So since the last time I posted a blog, I played at two midwestern W00tstocks, went to VidCon, refereed a rather successful game of Calvinball, got invited to a cruise, did another W00tstock, and went to ComicCon.
Those things are awesome, but the closing of Star Tours sucks, so I’m going to talk about the closing of Star Tours first.
Tonight, the Star Tours ride at Disneyland is taking its last flight to the moon of Endor. For the uninitiated, on Star Tours, you board a flight for the Endor Moon, but the bumbling droid pilot Captain Rex is on his first flight and ends up taking an accidental detour through a comet’s tail, into a tractor beam, and ultimately gets taken in by a fleet of X-Wing fighters mid-combat, who then blow up the Death Star and jump to lightspeed. The robot is voiced by Paul Reubens pre-Pee Wee, and the special effects from 1987 still hold up today. I know the entire thing verbatim. Back when I had an annual pass, my family would go to Disneyland once a week, and we would always hit Star Tours first because the line was always so scenic and short. It’s simple and perfect, and it’s closing.
Since I’ve found out about Star Tours’ closing, I’ve probably ridden it more than 20 times. Most of the time, I can keep my cool. Sometimes I sort of sing along as loud as I can, other times I try to take in as much of the ride as possible, and other times I listen to the other people reacting. I filmed it on my phone from every angle, pressing it to my forehead to stabilize it. This one time I paid particular attention to the little boy next to me, who was maybe 4 or 5. He was completely in awe of the whole thing, the combat, going into lightspeed; I thought about how I used to ride Star Tours when I was his age, and thought about how cool it was, and how much better the ride was when I didn’t understand how the simulation worked at all. Then I got something in my eye.
I’ve nearly come to terms with the idea that all the things I love are transitory and impermanent. Living things will die, goods will be discontinued, businesses will close, TV shows will be canceled. The city of Long Beach closed Acres of Books, one of my favorite establishments in the world, in favor of developing luxury condos in the downtown. Sarah’s Smash Shack went out of business before I could even get to it. There used to be a $2 second-run movie theater, a bowling alley, and a candy shop within a block of my house, and before I was old enough to use any of them on my own, they were knocked down and replaced by a wine tasting bar and a spa. It’s the march of progress.
Disney tends to function in the way that Apple and Facebook do by which I mean that they will decide to change things that absolutely did not need changing, and you’re only left to assume that it’s for your own good. They have a limited amount of real estate and I understand this, but they took out Circlevision and replaced it with a Buzz Lightyear ride. They took out Country Bear Jamboree and replaced it with some Winnie The Pooh thing. Combine this with George Lucas’s knack for gratuitous revisions and you’ve got yourself a dangerous concoction.
My summer pass allows for three visits to the parks this summer, and I used my third visit a couple of weeks ago with a big group of friends from VidCon. The first time we went on Star Tours I pressed my phone to my forehead and took a video of the screen to the best of my ability. We came back in the evening and rode it again; I held Chris’s hand, and recited all the words along with it, aloud, from takeoff to landing. My friend James was on the other side of me, and he leaned in closer to me as the ride went on, listening to every word. My inflection was pitch-perfect. My timing was right on the nose. When the ride was over, James shook my hand and congratulated me. I took my sweet time collecting my things from under my seat and got something in my eye.
The new ride will feature the annoyingly CGI planet of Coruscant and the desert planet of Tattooine, and it will (as I had feared) be in 3D. But the most maddening thing about the new Star Tours is that it will center around a lengthy podracing sequence. I mean, in the original Star Tours, your shuttle gets sidetracked and you end up blowing up the freaking Death Star in the Battle of Yavin. The Death Star embodies everything that is sinister and evil about the Dark Side. It represents the complete corruption of the Republic and Anakin’s God complex. You get to share a victory with the Rebel Alliance against this hugely sinister weapon of mass destruction; apart from it being a monumental win for the underdog, it’s also a huge and satisfying explosion, and you get to be there, and that’s awesome. Podracing, on the other hand, is a gambling outlet on the slummy desert world of Tattooine, a planet that harbors criminals and slaveowners; podracing is the illegal street racing of the Star Wars universe no matter how you slice it. I understand that in The Phantom Menace Anakin wins his own freedom in a podrace, but I can’t imagine how we’re going to pick up that level of individual narrative from inside the cabin of a Starspeeder. It’ll just be the standard Lucasfilm CGI drivel, which will be so dense with mindless action and movement that it’ll all blur together and become background noise.
I normally wouldn’t care, but Star Tours means a lot to me. I appreciate the multimedia engineering that goes into this new ride, and I understand that adding high definition 3D movie to simulator rides may open a whole new world of possibility for these kinds of rides. I just wish they hadn’t started with Star Tours.
I went back yesterday with my friends Jonathan and Malia, who graciously offered Chris and me free passes for the day. After Jonathan and Malia left in the evening, Chris and I resolved to ride Star Tours at least once more before the park closed. We watched all the other pilgrims in line taking pictures of everything, and I talked to Chris about how I wish I could be like The Giver in the Lois Lowry book, and just pass the experience of Star Tours to my children. We were sorted into the first two spots in the front row, right in front of Captain Rex. The ride operator checked all of our seatbelts, and said: “Well, folks, this is one of the last flights to the Endor moon, and specifically it will be my last flight to the Endor moon.” Everyone in the ship hooted and applauded. He saluted us as the cabin doors closed and said “May the Force be with you.” I held Chris’s hand and sang along to the whole ride. I turned to Chris as we were landing and said, “That was the last time we’ll ever experience light speed!” I was holding my composure as best as I could, until the very end of the ride when we have landed safely at the port and Captain Rex says, “Sorry, folks! I’m sure to do better next time! It was my first flight and I’m still getting used to my programming!” I thought about how there wouldn’t be the next time, and then I got something in my eye.