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Star Tours, Those Crazy Star Tours!

Heard any Star Wars news lately? Nah, me either.

Considering the recent explosion of all things Star Wars since Disney’s purchase of Lucasfilm, it’s interesting to look back at the beginnings of the company’s involvement with the Lucas empire. Overtures between the two parties went back as far as the Ron Miller era, when Imagineer Tony Baxter and others began to conceive ideas based on the Lucas films, but things finally came to a boil after Michael Eisner arrived in Burbank.

Star Tours was one of the very first attractions, alongside Splash Mountain, to be selected for construction by Eisner (or rather, his son) on his early visits to Imagineering. Having no previous theme park experience, Eisner was shocked to discover that it would take a few years to actually complete the attraction after his greenlight; the impulse to get something Lucas-related in the park as soon as possible led to the creation of Captain EO.

On January 9, 1987, Star Tours had its ribbon-cutting ceremony in Disneyland’s Tomorrowland. There was action. There was adventure. There was interpretive dance. Yes, just in case you forget it was the 1980s, the opening ceremony features a somewhat unexpected Star Wars ballet. Then Eisner and Lucas come out to do the ribbon cutting itself, featuring perhaps the world’s only cord-powered lightsaber in existence. I guess this was when they didn’t have cordless lightsabers, or car phones.

There are dignitaries in the audience, too, and they’re a cut above the typical grand opening celebrity list. Mercury astronauts Gordo Cooper and Deke Slayton are in attendance, as is Betty Grissom – wife of Gus Grissom, who died in the Apollo 1 fire. Cooper, Slayton, and Mrs. Grissom had all been in attendance nearly a decade earlier for the Disneyland debut of Space Mountain. Cooper had also previously been on the Disney payroll, as a vice president of research during the early days of planning Epcot Center’s Future World.

Also present were aviators Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager, as well as aircraft designer Burt Rutan. The trio were then in the public eye for their achievements with Voyager, the first aircraft to circumnavigate the globe without refueling (Burt Rutan continues to make news today, as the designer of SpaceShipOne and its successors).

Incidentally, you’ll note Eisner looking down as he introduces the guests. That’s because he has a cheat sheet painted onto the stage at his feet. You can read more about that, with pictures, here.

So forget about J.J.’s antics out in the desert, slip on those ballet shoes, and let’s go back to 1987 for some Star Tours pomp and circumstance. Be sure to stick around to the end to catch Jack Wagner’s kinda-sorta impersonation of Alec Guinness.

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