Coaster Kingdom

Star Tours, Disneyland Paris
Saturday, February 24, 2007

This article contains spoilers. If you read on, please be aware that surprises or secrets may be revealed in great depth

The films of the Star Wars trilogy are perhaps the most epic, profound and astounding scenes ever set into celluloid, the most appreciated movies ever and the one of the most well known pictures ever filmed, even twenty years on.

If done well, to theme a ride after these films would be a recipe for success. It would be easy to make a mess of the very name of Star Wars, but with the Disney Imagineers at the helm of this galactic trek through the void of theme park attractions, we were pretty much guaranteed a immersive attraction doing justice to the films. After all, George Lucas is the movie-mogul, Disney are the ride experts. A match made in the stars, perhaps.

Spreading like space-dust in the big bang, simulators were the flavour of the month towards the end of the 1980s. Although most were just the embarrassingly basic washing machine experience, all-time greats such as Back to the Future dressed the simulator in crown and robes, ready to throw the roller coaster off the thrown to proclaim itself king of the park.

By the time Star Tours opened in Paris, people had woken from their dream world, realised that the simulator was only as versatile as the film inside, and the ride took its place behind the roller coaster in the messy hierarchy of theme park attractions.

Unlike most rides at Disneyland Paris, Star Tours hasn't evolved and is identical to the American (and Japanese) versions, with even the queue being identical. The evident difference is that the majority of dialogue is now conducted in French.

Although Disney is reputed to be the market leader in theming, there are many strange divergences in theming. Adventureland is perhaps the most obvious example, home to the Swiss Family Robinson, the Pirates (of the Caribbean) and Indiana Jones' deserted campsite.

Another is that in contrast to the lush and spectacular brass and gold Victorian architecture of Discoveryland, nestled behind Space Mountain is the white panelled 'Space Port', the entrance of which is marked by an X Wing Fighter arching over the queue-line.

The first part of the queue is pure tedium. With the creativity of beans on toast, you zig-zag almost endlessly. There is nothing to look at other than the back of Space Mountain and the ramp going up to the Disneyland Railroad station above.

The queue gets far better though. You soon enter the building, and like something from Space Station Zero (previously Thorpe Park), intergalactic maps of the universe light the inky darkness.

In a large hall, the queue zig-zags up and around a series of ramps. Promotional footage plays on a video wall above - 'come ride a tauntaun!', 'visit Endor!' - airport-style announcements in French, English and Alien and a galley of aliens look down on proceedings below.

More familiar to some, droids service a Star Speeder 3000. R2D2, the loveable bleeping rubbish bin, stands upon the roof, C3PO, more camp than a row of tents, watches over proceedings. As if you watch the film, like a couple of fishwives, the two spend more time chatting than servicing, hardly bolstering your confidence in Star Tours. Lights flash aggressively on the control panel that C3PO looks over, smoke fires out of split pipes.

Though a small tunnel, you enter a workshop with an overhead track taking baskets of spare parts around your head. Below, parts of robots are scattered, droids await repair and lay discarded.

It is after this that you enter the main terminal. A member of staff will ask the obligatory question of how many of you there are, before sending you to a relevant gate.

Each gate consists of a row of five numbered doors. Riders queue up as the riders before enjoy the ride on the opposite side of the doors. Above, televisions continue to promote the services offered by Star Tours before continuing with safety announcements.

The safety announcements are a pleasure to watch. Like many Disney safety films, tongue-in-cheek humour is evident throughout. Everyone watches, and by the time it is time to load, everyone is au-fait with how to secure loose articles and, indeed, themselves.

The doors open and you board your Star Speeder, like the one the droids were earlier maintaining. You cross the gantry and though the doors into the plush interior.

Rows of seats span the cabin, and once seated, you pull the retractable seatbelt across your lap, stowing your loose bags and coats under your seat. A ride operator briefly checks everyone is comfortably secured before the doors swing shut.

A small screen on your right bursts into life. Rex, our pilot introduces himself. Looking like something 'made earlier' on Blue Peter, he hardly bestows confidence – 'Your first flight? Mine too!'

Before we depart for the moon of Endor, the cockpit shield lowers to show the Star Speeders' wide windscreen and Rex in real life to our left. Our navigator, R2D2, appears on the screen to our right, and we begin taxiing though the space-ports' corridors.

We follow an identical Star Speeder which heads towards the launching area, and in a flurry of radio announcements, our Star Speeder veers suddenly to the left towards the maintenance bay. We soon drop down violently off the edge of the taxiway in the maintenance bay before swooping out into space.

As soon as we're stable again, we accelerate up to light speed. As a corridor of streaking stars envelops our craft, and we are pinned back into our seats as we head through darkest space.

Not long after this acceleration, 'Approaching Endor' appears on the television screen to our right. Soon after, 'Leaving Endor' replaces it. Anything else want to go wrong? Too right it will.

As we slow, we approach a field of comets. As we violently dodge around them, few hit before we have no option but to go into the larger one that would have invariably destroyed our ship.

We now slalom around the innermost crystallised catacombs of this meteor, before we head towards a wall, when the end seems inevitable we smash violently through the wall of ice and back into space.


As we recover, the ship pitches to the right and to the dramatic Star Wars theme, is pulled towards an Imperial Star Destroyer and into the midst of a dogfight between the X Wing Fighters and Tie Fighters.

Video contact is made by an X Wing pilot who instructs us to ease off the tractor-beam and follow him. As we do, we head down towards the surface of the Death Star into one of the trenches formed by the many openings and gaps in the structure. Dodging fellow X Wing Fighters, in a blaze of laser fire we dodge explosions and blasts from Tai Fighters desperately (and in vain) protecting Death Star.

As we pass the exhaust of the Death Star, an X Wing fires shots down before we pull up, a wall of flames erupting from the Death Star, engulfing the whole man-made planet-destroyer in an explosion of incredible proportions. As we pull away, on the X Wing pilots' orders, we accelerate up to light speed, pinned once again against our seats before we slow, approaching the Star Tours space port, joining the queue of Star Speeders taxiing back. As we head steadily towards a tanker marked 'flammable', Rex brakes, and just as a collision seems inevitable, we jolt to a sudden halt before we slowly go down to the point where we boarded.

As the partition rises, and we say goodbye to Rex, the doors on our right swing open and we follow the long corridor back to relative normality.

Star Tours exhibits the full capabilities of a simulator, how the simulator can form an integral part of an experience as opposed to forming the entire basis of an attraction.

Unlike many film-orientated attractions, no familiarity of Star Wars is required, no knowledge of the rides' plot is needed. This is made all the more impressive when the general contour of the ride is conveyed through the queue-line with such touches as the promotional intergalactic holiday footage and the 'final boarding for flight 11-19' type announcements.

For kids too young to pick up these subtle touches, the bickering droids, R2D2 and C3PO will more than entertain, as will the many other humorous effects.

And then the actual simulator part ties in perfectly, more so than perhaps on any other. Like boarding a flight, you get the safety announcements, the queuing at the door, the pre-flight announcements, belting yourself in, the captain introducing himself...

And the film that goes with the ride is perfect. It is entertaining enough not to intimidate children, dark and dramatic enough not to make a mockery of the film, and oscillates successfully between smooth space flight, accelerating up to light speed and rough dogfights and meteor storms.

The ride is perfectly timed to the film, so people won't be reaching for sick-bags, and although you are thrown around, it remains smooth enough so that you don't come of with bruises.

If you lift your feet up, and are in the back where movements seem to be more dramatic, it feels just out of control. Although the ride is best in the front seat, the rows of people in front don't detract from the ride.

You don't go skiing, for example, on a chair in a room full of people. The whole guise of the ride, whereby you are in a spacecraft works well, and means it feels far more real than many other simulators.

A lot of work has clearly gone in to make the simulator as apt as possible. The flawed flight will leave everyone entertained, and Star Tours is perhaps the most thrilling family ride in the whole park.

Please, do not use our ratings to compare rides head-to-head. They rate only how well this ride meets its own objectives using criteria that may not necessarily be relevant with similar reviews.

Good points:

  • One of the better simulator rides with excellent back-story
  • The Star Wars name gives the ride a lot of credibility and means it is a story many can relate to
  • Despite being narrated in French, the ride is still entertaining for all nationalities
  • Entertaining queue line - and rarely much of a queue to speak of

Bad points:

  • Theming clashes with the Jules Verne theming elsewhere in Discoveryland
  • It is a simulator, a concept often frowned upon for already being dated

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