Imagine you are at Tokyo Disneyland. You started your day in Adventureland, and now, after walking and riding some rides, you have completed almost a full circle, moving clockwise around the park, to Tomorrowland.
This is where the Star Tours hangar dwells.
If you are lucky, you may see some Imperial Stormtroopers lurking outside the Star Tours hangar. Not being an Imperial sympathizer, and not wanting to get caught up in any Imperial entanglements, you will want to avoid snapping selfies with said Stormtroopers. But you may see some couples taking pictures with them. And if any of those couples include tall American males, it could set up an amusing contrast in height.
A good Rebel would summon the snark of the late Carrie Fisher, and say, “Aren’t you a little short, for Stormtroopers?”
As families line up, you may see even the tiniest of little children being taken by the hand, and recruited into the Empire. Their faces will blur and pixelate, these sad children. Part of it is because they are other people’s kids, and you, the Rebel reconnaissance scout, feel funny about including their pictures in your file to Rebel leader Mon Mothma (even just to show the diminutive scale of Stormtrooper victims in relation to Stormtroopers).
But the other part of it is more insidious. Perhaps even ... Darth-Sidious-level insidious. For indeed, the blurring of their faces would seem to signal that these children are losing their very identities, as the Empire corrupts them, and conditions them into becoming future Stormtroopers of their own.
Fellow gaijin grumps might interpret the nightmare image of a faceless child flanked by Stormtroopers as thinly veiled commentary on how consumer culture inculcates children, leading them by the hand into a life of merchandise-gathering at Disney.
At the very least, seeing Imperial troops play Pied Piper with innocent tykes, here at the Kingdom of Dreams and Magic, may fill your heart with cynicism. And you may find yourself wishing you had visited Banksy’s Dismaland exhibition instead.
Misgivings aside, if you grew up in Florida, seeing kids outside Star Tours at Tokyo Disneyland may soon have you recalling your own childhood trips to Disney’s Hollywood Studios (then, of course, it was known as “Disney-MGM Studios.”) That is where you first maybe experienced Star Tours, though the ride itself has been updated since then, to reflect the new “Adventures Continue” storyline set between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope.
Speaking of Hollywood Studios, while the ride here in Tokyo Disneyland lacks the great simulated environment of an Ewok Village and AT-AT Walker like the ones they have there in Florida, it is very similar on the inside.
Just for fun though, let us take a peek inside the elaborate queue. There may be a few things about it that are unique to Japan.
As you enter the hangar and begin twisting through the line, you will first find yourself looking up at a huge, lifesize model of the Starspeeder 1000, your spacecraft for the journey ahead.
One new wrinkle, which appears to be exclusive to the Tokyo Disneyland queue, is a sequence on the elongated video screen overhead, continuing the Empire’s dastardly recruiting process.
As the video starts, the room and the line full of theme park guests are bathed in bright red, while “The Imperial March” from John Williams’ score for The Empire Strikes Back cues up. Then, in a cheeky homage to Robert A. Heinlein’s military science fiction novel, Starship Troopers, with its famous recruiting slogan of “Join the army and see the universe!” the video encourages any nerf-herder who will listen to “Be a Stormtrooper!” and “See the galaxy!”
So it is that you are left to make your way through the Star Tours concourse.
The next room is the old familiar one with Threepio and Artoo, the latter of whom will serve as your astromech droid for this journey. Hence his position atop another Starspeeder 1000.
The twist here is that Threepio is far from his usual English butler self. No, this Threepio speaks Japanese, with only a random sprinkling of English technical jargon, like “hyperdrive motivator.”
Witness for yourself how a droid in Japan bickers with his bleep-blooping sidekick ...
Before you leave this room, do not forget to look up. Otherwise, you might miss the Mon Calamari control booth, where a couple Admiral Ackbar lookalikes are hard at work monitoring things on their monitors. Because that’s about all these stationary slobberheads are good for.
Alas, neither of the two vaguely catfish-like aliens are known to shout down the ever-popular Admiral Ackbar Internet meme, “It’s a trap!” before guests enter the next room. But if they did, that would be nothing short of amazing. So postmodern, it would likely cause your head to explode.
Not unlike … wait for it … let the drummer do his sting … not unlike the second Death Star. Because it exploded, too, eh?
Ba dum tsh. Here all night, folks. Got a whole ’nother batch of these Star Wars zingers in the oven. So drink your blue Beru milk down, and eat ’em up like instant bread, of the self-inflating "polystarch" variety. You don’t even have to trade credits for your portion, the way scavengers on the planet Jakku do. No, you can have these zingers for free, courtesy of your tour guide, who lives to uphold the tradition of hammy tour guides at Disney.
Onto the next room now. Wave goodbye to Threepio and Artoo, as you move up the ramp.
The ramp will take you straight through Droid Customs. Be sure to look over the handrail here. If you do, you will see three robots hitchhiking, in a callback to the ghosts at the end of The Haunted Mansion.
Keep looking over the rail as you continue up the ramp and you will see other droids staring up at you out of the darkness. There is an R5 unit, and even another R2 unit, which should appear before the ramp takes you up, past the thermal scanning droid, and into the final boarding bay.
The great thing about Star Tours is the infinite re-rideability of this motion-simulator attraction. Whether it be hypothermic Hoth and cosmopolitan Coruscant, or some other permutation of planets, every time you board the attraction, it raises the possibility of a different randomized ride sequence.
You can head up the escalator, across the glass bridge, and loop right back down to the place where you started. And then you can do it all over again. Till you get motion sickness!
If you need to take a breather from space travel, however, you can always stop by Soft Landing along the way.
At this refreshment stand, you can grab yourself a black ice cream cone, themed to Star Wars. These cones contain a “Peach & Milk” swirl of soft-serve ice cream with raspberry sauce.
Just the kind of thing Darth Vader would eat? If only he could eat. But he’s more machine now than man. Twisted and evil. Incapable of enjoying ice cream.
Right downstairs from Soft Landing, there is also a small gift shop called Cosmic Encounter.
Currently, this gift shop specializes in Star Wars souvenirs, such as Star Tours file folders specific to Tokyo Disneyland.
As other recent posts on this blog have shown, it is a good time to be a Star Wars geek living in the capital of Japan. And yet while exhibitions and other special events come and go, the beauty of Tokyo Disneyland is that a person can indulge in Star Wars geekery here, year-round.
Incidentally, it is worth mentioning that, as of this writing, there is a new Star Wars movie on the schedule every year from now until the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. And since 2015, the year of The Force Awakens, the moviegoing experience in Japan has become significantly more Star-Tours-esque, with the proliferation of MX4D, a new, sensory-driven, “motion EFX” format sweeping the Toho Cinemas theater chain.
At this year’s Mo Hitotsu no Star Wars Ten event in Shiodome, they were also letting people test out the new “cinematic virtual reality experiment” Trials on Tatooine. The VR station came between two exhibition rooms, where they had a Hollywood-Studios-esque AT-AT Walker and Jedi Training Academy set up.
In a way, these new technologies, MX4D and VR, seem like the logical continuation of Star Tours, insofar as they seek to bring audience members inside the movie. Perhaps this Disney attraction was ahead of its time, then. And perhaps the future holds a whole new level of interactivity for fans looking to live the story of Star Wars (be they moviegoers, gamers, or theme park guests).
Star Tours depart daily from the hangar in Tomorrowland at Tokyo Disneyland. Be sure to inspect the list of temporary ride closures; it should tell you if and when the attraction is going to be down for planned maintenance.