The crowds were thick on the opening weekend of Disneyland's newest offering Star Tours -- The Adventures Continue, with throngs of fans sporting prehensile Yoda backpacks plopping down 15 bucks for an R2-D2 popcorn bucket. Skinny teens in Vader shirts proclaiming "Soy Tu Padre, Mijo" queued up in four-hour lines alongside bearded fanboys stretching their "Judge Me By My Size, Do You?" shirts to their XXL breaking point.
Both Disneyland and Star Wars share not just an enviable history of crowd-pleasing entertainment, but rabid, detail-oriented fan bases quick to criticize changes and additions to their beloved canon. Many longtime fans of both properties have become resigned to the belief that the most fertile creative days of each company are in the past and that future entries might best be enjoyed by children and apologists.
The new Star Tours largely bucks that trend, the revamped version of 1987's pioneering simulator ride serving as a reminder of how much sheer fun Disney Imagineers and Lucasfilm are able to create when firing on all cylinders. Though still at heart a simulated flight through the Star Wars universe conducted by a hapless interstellar travel agency, the attraction has been refreshed from bow to stern, delivering eye-popping visuals and Imperial intrigue in a crisp Dolby digital 3-D that seems to share nothing in common with the tepid overuse of the technology showcased in every other movie blockbuster released nowadays.
With a reluctant C-3PO at the helm, the Starspeeder feels smoother and less jarring than when Paul Reubens' Captain Rex piloted guests on an ill-fated trip to Endor. There is more emphasis on swooping and evading obstacles than crashing right through them, and the large windshield is used to great effect. R2 as always seems to know more than he lets on about Rebel plans and isn't above going weapons hot if the Empire threatens his mission.
Though technically set in the time period between trilogies, the ride feels like a mash-up of Star Wars greatest hits. It plays like fan fiction of the highest order, with a storyline that recalls the pulpy fun of the original series with all the burnished visuals of the prequels.
Sometimes it feels like an attempt at franchise redemption made by people who feel the same way about Star Wars that you do: when you find yourself in a speeder bike chase through a thick forest, rest assured that the treetop villages are inhabited by Wookies, not teddy bear primitives. If narrowly avoiding mowing down the reviled Jar Jar Binks with your ship isn't cathartic enough, eagle-eyed riders may spot a glimpse of the clumsy Gungan entombed in carbonite, unlikely to ever find himself defrosted by someone who loves him very much.
Grabbing a Fastpass ride reservation from a Gonk droid reduces your wait considerably (pass the time in the gorgeous new Trader Sam's tiki bar at the Disneyland Hotel) and still allows you to enjoy a polished, frequently hilarious queue that satirizes the bleak mundanity of present day air travel. An insult comic baggage droid lets luggage stuffed with blasters and live Ewoks slip through security unnoticed as he destroy laptops he doesn't recognize and compliments guests that they look like the famous Mr. Binks ("Yousa probably get that all the time.").
The primary selling point the park is flogging is re-ridability -- with press materials boasting over 50 different story combinations. The truth is that there are only 11 unique story elements (you'll see four per ride) that can get combined in 54 different ways, and it will only take a few trips to visit most of the destinations the ride has to offer.
Still, almost every ride segment has something to recommend it, and even the prequel-phobic are likely to enjoy pod racing or a trip to Naboo when it's this smooth, thrilling and devoid of Jake Lloyd. Plus: Hoth!
Disneyland purists will welcome nods to the classic attraction -- like the flight attendant with the lopsided hairdo from the original safety video now reimagined as a regal passenger along with her mischievous son dressed as a young, black Han Solo. Just another upwardly mobile family living the Corellian dream.
While it is unlikely to ever fully satisfy every nitpicking message board denizen ("Why on earth would anyone tell a protocol droid to fix something on a spaceship? Am I missing something here?"), both Disney and Star Wars geeks can look forward to booking many return trips through Star Tours to make sure they didn't miss a thing.