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Friday, October 30, 2015

A Look Back at the History of Disney and Star Wars

By Keith Mahne




When Lucasfilm became part of the Walt Disney Company, it sparked rampant speculation about the future of Star Wars in Disney’s theme parks. At Disney’s recent D23 Expo, one presentation confirmed future projects were on their way, but offered nothing more than tantalizing hints of things to come. As we wait to learn more while we inch closer to the release of the long awaited Star Wars Episode VII, let’s travel back in time and take a look at the original collaboration between Disney and Lucasfilm, beginning more than 25 years ago, on the creation of Star Tours…








Let's begin with this video press kit for the then-new Disneyland attraction. Hosted by C-3PO himself, this video was created to stir up excitement and anticipation for the new attraction. It features a canned “news” piece about the ride for broadcast outlets, some great shots of the attraction and its queue, and several interviews with key creative personnel including Imagineers Tony Baxter and Tom Fitzgerald. Also, there’s an interview with a beardless George Lucas – as well as a clever one with C-3PO. Who knows, maybe you'll remember watching this local affiliate broadcast back in 87' on your local morning program. Have a look...









Michael Eisner and George Lucas Open Star Tours




The Star Tours debut at Disneyland in 1987 was the first Disney attraction based on what was then a non-Disney produced film. The ride that became Star Tours first saw light as a proposal for an attraction based on the 1979 Disney live-action film The Black Hole. It would have been an interactive ride-simulator attraction where guests would have had the ability to choose their route. However, after preliminary planning the Black Hole attraction was shelved due to its enormous cost—approximately $50 million USD—as well as the unpopularity of the film itself. Instead of completely dismissing the idea of a simulator, the company decided to make use of a partnership between Disney and George Lucas that began in 1986 with the opening of Captain EO (a 3-D musical film starring Michael Jackson) at the California park. Disney then approached Lucas with the idea for Star Tours. With Lucas’ approval, Disney Imagineers purchased four military-grade flight simulators at a cost of $500,000 each and designed the ride structure.




The crowd on Star Tours opening day




Meanwhile, Lucas and his team of special effects technicians at Industrial Light & Magic produced the first-person perspective film that would be projected inside the simulators. When both simulator and film were completed, a programmer then sat inside and used a joystick to synchronize the movement of the simulator with the apparent movement on screen. On January 9, 1987, at a final cost of $32 million, almost twice the cost of building the entire park in 1955, the ride opened to throngs of patrons, many of whom dressed up as Star Wars characters for the occasion. In celebration, Disneyland remained open for a 60-hour marathon from January 9 at 10 a.m. to January 11 at 10 p.m. Here is a old commercial that promised no less than a full “Star Wars” experience at Disneyland...








Next, let's take a grainy trip back to 1987 when the ribbon was cut on this Tomorrowland classic...








And finally, check out this Star Tours TV special that originally aired in late 1986 during NBC's "Disney Sunday Movie." This half hour special served as a promotional 'commercial' for Star Tours at Disneyland. The show stars Gil Gerard (Buck Rogers, Sidekicks), Ernie Reyes Jr (Sidekicks), C-3PO, and R2-D2 with a special introduction by then Disney CEO Michael Eisner. In addition to promoting Star Tours, the show also presents a brief history of space travel and how television and film depict space travel and space fantasy. Enjoy friends...









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Keith Michael Mahne is the owner and editor of Disney Avenue and the host of the Disney Avenue Podcast. He has made countless trips to the Walt Disney World resort since his first trip in 1989 at the age of four. Keith has a strong passion and respect for Walt Disney, the parks and resorts, and the men and women who help create them. He started Disney Avenue as a way to inform and entertain readers and to repay all those who make dreams come true every day.


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