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Press Tours

Continuing our recent theme of all things Star Tours, here’s the press conference that coincided with the ride’s January 9th, 1987 debut. The event features Dick Nunis, George Lucas, Michael Eisner, Marty Sklar, and Jeffrey Katzenberg, although the good Mr. Katzenberg seems to appear very little in this edited video.

There’s a lot here that is interesting, and retroactively ironic, from the discussion of George’s plans for future Disney attractions and updates to the Star Tours ride films, to Eisner’s desire to sign Lucas to a film deal. All this talk, so long ago, for things that would finally come to pass almost 30 years later. Also amusing is how Eisner kind of gets mad at Marty for giving shout-outs to individual Imagineers; apparently he was afraid that some competitor would buy them off if their identities became public? Someone should have told him that we all knew perfectly well who Tony Baxter was, even way back in 1987!

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Close Up On The Planets

As we prepare for tonight’s finale of Cosmos (sadness!), what better way to prepare than with another look back at the cutting edge of science education… thirty years ago.

Close-Up On The Planets was a 1982 release by the Walt Disney Educational Media Co., directed by Charles Finance. It was produced during a very exciting era for space-related science; the Space Shuttle was making its first flights, and the two Voyager probes were returning a constant stream of new revelations from the outer solar system. Incidentally, it was also the same year that Epcot Center opened here on Earth, so you might say it was a perfect nexus of time, space, and events to forge a generation of geeks like myself.

What’s interesting about this film is what has changed in the years since and what hasn’t. Much of what is stated about Venus and Mars reflects current knowledge, as well as mysteries that still linger. In the 32 years since this film we’ve only sent two probes to Venus, neither of them landers, and much remains unknown about the planet. On the other hand, we’ve sent an armada of craft to Mars in the last decade, both orbiters and rovers, but answers about whether there was ever life on the red planet remain elusive.

We’ve learned the most, however, about the outer planets. In the years after this film was made, Voyager 2 made flybys of Uranus and Neptune, creating vivid portraits of those systems that went far beyond the tiny, featureless blobs shown here. Jupiter and Saturn have both been intensely studied by their own dedicated orbiters, and even distant Pluto will receive its first ambassador from Earth next year when New Horizons sails past on its way out of the solar system.

What we’ve learned in later years makes the information presented in the film seem charmingly quaint in retrospect. Instead of 15 moons, 67 have since been discovered orbiting Jupiter. Saturn has 62 confirmed satellites – 53 of them named – instead of 23. And Uranus and Neptune, as predicted in this film, were discovered to have large satellite systems of their own, with 27 and 14 known moons respectively. Neptune also harbors faint rings, a fact unconfirmed before Voyager 2’s 1989 visit. Jupiter’s moon Io is no longer the only world aside from Earth known to be geologically active; such activity has since been confirmed on Venus and with the ice volcanoes of Saturn’s moon Enceladus and Neptune’s moon Triton.

Incidentally, Eugene Shoemaker, featured in the film, became a bit of a celebrity in the 1990s for his co-discovery of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9, which collided with Jupiter in 1994. Richard Terrile, the Voyager imaging scientist, continues his work at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory today. And special acknowledgement must go to the computing equipment used by Harold Masursky, who had a sweet videodisc player hooked up to his Apple II. I would have been insanely jealous of that back in the day; it’s like having your own personal WorldKey for the solar system! Although I’m not sure why they showed him playing a video of him narrating a video, instead of just him narrating the video, but oh well – if you’ve got the videodisc player, you use the videodisc player!

And speaking of technology, how about those killer 1982-era animations of the planets? Those JPL computer-generated flybys were a constant presence when I was a kid, and if you recall they were shown during the descent portions of the original Spaceship Earth. I tell you, it all tied together

So now sit back and prepare yourselves… for a CLOSE-UP ON THE PLANETS.

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Now, The Adventure Is Real!

Like every other website, I am now required to meet a daily quota of posts about Star Wars.

Back in 1987, vacationers looking for a bit of “intergalactic pleasure travel” were able to embark for the first time on Star Tours at Disneyland. But while the attraction’s grand opening was held on January 9th, the evening before the park opened for a special preview event from 7 P.M. until midnight.

The “Interplanetary Launch Premiere Party” was a hard-ticketed event for Disney fans to get an early peek at the new E-ticket attraction. And, of course, it kicked off with a bit of pageantry.

There’s Jack Wagner doing his weird Obi-Wanish Serious Star Wars Voiceâ„¢! There’s Jack Wagner as Disneyland space traffic control! There’s the exciting sounds of someone’s Casio! There’s banter! There’s… “beaming”?

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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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Take A Tour of Tokyo DisneySea

Here’s something I’ve wanted to share for quite some time now – it’s a video that made the rounds on the Disney fan circuit years ago, and is still some of the best documentation out there of Tokyo DisneySea. This spectacular park – Tokyo Disney Resort’s “second gate” – opened in 2001, and is world-renowned as perhaps the most detailed and elaborate theme park ever made. In this video, you’ll get a sense as to why theme park fans revere its name.

The park overall has a nautical theme, with areas evoking ports of call from around the world as well as from the pages of fiction and fantasy. You can visit Renaissance-era Italy, or Captain Nemo’s mysterious volcanic hideaway. There’s turn-of-the-century New York City, the lost ruins of South America, and the exotic bazaars of Arabia. There’s even an undersea playground for aspiring mermaids. At the park’s entrance is the Hotel Miracosta, Disney’s most ornate and luxurious hotel.

One look at the video and you’ll understand why stateside fans clamor for a trip to Tokyo. It’s a shame so little documentation of the park is available here in America – the park’s many DVD and CD releases are only available for exorbitant prices on the secondary market, and there are no books or magazines available in English. An “art of” book for the park would surely do well sales-wise among fans worldwide.

This video was made in the park’s early years, so later additions like the park’s magnificent version of the Tower of Terror are missing. Of note is ride Sindbad’s Seven Voyages, which would go on to be completely reimagined in 2007 as Sindbad’s Storybook Voyage. The attraction’s overhaul saw it transformed into a more whimsical musical adventure, made much more “cute” to appeal to local sensibilities.

Hopefully the park will see some equally impressive expansions in the future, but for now sit back and enjoy the unparalleled beauty of Tokyo DisneySea.

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