It’s time to leap into a new Disney decade with Aljon from Jedi Mousketeer. If you are a Star Wars fan, a Disney fan, or hopefully both, you will not be disappointed by Walt Disney World 1990...
Walt Disney World 1990
Today the wayback time machine presents 1990! That decade represented some of the best years of my life. Including my first visit to the Walt Disney World Resort in 1992. It would also mark the year I would ride the attraction that would help bring together my love of Disney and Star Wars, Star Tours. More on that later. 1990 marked the start of an ambitious ten-year building plan called the “Disney Decade.” That plan, set in motion by then-Disney Chairman, Michael D. Eisner, found record-setting attendance surpassing 500 million guests. The investment increased to five times its 1980 total. Walt Disney World also welcomed its 60-millionth guest September 9, 1990!
New Resorts Open in 1990
In that year the Walt Disney World Resort broadened its resorts offerings by opening new resort hotels. Specifically, Disney’s Yacht Club and Beach Club Resorts as well as the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin.
According to the Disney website the Yacht Club Resort is a lakeside Disney Deluxe Resort. It features lush landscaping and the formal grace of a grand New England yacht club. I love the Martha’s Vineyard styling as well as the nautical costumes of the cast members. The Beach Club is also based on those romantic New England-style Villas. Beach Club is also home to one of my personal favorite restaurants, Yachtsman Steakhouse. Treat yourself right to the best steaks on Disney property!
Not to be outdone are the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resorts. The award-winning Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin (both operated by Marriott) is a deluxe Disney resort located in between Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios. The hotels are known for their trademark Swan and Dolphin statues. They offer contemporary architecture as well as their heavenly beds, spas, wide array of restaurants, lounges, pools, white sand beach and nearby golf course. The service impeccable at both. Also, they house some of my favorite table service restaurants like Todd English’s Blue Zoo, Il Mulino and Kimono’s.
1990 also marked the passing of Muppet founder and creator Jim Henson (May 16). Henson’s last project was in fact, part of a plan to fold the Muppet characters into the Disney Parks. (Read more about the history of Jim Henson and Disney here.) The Muppets at Walt Disney World was a television special that aired on NBC May 6 and happens to be one of my favorite made-for-television specials. In this special, the Muppets, who have sneaked into Walt Disney World, are pursued by a security guard (played by Charles Grodin). Attractions featured include Big Thunder Mountain, the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular, Star Tours, the Mad Hatter Tea Cups, and World Showcase. The special is notable for making the three parks (Magic Kingdom, Epcot and Disney-MGM Studios) seem like one connected area. (Of course, the parks are actually apart from each other.)
The story ends with the Muppets having a friendly meeting at Mickey Mouse’s office where the signature characters of Walt Disney and Jim Henson compare their companies’ theme songs. They sing, “When You Wish Upon a Star” and “The Rainbow Connection” (sung by a young Raven-Symoné to cheer up Kermit) respectively. Coincidentally Muppet Vision 3D would open at Disney’s Hollywood Studios on the first anniversary of Henson’s death in 1991.
International Gateway Opens
Speaking of the parks 1990 also marks the year the International Gateway opens at EPCOT Center. This new second entrance allows park access to guests staying in Epcot resort area hotels. Located directly north of Disney’s Beach Club Resort, the entrance puts guests between the United Kingdom and France pavilions.
That same year Mickey’s Starland opens in the Magic Kingdom. Originally known as Mickey’s Birthdayland in 1988, it will later be renamed Mickey’s Toontown Fair in 1996. The former Toontown is now closed making way for the Fantasyland expansion project. The first phase opened in late 2012.
Star Tours Premiers at Disney MGM-Studios
The Star Tours attraction at Disney-MGM Studios had its official opening at Walt Disney World in mid-January to rave reviews. (It had its soft opening December 15, 1989.) Advertised as “The Ultimate Star Wars Adventure!”, Star Tours puts the guest in the role of a space tourist. Each travels to the forest moon of Endor, the site of the climactic battle of Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi. Much is made of this throughout the ride queue, which is designed to look like a spaceship boarding terminal. Detailing includes posters advertising voyages to different planets. Additionally, 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 C-3PO and R2-D2), as well as a life-size mock-up of a StarSpeeder 3000, the fictional spacecraft which riders are about to board. 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.
Guests then enter a maintenance area where an apparently under productive G2 droid performs repairs on another droid while being distracted by the observing guests, and another droid inadvertently points out all the supposed flaws of the StarSpeeder 3000 and its RX pilots. The G2 droids are in fact the animatronic skeletons of two geese from the defunct Tomorrowland attraction America Sings. A ride attendant escorts guests to one of several loading stations where they wait for their turn to ride.
A television screen posts a countdown to take-off time and shows images of the Starspeeder 3000 spacecraft being serviced. As launch time approaches, a safety video is shown featuring Star Wars aliens, Disney Imagineers, and their families. It instructs guests how to fasten their seat belts and where to place belongings. 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. It happens to be his first flight.
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 would have crushed the ship. Once in space, Rex puts the ship into light speed, but overshoots the ship’s intended destination, passing the Endor moon, instead getting caught inside a comet cluster. The ship gets trapped inside one of the larger comets and has to maze its way out. Upon escaping the comet, 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 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.
50 Days to 50 Years
I’ll never forget the experience of riding Star Tours for the very first time. It was as if I was actually a part of the Star Wars universe. Who didn’t want to fly around the galaxy with R2-D2 and take on the Galactic Empire? The attraction captivated the hearts and minds of children and adults alike who, for the most part, saw these characters on television or the silver screen.
Today the resorts and the attractions are more loved and enjoyed than ever. The resorts are still offering world-class service and fine dining while the the parks are experiencing growth and the creation of all-new attractions. The new “Star Tours: The Adventures Continue” is taking the fantastic world of George Lucas and classic Disney Imagineering and storytelling to new heights offering more out-worldly destinations and colorful characters that both Disney and Star Wars fans won’t want to miss. I was glad to have been there at Walt Disney World during that time and look forward to what Disney has in store for the next 50 years!
Considering the Star Tours attraction has recently been replaced by Star Tours: The Adventures Continue, Aljon (@jedimouseketeer) has officially immortalized the original. We’ll have to get this post over to the Disney Archives; there is simply no match for his Disney/Star Wars know-how! Follow him at Sorcerer Radio and Jedi Mouseketeer Holonet Daily.
Tomorrow, Deb from Focused on the Magic will give us a snapshot of 1991. (If you’ve seen samples of her photography, you know what’s in store!)