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No foolin'. Here's a story about that Star Wars-themed dual track coaster which Imagineers thought about building back in the 1980s

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No foolin'. Here's a story about that Star Wars-themed dual track coaster which Imagineers thought about building back in the 1980s

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Given that April 1st is typically the day when a number of Disney news sites post these elaborate prank stories where they then try & convince a few poor April Fools that their obviously bogus article is legit,  I thought that JHM should go the other way today. In that I'm going to post a story that may sound bogus but is -- believe it or not -- absolutely true.

Better yet, given all the chatter that there's been out there on various discussion boards around the Web about that Star Wars-related survey which the Disneyland Resort has been sending to various annual passholders, asking for their input ...  today's story will actually be kind of newsworthy.

But before we get started here, I need to remind you all how miserable things were for the Mouse back in the early 1980s. During this time, Walt Disney Productions was deliberately trying to reinvent itself. The executives in charge of the Studio at this time had decided that the Mouse Factory needed to stop churning out charmless sequels like "Return from Witch Mountain," "The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again " & "Herbie Goes Bananas " and instead start producing far more ambitious films that would then (in theory, anyway) help the Studio broaden its box office appeal. Allow Disney to finally bust out of the family film ghetto, so to speak.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

The only problem was that the ticket-buying public just wasn't buying what Disney was trying to sell then back then. Moviegoers turned up their noses at "Midnight Madness ," the Mouse's ham-handed attempt at making a raucous "Animal House " -like comedy aimed at young adults. Likewise adults balked at the idea of buying tickets for "Night Crossing ," Disney's earnest attempt to turn one family's real-life escape from East Germany to West Germany via hot air balloon into an exciting drama.

And you have to understand that -- each time Walt Disney Productions served up a cinematic dud -- it then had this unfortunate ripple effect on the rest of the company. Which meant that -- because the Studio wasn't creating any new characters that the public was actually interested in seeing again -- this then made life that much harder for the Imagineers. They didn't have stories or settings that then could then used as fodder for new rides, shows and attractions at the theme parks.

And for the second generation of Imagineers like Tony Baxter, Bruce Gordon and David Mumford, this situation was just intolerable. Largely because -- at a time when Walt Disney Productions was serving up stillborn thrillers like "The Watcher in the Woods " -- George Lucas and Steven Spielberg were working at the very top of their games. Producing these elaborate effects-filled motion pictures like 1980's "Star Wars Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back" and 1981's "Raiders of the Lost Ark" that featured strong characters, vivid settings and compelling storylines. The sorts of movies that did huge box office because they appealed to a very broad audience. More importantly, the kinds of films that could easily be translated into popular theme park attractions.

Copyright 20th Century Fox Ltd. All rights reserved

It was during this period that the Imagineers approached Ron Miller, the then-CEO of Walt Disney Productions and told Walt's son-in-law that it was time to think outside the box. That if the Studio was now incapable of making sorts of movies that could then serve as the inspiration for new rides, shows and attractions for the parks, perhaps it was time that Disney now reach out to the filmmakers who were actually making those sorts of movies. And then see if it were possible for Walt Disney Productions to snag the theme park rights to said productions.

And to Ron Miller's credit, he did see the wisdom of what the guys from WED were saying. So in 1983, he arranged a meeting with George Lucas. Lucas actually drove down from Skywalker Ranch and then had dinner with Ron and his wife Diane Disney Miller at Silverado Vineyards, the Disney family winery in Napa Valley.

Luckily, it turned out that George was a life-long Disneyland fan. The then-11 year-old Lucas and his family had actually visited the Happiest Place on Earth on July 19, 1955, the second day that this theme park was open to the public. And the Lucases had been so impressed with what they saw on that initial visit to the park that they then began making annual treks down to Anaheim. Just so the Lucases could then be among the first to experience the latest wonder that Walt had just installed at Disneyland.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

So to now be approached by Walt Disney Productions and be asked if it would be okay if the Imagineers could use some of  his Star Wars characters to help create new rides, shows and attractions for the parks was kind of a dream come true for Lucas. So right after George gave his blessing to Ron, the Imagineers then became knocking around ideas about how exactly they could fold these characters who lived " ... a long time ago, in a galaxy far far away" into the Happiest Place on Earth.

Because -- believe it or not -- the first idea that the Wizards of WED came up with during this project's Blue Sky phase wasn't "Star Tours" (or -- as this flight simulator-based attraction was known during a particularly unfortunate period of its development, "Star Bus"). But rather an indoor steel roller coaster.

Which -- when you take into consideration the time when the Imagineers initially started working on this Star-Wars-in-the-Disney-theme-parks project -- only makes sense. After all, the most popular attractions that had been built for the parks in the previous 10 years had been heavily themed coasters like Space Mountain (the WDW version of this indoor coaster opened in January 1975, the Disneyland version in May of 1977) and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad (the Disneyland version of this outdoor coaster opened in September of 1979, the WDW version opened in November of 1980). So doing some initial exploration of possibly trying to tell the Star Wars story in coaster form seemed like a fairly logical way for WED to go at this very early phase of the project.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.
All rights reserved

But as David Mumford revealed during a talk that he gave at the National Fantasy Fan Club's annual convention in July of 1988, what the Imagineers had originally hoped to do with this Star Wars-themed coaster was to significantly step up their game. Create an attraction that Guests would have to ride at least twice in order to experience all of its show elements.

Here (according to Mumford, anyway) was this proposed indoor attraction's key gimmick: After your coaster car left the load / unload area, it would proceed to the lift hill. And as your car proceeded up this lift hill, to the left & the right side of the coaster track, two holograms would suddenly appear. One would be of Yoda,  who would appeal to you to follow the ways of the Force. While the other hologram would be of Emperor Palpatine, Dark Lord of the Sith. Who'd then try to seduce everyone who was riding in this particular coaster car over to the Dark Side.

Now where this gets interesting is that -- much in the same that Epcot's "Horizons" pavilion used to feature a choose-your-own-ending finale (i.e. diving beneath the water and then journeying to the Sea Castle research station deep beneath the ocean, flying a hovercraft across the desert to the Mesa Verde agricultural station, or blasting off into space and then piloting a probe to the Brava Centauri space station) -- each seat in this Star War-themed coaster was to have featured a light-up panel where the Guest could then vote on what they wanted their ride experience to be.

In kind of an ironic bend on this story, there used to be a spot in
the queue area for the Tokyo Disneyland version of Star Tours
where you could watch all three of the ride films that the
Imagineers had created for "Horizons" choose-your
finale sequence

And if the majority of the riders decided that they wanted to go to the Dark Side, then their coaster would take a track that would zoom them past show scenes which featured close encounters with Boba Fett, Jabba the Hutt and Darth Vader. If -- on the other hand -- if the majority of the riders in this coaster car wanted to follow the ways of the Jedi, this coaster would then connect with an entirely different track at the top of that lift hill. One which would then have sent these Guests whizzing by show scenes which featured Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Princess Leia.

That sounds like a neat idea, don't you think? According to David Mumford, George Lucas thought so as well. The only problem was ... Well, no one had ever built a coaster like this before. Where -- at the top of the lift hill -- the track would then have to have a switch assembly that could safely & seamlessly shift cars full of people from the Dark Side over to the way of the Jedi over & over again. 365 days a year, sometimes for as long as 18 hours a day.

As Mumford told those attendees at that NFFC convention back in July of 1998, WED's engineers figured that it would take them upwards of 5 years to first design, build and then safety test the sort of track switching mechanism that was crucial for this Star Wars-themed, choose-your-own-path coaster. And given how competitive the Southern Californian market was when it came to thrill rides (i.e. the assortment of killer coasters that could already be found at Knott's Berry Farm & Six Flags Magic Mountain), the Imagineers felt that they really didn't have the time to waste on developing a coaster-based project like this that might -- in the end -- ultimately not pan out.

Six Flags Magic Mountain and its mad collection of coasters

So the Wizards of WED then began exploring other options when it came to bringing the Star Wars characters into the parks. Then someone had the very bright of taking that Rediffusion flight simulator technology which the Imagineers had already been checking out and then possibly using that ride platform as a way to tell a story which was set " ... in a galaxy far far away." And it was this you-got-your-chocolate-in-my-peanut-butter moment that eventually led to the creation of "Star Tours" as we know it today.

Anyway ... I brought up that Star Wars-themed dual track coaster today because ... Well, the way I hear it, the Imagineers are investigating all sort of ideas right now as they look for new ways to bring George Lucas' characters & the storylines that he helped create into the Disney theme parks. And as they dig down into WDI's files, they're undoubtedly going to come across this Blue Sky concept that David Mumford described to those NFFC members back in July of 1988. And an idea that seemed impractical or damn near impossible back in 1983 might actually be downright doable in 2013.

Again, just to reiterate, folks: This isn't an April Fool's joke. This was indeed a Star Wars-based ride idea that Walt Disney Imagineering toyed with (albeit briefly) in the early 1980s. And given that survey which Disney Parks & Resorts sent out to annual passholders last month, asking what sort of Star Wars-themed lands, rides, shows, and attractions (more importantly, how many Star Wars-themed rides, shows and attractions they'd like to see in each of these lands) ... Well, I just wonder if this dual track roller coaster might now make it out of the filing cabinet and back onto WDI's drawing board.

Quick size comparison between the show buildings for DHS' Rock n Roller Coaster
and the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.
All rights reserved

Mind you, were Disney to actually build this indoor thrill ride, we'd be talking about a genuinely massive show building, people. Something twice the size of DHS' Rock 'n' Roller Coaster. But given that this attraction would be able to celebrate both sides of the Star Wars saga, you have to admit that it would be a pretty neat addition to the parks.

So what do you folks think? No fooling now. Would you like the Imagineers to maybe circle back on this particular Star Wars-related ride concept?

Your thoughts?

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  • Very very cool! I can't wait for Star Wars Land to be built!

    If it's not wrong of me to say, I miss Magical Definition Podcast.

  • I like the idea, but from a capacity issue you may get one track utilized less than the other. Why not just have two lines where you choose which adventure you have.

  • That sounds like it would be a fun ride. I think it could be even better if some other ride vehicle was used because there could be some really great scenes put into the ride that deserve to be more than cardboard cutouts or a quick glance at a static scene. That's usually all you get with a roller coaster. Of course the coaster could stop or slow down for certain parts, like the Mummy at Universal, which would work as well. Rock N Roller Coaster is a fun one, but the Star Wars coaster deserves to have better scenes than that.

  • This is great. I believe its real to detailed not to be. I would love to see something similar done now.

    Seeing this reminded me of something. I first discovered this site about 6 years ago. There was the first in a series of articles about the history between Disney and Lucas and the development of Star Tours.... It never continued.... ;) I am assuming this info would have been part of it. I am not really complaining, I continued to visit the site this whole time and have enjoyed reading everything on here. GLad to finally see this. Any more Lucas and Disney stories?

  • I think the dual-track bad/good idea is great! They wouldn't have to have a car switch on-ride though, they could easily create pre-ride rooms, load a car's-worth of guests into a room with a pre-show after which guests would each push a button to choose good or evil, a different door opens depending on what they choose, they are loaded onto the side that they selected.

    This way you'd have the random/voting element, but be able to run both sides at once and increase capacity.

  • Whatever they do with Star Wars in the parks, I hope Tomorrowland in Disneyland doesn't veer too far from Walt's original vision: A positive look at the future. TL desperately needs updating though.

    Maybe they can create SW land where the subs and autopia are and update TL as well. Or possibly add a few more SW attractions in TL and keep the name Tomorrowland. (After all, Disney has a Brad Bird movie coming out called Tommorowland.)

    Or save SW for the third park to share with Marvel.

  • Great idea!  Insted of one coaster switching tracks though (that is too similar to Expedition Everest), they should have 2 seperate coasters, a Jedi side and a dark side coaster.  There could be 2 seperate lines and guests can chosse which one they wanted to get on.

  • Interesting, and you're right, Jim - as Expedition Everest has shown, a workable switching track  is definitely doable with today's technology. I wonder if the number of people choosing each track would balance out enough to make the ride feasible, though...

  • Agreed with Glenn:  make 2 separate tracks and you the rider choose which "path" to take.  A dueling coaster would be incredibly fun too!  Whatever they do, I hope they build at least one GENIUNE DISNEY E-TICKET and not some crappy "value-engineered" piece of junk that Disney has become fond of/good at doing.  No good!  Dazzle us, Disney and give us a reason to keep coming back for more!

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