With Lucas' approval, Disney Imagineers purchased four military-grade flight simulators at a cost of $500,000 each and designed the ride structure. 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, with the aid of a joystick, manually synchronized 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 special 60-hour marathon from January 9, 1987 at 10am to January 11, 1987 at 10pm.
Advertised as "The Ultimate Star Wars Adventure!," Star Tours puts the guest in the role of a space tourist en route to the forest moon of Endor, the site of the climactic battle of Return of the Jedi, via the Star Tours travel agency. Much is made of this throughout the ride queue, which is designed to look like a spaceship boarding terminal; posters advertise voyages to different planets, and a giant screen informs riders of the benefits of going to Endor. This area is stocked with Audio-Animatronic characters that seem to speak to the ride patrons (including versions of Star Wars favorites C-3PO and R2-D2, delivering a typical Laurel and Hardy-esque routine), as well as a life size mock-up of the StarSpeeder 3000, the spacecraft that guests embark on. According to the book "Disneyland Detective" by Kendra Trahan, the figures of C-3PO and R2-D2 in the Disneyland attraction are actual props from the original film, modified to operate via Audio-Animatronics.
A ride attendant escorts you to one of several loading stations where you wait for your turn to ride. A television screen posts a countdown to take - off time and images are shown of the Starspeeder 3000 spacecraft being serviced. As you approach launch time, a safety video is shown featuring Star Wars aliens, Disney Imagineers and their families. It instructs you how to fasten your seat belt and where to place belongings at. Once the doors to the Starspeeder open, guests walk across bridges into one of several ride theatres. As the doors close, the bumbling pilot droid of the ship, RX-24 or Rex (voiced by Paul Reubens), chats up the guests about the trip as he sets up. All goes well until a slight mistake on Rex's part sends the ship down the wrong tunnel and plummeting down into a maintenance yard, just managing to escape to open space before a giant mechanical appendage crushes the ship. That same scene features a tribute to the "Adventure Thru Inner Space" attraction: The "Mighty Microscope" is clearly visible to the right of the screen after the appendage sweeps by. Rex says that it was just a little shortcut.
Once in space, Rex puts the ship into light speed, but overshoots the ship's intended destination, instead getting caught inside a comet cluster. The ship gets trapped inside one of the larger comets and has to maze its way out. Just when the situation seems to be at its worst, the ship encounters a Star Destroyer. The ship gets caught in its tractor beam, but manages to get loose when a rebel X-wing fighter (played by ILM modelmaker Steve Gawley and therefore not to be confused with Wedge Antilles, the popular survivor of three Star Wars films, who was played by Denis Lawson) provides assistance by destroying the tractor beam's generator. With the tractor beam deactivated, the StarSpeeder escapes the Star Destroyer. Soon the ship accompanies the Rebellion on a massive assault on a Death Star. Rex uses the StarSpeeder's lasers to eliminate TIE fighters while a rebel destroys the Death Star in the same manner as Luke Skywalker did in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. A final light speed jump sends the StarSpeeder back where it started, but not before a near collision with a fuel truck in the spaceport.
(in order of appearance)
Star Tours utilizes a Rediffusion Simulation (Later owned by Thomson-CSF) hydraulic motion base cabin featuring 4 degrees of freedom (roll, pitch, yaw, x, y, and z(heave)). The trade name for this simulator is Advanced Technology Leisure Application Simulator, or ATLAS. The Rediffusion 'Leisure' simulator was originally developed for a much simpler show in Canada called "Tour of the Universe", where it featured a single entrance/exit door in the rear of the cabin and a video projector.
The film is front projected onto the screen from a 70mm film projector located beneath the cockpit barrier. George Lucas has mentioned that the next generation of the attraction will feature digital high definition video and motion bases capable of up to 6 degrees of freedom.
The Death Star seen in the ride video is considered by some to be the Death Star prototype, as explored in the Kevin J. Anderson novels Jedi Search and Champions of the Force. The destruction of the Death Star, as seen in the ride video, is considered by some to be a depiction of the prototype's destruction at The Maw, as described in the previously mentioned novels.
This interpretation does not hold up to close examination, however, as the Death Star in Star Tours is fully built, and the Death Star prototype was merely a skeletal construction. Astrocartographically speaking, the Star Tours Death Star is very close to the Forest moon of Endor, while the black hole cluster of the Maw is near Kessel, another planet several light years away, in the aptly-named Kessel sector.
Furthermore, R2-D2's presence on board the Star Tours StarSpeeder 3000 precludes the possibility of this being any other Death Star's destruction, as his whereabouts are accounted for at the Death Star explosions of the Battle of Yavin, Battle of Endor, and the prototype's destruction in the Maw.
The Death Star seen in Star Tours can be seen exploding in the cabin monitor at the right of the large forward viewscreen-- it visibly blows up in a rear-facing view, with R2-D2 in the foreground. The logical conclusion is that this is a completely separate Death Star (called the Third Death Star by some), yet another in a long line of Superweapons built by the Empire.
Also, the StarSpeeder 3000, which is the "vehicle" that the riders are placed in during the ride, has been referenced and seen in-universe in the computer game TIE Fighter, as well as in Timothy Zahn's novel Specter of the Past.
In addition, in the main entry point of the queue, C-3PO refers to events that took place on Endor during Episode VI, so the time setting is clearly post-ROTJ.
More than one destination is listed, but for various reasons the shuttle can only go to Endor.
In a window near the end of the line, a window can be seen where showers of sparks are being produced. Silhouettes of various droid models can be seen.
In April 2005, at the Star Wars Celebration III, Star Wars creator George Lucas confirmed that a Star Tours II is in production. This new ride will apparently be prequel-oriented.
In a concept release, the sequel is described as being based on the Pod Racer sequence in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. The new ride system will consist of a glasses-free 3-D High Definition screen and an improved motion simulator.
The flight information board utilized in the ride queue promises forthcoming adventures to Hoth, Tatooine, and Dagobah and displays the text "Soon Endor Won't Be The End-All". These details, especially the clever tagline, are often mistaken as recent additions, used to support rumors of impending changes to the attraction, but have actually been in place since Star Tours opened, as have advertisements to other planets; eg. Hoth.