The first crack in that long-standing armor of such rides came in 1979, when Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, which is not just a roller coaster through an environment (the way Space Mountain is), but features a subtle moment when “things go terribly wrong.” In this case, it’s the earthquake at the end of the ride. It’s so subtle that most visitors pay it no mind.

But at [Captain] EO (the first show to do it) and then Star Tours (the first ride to do it), the “things go terribly wrong” concept moves to center stage. The whole ride is not an adventure; it’s a misadventure. And this would be a pattern to reassert itself for decades to come…. Only some the most recent attractions (Toy Story Mania, for example) do away with the need for misadventure to provide the impetus/excuse for the attraction’s existence. That mold which has lasted so long was set by Star Tours.


You can see the wrong turn.
See the wrong turn we take?

Star Tours is informative for us because it breaks the mold and introduces us to something never seen before in Disney parks, but seen all the time in real life: something goes terribly wrong. Tragedy strikes. Everything is moving along like it should—or at least like we think it should—and then suddenly it goes off track. (If you watched carefully in the ride film, or see the model being worked on at left, you can even see the literal tracks that the Star Speeder is supposed to have gone off). Does that sound familiar? Life is humming along nicely, and then it suddenly goes off the rails?

Even the nature of the problems we encountered in Star Tours are reminiscent of what we face. After missing our destination (we must not have been properly focused on getting there), we find ourselves in a comet field. No sooner do we break free of that then we’re caught in the tractor beam of an Imperial Star Destroyer. We’re released from that (with some help), and what do we do? We participate in the battle to destroy the Death Star—complete with trench run!

Consider these three dangers: comets, Imperial forces, and a space battle we’re not equipped to fight. They encapsulate every kind of trouble we face.

  • Sometimes problems “just happen”. We live in  fallen world, and so at times the environment can lead to something going wrong. Other times it’s simply an accident—no one intends harm,  but it comes anyway. We fly into a field of comets.
  • Sometimes we face problems, pain, and suffering that is intentionally caused by others, and we get caught in their tractor beam as they try to harm us.
  • And sometimes we step into places we shouldn’t be, fight battles that aren’t ours, or fight battles that others (including God) are better equipped to fight, but we stick our noses in anyway. “Oh, boy! I’ve always wanted to do this!? Really?

Should we be surprised by this? No. As Wesley says in the movie The Princess Bride, “Life is pain Highness! Anyone who says differently is selling something.” That may overstate things a bit, but the point remains…

“Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And,

“‘If it is hard for the righteous to be saved,
what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?’

“So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.” (I Pet. 4:12-19, NIV)
There will be trouble in this life. So what do we do about it?

Well, if it’s been brought on by something we’ve done and are doing, we need to identify that and stop doing it. Jesus said that in this world we will have trouble, but He didn’t say we need to bring it on ourselves. We’ll have plenty without doing that! But what about the rest?

In a sense, there is no easy answer to this question. We hurt. That is the way of things. We grieve. We get angry. We fear. We cry. And we pray.

Prayer must be a continual part of our lives, even more so when we are hurting. It’s not easy then, but that is when it’s most needed. Everything in us screams to turn away, to retreat inward. But Jesus calls us to Him, and to continue doing good. He offers peace, comfort, hope, and strength. He offers grace. And He offers us an eternal perspective.

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Cor. 4:16-18, NIV)

And so we can say with David:

You turned my wailing into dancing;
you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,
that my heart may sing to you and not be silent.
O LORD my God, I will give you thanks forever.”

It’s not easy, and there are no simple answers. Sometimes we must simply endure, and that’s hard to accept. But when “something goes terribly wrong”, remember that there is One who is not caught off guard, Who is not surprised, and He is there to work everything for your good, as you have been called according to His purpose.

Questions: How do you respond when “something goes terribly wrong”? How do you see these same categories in play in the new version, “Star Tours: The Adventures Continue”? Talk about it in the comments below, or on our Facebook page.

Randy CraneRandy Crane is passionate about helping Christians, especially those with a Disney affinity, to discover and connect to their GOD-GIVEN PURPOSE AND VALUE, to build their lives to achieve TRUE SUCCESS AND MEANING, and to POSITIVELY IMPACT their world. For more than two decades, Randy has been leading individuals and teams into a greater joy and child-like appreciation of the world around them, equipping them to reach beyond what they have previously experienced and build a God-given identity and purpose. Ready to experience that for yourself? Tell us where to send SIX free videos all created to help answer the 3 questions you need to experience PEACE, FREEDOM, and PURPOSE!

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