Stars and Stories

This morning, the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) announced the winners of the 18th Annual Thea Awards. Among the winners of the awards which recognize industry achievements in the creation of engaging places and guest experiences, Disney was, naturally, well represented.

Winning the Award for Outstanding Achievement-Attraction Refresh was Star Tours: The Adventures Continue which has been making daily flights from Disneyland and Disney’s Hollywood Studios to a handful of random destinations with a random assortment of characters since this past spring. Eleven variables across four different sections makes for a total of 54 possible visually stunning combinations. Side note: it’s really the best 3D experience I’ve ever had with an incredibly crisp display and non-intrusive or distracting dimensionality. Since the attraction opened on June 3rd of this year, I’ve been on the attraction over a dozen times and I have yet to experience the exact same combination as a previous journey.

You can see the full list of combinations numerous places online. This one  not only offers the complete list of potential itineraries but a spreadsheet on which one can mark completed trips. Technically, since the “rebel spy,” central to the attraction’s narrative is indicated by a Cast Member-selected image of one of the simulator’s riders, the combinations are truly endless.

Obviously, it’s a vast improvement over the original attraction which offered one trip all day every day with a degrading film reel. Like the other George Lucas-produced attraction in Disneyland, Indiana Jones Adventure, which possesses the potential for some 150,000+ combinations albeit on a more minute scale, Star Tours: The Adventures Continue will help drive the future development of attractions with branching narratives and customizable experiences.

The next evolutionary step in attraction development, in my view, will be active audience participation and recognition. Riders will be implicated within the context of the narrative to an unprecedented degree. This will be accomplished through hand-held implements on the ride vehicle, RFID enabled accessories with personalized information, and technology that will allow visitors’ every movement and sight lines to be tracked throughout the experience in order to trigger unique effects and story lines. A simple example of this would be to imagine instead of Indy telling the occupants of your ride vehicle to drive a certain way, he called the occupant of the driver’s seat by name. Or by turning the wheel one way, a rider or group of riders were able to determine a different track for their experience on the attraction. These possibilities are coming. Through refreshes of existing attractions like Star Tours and brand new experiences like those that will be developed for the future Avatar-themed land at Disney’s Animal Kingdom in Florida, “NextGen” technology is transforming themed entertainment and providing the basis for narratives that are yours and yours alone.

Star Tours is an admirable start and worthy of the Thea Award. While there have been no official plans announced to update the original Star Tours attractions at Tokyo Disneyland or Disneyland Paris, I can’t help but wonder when even more combinations will be added to Star Tours. The infrastructure is already there; why not let us visit Alderaan as appears in the destination posters upon the attraction’s exit? And when we do exit, why not have a couple of stormtroopers call out that “rebel spy” by name and escort him off into Tomorrowland? The story shouldn’t have to end when you unbuckle your seat belt.

Each of Disney’s winning projects and individuals will be honored as part of the Thea Awards gala March 17, 2012 at the Disneyland Hotel. I wonder what I’m doing that night…

UPDATE: A day after Star Tours: The Adventures Continue won a Themed Entertainment Association award, the Oriental Land Company, which operates Tokyo Disneyland, announced it would revamp the original attraction for a debut  in 2013.

4 thoughts on Stars and Stories

    1. It takes place pre-Episode IV and post-Episode III so Alderaan’s totally fair game. The original Star Tours took place when the first Death Star had been completed; here we see it being constructed above Geonosis. The new Star Tours also features a StarSpeeder 1000 as opposed to the original’s 3000.

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