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As if Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, the last new cinematic chapter of the Skywalker era, dropping wasn’t exciting enough, an update to the long-running theme park attraction Star Tours also dropped around the globe today at Disney Theme parks.
In Anaheim, Disneyland invited SYFY WIRE to be one of the very first to see two new locales that hail directly from big sequences in The Rise of Skywalker. And the ride also dropped a surprise cameo from the great caped one himself, actor Billy Dee Williams reprising his beloved Lando Calrissian role.
Tom Fitzgerald, a creative executive at Walt Disney Imagineering who's been working on Star Tours for 35 years, was there to introduce the new additions and says the update fulfills their ongoing intention to augment the ride content as new installments are added to the film saga and Star Wars mythology.
**Spoilers for The Rise of Skywalker below the photo**
The two new additions to the narrative of the ride, which has droids C-3PO and R2-D2 accidentially stealing the Star Tours ship for a fraught zip around the galaxy, include the water moon grave of the Death Star, Ker Bir, and the locale of Palpatine's Star Destroyer armada featured in the last act battle.
Serving as a visual bridge to each new segment is a visual appearance by Resistance leader Lando Calrissian, who acknowledges his droid buddies and then asks for the occupants' assistance in the big battle.
"As soon as we knew Lando was back, we had to have him. He bridges all the eras," Fitzgerald enthuses. "We were lucky enough to film with Billy Dee in Los Angeles."
As for how they landed on those specific new sequences from a film packed with brand-new worlds and impressive set pieces, Fitzgerald explains, "We started off trying to keep up with the film, which is tricky when you want to be day and date [with release]. So we started with the Starport return at the end of the ride. We decided to finally return to it to tie up the adventure. We tied it to the pre-show with the pit droids, who are our Three Stooges. C-3PO brings us back and is a little cocky after a successful mission and doesn’t realize he’s landing in the take-off lane. We end with mayhem and even Ace, the pilot of the ship we stole. He gets to see his ship."
When it came down to deciding where else to feature, Fitzgerald says they asked what might make a great simulator experience. "The ocean moon of Kef Bir immediately seemed very exciting. The one thing we’ve never done is surf in the water."
Their team went into preproduction with ILM for that sequence. "Our notion was we are here in a different time than in Rise," Fitzgerald says of when the Star Tours ship visits the wreckage of the Death Star. "And we wanted to pay homage to a creature from Episode IV. We needed something that forces the ship to exit the Death Star ruins, and we were given permission to use the creature from the trash compactor."
For the battle, Fitzgerald says they actually added it later in the production as he was reading the updated Rise script. "It was so critical to the resolution of the saga. It felt natural that Star Tours would be there. And it gave us a chance to move our storyline along. In every moment up until then, C-3PO wants nothing to do with the battles, but here he really has a change in character and says, 'We need to participate and help overturn this.' So, for the first time in Star Tours history, C-3PO tells R2-D2: 'Activate the laser cannons.'"
Last but not least, Fitzgerald says pay attention to the score, as it's by the one and only John Williams — Oscar-winning composer and Star Wars musical maestro. "Our schedule to get what we needed for Star Tours done was earlier than the film. But John Williams was so nice that he rearranged his scoring schedule so that he could do the sequences that we needed first. He oversaw it, and Bill Ross helped him with the arrangements. We [recorded] in Abbey Road, and some of the musicians that had recorded the original Star Wars [score] were there."
The two new ride additions will be the featured adventures for a period of time starting today, and then sometime soon, Star Tours will revert back to its standard jukebox mode, where riders will get to experience two randomized lightspeed locales, of which there are now 100 different possible variations. When that happens, the existing desert Jakku location will feature a new appearance by Rey (Daisy Ridley) in the ride’s side monitor. Her new cameo was filmed in London specifically for the ride during production of The Rise of Skywalker.