Jar Jar Binks Takes Spotlight in Star Tours Upgrade

Fan-favorite Star Wars character Jar Jar Binks has been elevated to an expanded role in the 4-year-old ride Star Tours ride, thanks to the Disney marketing machine.

This move is no doubt intended to counteract the potential fall-out from another recent change to the ride: The addition of an entire sequence based on a scene from The Force Awakens, which is a low-budget art-house movie that Disney dumped into its late-year release slate, presumably so it could write off the loss.

One can certainly question the wisdom in updating an acclaimed classic ride with material from a potential box office flop. It smacks of desperation. Most visitors have spent thousands of dollars for a chance to explore the Wookiee homeland or win the Boonta Eve classic, and the move is sure to outrage some passionate and vocal opponents.

To rub salt in the wound, Disney also added a hologram sequence of cloying droid BB-8, a character many Star Wars purists find “jarring” and “offensive.”

The jury is still out on whether or not The Force Awakens will eventually become the kind of financial and critical success that some in the company hope it will achieve. Meanwhile, they are leaning on the larger role of Jar Jar Binks to deflect criticism.

Jar Jar Binks has appeared in the ride ever since it opened as Star Tours 2: The Adventures Continue back in 2012. He appeared as a glorified cameo in the “Naboo” sequence of the film, in which your ride vehicle plunges into an alien ocean. Mr. Binks could be seen waving off in the corner among some seaweed, and ducking as your ship passes overhead (at 3:08 in the video below):

But in this latest incarnation, Jar Jar Binks now swims directly in front of your Starspeeder, offering riders a titilating glimpse of the Gungan’s hind quarters. And in the kind of hilarious comic hijinks which has made the character beloved the world over, he finds himself plastered like a bug on the windshield, unable to move. We even get a flash of that trademark Jar Jar Binks tongue.

Here is the best video I can find, which is in full-on blur mode, right up until Jar Jar slides off the windshield. The Starspeeder is entering the water at about the 3:12 mark.

The expanded role of Jar Jar Binks has been mysteriously downplayed. In fact, it seems to have come after the The Force Awakens portions were added to the ride. Note that the first video above contains the new The Force Awakens scenes, but also contains the original Jar Jar Binks sequence.

It’s unclear why Disney opted to modify only the Naboo sequence of the ride, while leaving the other existing scenes untouched. One can only surmise that building a wooden statue of Anakin Skywalker to recreate Hayden Christensen’s performance was simply not cost-effective, given the budget.

In the meantime, audiences will just have to be satisfied with the expanded role of Jar Jar Binks, doing a nice tribute to Dory’s surprise appearance in Turtle Talk.

Dory Smashed by Whale

Star Wars: Can you be a kid again?

1982 was the “Dawn of a New Disney Era” as EPCOT Center was born. I was 14. It was an incredible time. We were in the middle of some sort of crazy golden age of entertainment, at least as far as an adolescent boy was concerned

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I was unaware of the struggles Disney was going through financially. I hadn’t the slightest clue that there was unrest within the corporate ranks or an attempted hostile takeover just a few years away. All I knew was that I had fallen in love with Walt Disney World years before and now an incredible, progressive, futuristic wonderland had opened and I was the perfect age to experience it and it’s message of hope and optimism.

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And so it began

But I am lucky like that… as it turns out I was the perfect age to experience many of the most memorable events of the time. If you do some simple math you will realize that I was 9 when Star Wars opened. NINE! I had my birthday party at the largest theater in town playing Star Wars… all my friends and me were glued to the screen, mesmerized by what we saw. Our jaws collectively hung open and I literally jumped out of my seat and cheered throughout the film. It was transformative. It was indescribable. It informed who I was and what I did moving forward from that point on. This was freaking STAR WARS and I got to see it in the theater at the absolute perfect time of my life.

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They knew what was up

Three years later The Empire Strikes Back opened and I was standing in line several hours to see it opening day. Now as a 12 year old I understood it more. While I was still not sure if stormtroopers were robots or people or what I certainly understood the ramifications of Darth Vader being Luke’s father (mind BLOWN).

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An old friend

The rate of great movies at that time was shocking… Raiders, E.T. every year came a new and bigger and better movie. Disney was creating newer and bigger and better parks and attractions and I just soaked it all in. By the time 1983 and Return of the Jedi arrived I was 15 and the Ewoks never felt baby or cutesy to me… I loved every second of it. I felt like I was on those speeder bikes on Endor and Admiral Akbar quickly became my all time favorite Star Wars character. This was going to go on forever… or so I reasonably assumed.

But then it stopped.

For many years I waited and hoped that Star Wars would come back and whisk me away to my ten-year-old self but Lucas had moved on. He made a few mediocre films and then all but vanished. Sure Raiders continued through out the rest of the decade but the thrill was gone. I had lost my youth. My innocence was gone. Though I still clung to my love of the parks and managed to work in them as well I knew that at 18 or 19 I was never going to have that rush of excitement again. The feeling of looking over at my friends in a darkened theater as Tie Fighters battled X-Wings and not being 100% sure if this was really happening or all some sort of crazy dream. A kid can suspend disbelief so easily that fantasies can meld with reality at the blink of an eye. The Disney parks in fact make fantasies real and tangible and that same thing used to happen at movies… but then I got old.

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It all felt so real

More years passed, college came and went and while pretenders to the throne would occasionally bring some magic back to the movies, for the most part the glory days were a thing of the past. Then, almost as if it were a mirage, a cruel joke being leveled against those of us who had waited so many years, George Lucas announced that Star Wars would be back… not only would the original movies be polished and updated with fantastic new effects but a whole new set of movies would soon arrive in the Cineplex. The excitement was palpable. The magic was coming back.

I spent $500 to watch Episode One about a week before it was released to the public. They had a series of big charity previews all across the country. The $500 per head gave you bragging rights of seeing the film early as well as entry to a big star studded after party (Rosie O’Donnell hosted ours). A friend flew to Chicago from New York, another flew in from Seattle and the three of us (a combined $1,500 lighter in the wallet) could not get to the theater fast enough. This time however instead of looking over to see my friends in a state of sheer astonishment I saw them with a glazed over veneer of disbelief… this movie sucked, how could this be, what was happening?

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no, no, no, no, nooooooooo!

Had we gotten too old to enjoy Star Wars? Had Star Wars gotten too serious to be fun? Had Lucas totally lost the concept of what made these movies so great to begin with?

We all know the rest of the story. The prequels and the special editions before that slowly beat down the fans to the point that many just gave up even trying to care anymore. I saw them all in the theater; it felt like an obligation. There was no joy, there was no excitement, and by the time they ended I was simply relieved that it was over more than anything else. I assumed that Star Wars was done and no number of animated series or additional action figures could ever save it. How could something that was so great turn into something that was so laborious and dull on virtually every level… it would be as if Disney turned into a backwater county fair overnight, what the hell was going on?

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This is what I call A New Hope

But here we are on the precipice of a new day. Lucas sold his company and Star Wars with it to of all places DISNEY. It was the coming together of two of my most favorite things in the world. Then Disney seemingly did everything they could to fix it. They hired the right people, many of them the original people. They jettisoned the horrific computer generated effects in favor of the tangible and tactile practical effects of the original and most importantly they seemed to understand what made Star Wars Star Wars.

Soon, very, very soon I will again visit a galaxy far, far away. This time I will have my daughter by my side… my perfectly aged 11-year-old daughter (who by the way will NEVER be subjected to the prequels) and we will be swept away together. I will look over and hopefully see wonder across her face, and maybe she will see it on mine as well.

I believe. I again have hope and excitement. I think we are at dawn of something great and I cannot wait to be 10 all over again.

 

What may be?

Several weeks ago Disney announced that Maelstrom at the Norway Pavilion in Epcot was closing down to be replaced by a Frozen attraction. In fact much of the Norway pavilion will undergo changes as they add more Frozen merchandise locations and a meet and greet as well.

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We did not have too much to say about it around Parkeology because frankly those actions speak for themselves. To be clear we think it is an idiotic idea that undermines everything World Showcase stands for, continues the “dumbing down” of all of Epcot and is yet another example of short-sided thinking on the part of Disney’s parks division… and we think it will be a massive success that will have them laughing all the way to a very large bank. You see while the competition has to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to painstakingly create incredible realms of immersive fantasy while overcoming crazy logistical obstacles, all Disney has to do is stick two college girls in some costumes in order to create 5 hours wait times.

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I’ll wait four hours but that is it, not one second more! I mean come on… you have to draw the line somewhere.

Disney has an unfair advantage; they have source material, name recognition, generations of trust and industry leadership that any other company on earth would kill for. But that advantage is too easy to rest on… it is tempting to look at the bottom line numbers and see that despite Universal’s Potter additions Disney is enjoying record attendance and easily coasting past everything thrown at it… in fact when you factor in actual revenue spent (meaning not just bodies in the park but how they choose to spend their cash) Disney is so far ahead of anyone else that it is almost a bit sad. It would be like Apple worrying that the latest Casio calculator watch may steal some of the Apple Watch thunder. But guess what? When you rest on your laurels and get lazy that is when Casio comes up and surprises you… and then it may be too late.

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Not new and not from Apple

A Frozen attraction is a great idea. The movie is more than just a huge hit, it is more than just the biggest animated movie of all time (think about that a minute) and one of the biggest movies overall ever. It is a legitimate cultural phenomenon that will go on for generations to come and is a touchstone of young girls across the world. It has the potential to be THE movie for a generation of kids (mostly girls), it may very well be their Star Wars… the movie that they recall seeing as a child that transformed how they saw movies from that point forward. No doubt about it, Frozen deserves it’s own attraction, what it does not deserve is being shoe horned into a fairly small existing space in which it makes no sense to be and has all the ear marks of a rush job retrofit.

Lets get this out of the way… Frozen is not set in Norway. They can say all they want about the fictional local of Arendelle being “inspired” by Norway but the fact is that it is not Norway (and Shane and I know all about Norway!) So now sitting among the really for real locations all around World Showcase we have a purely fictional cartoon location. How is this different than our little April Fools joke a few years back when we broke the news that the many worlds of Star Wars were being placed around World Showcase? It is exactly the same and exactly as stupid (it sucks when your crazy jokes become reality). I guess it is not too much different than Donald Duck and company invading Mexico (another move I hate) but at least Mexico continues to be a real country that exists on this planet… unlike Arendelle.

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Here is a quaint church in really for real Norway. An actual place on this planet.

Does anyone think that the ride will be reworked in any real way? My guess is that the ride system remains the same; they paint the boats “ice blue” add a bunch of mostly static figures and replace the troll with Olaf. Oh and lots and lots of “Let it Go”. Your head will be ready to bust open it will be so full of “Let it Go” by the time you get out of there. You will leave through the new Frozen gift shop taking place of the current and much loved Exit Theater. Then you will have the chance to queue up for 3 hours to meet “Elsa and Anna” and if you are lucky maybe they will have a boutique to get your little girl made up to look like the queen as well. Screw Norway and its centuries of proud history… this will be a Norway pavilion in name alone; and it will crush all attendance records. The pavilion will instantly become the most popular in the park and Disney will tout how they are giving fans what they want because they are so in tune with the pulse of the fan nation… sigh.

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Here is a quaint(ish) church at the Norway pavilion in Epcot. A really for real representation of an actual place on this planet.

I can’t blame Disney on some level; Norway has been in need of refurbishment for many years and the actual country of Norway or its industrial leaders seem unwilling to pay. Here is an opportunity to spend very little and create a massive hit… one that surely will score very highly on every exit survey they take (lets face it, getting a 9 year old girl excited about Frozen is not all that difficult, and if the little princess is happy so too are the parents of said princess).

Vikings are fierce and all but they are about to get their asses handed to them by an army or pre-pubescent girls and there is not one damn thing anyone can do to stop it.

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Here is a man wearing a suit made of dolls. It has exactly as much to do with the really for real Norway as Arendelle or Frozen do.

Just as the Disney fans were calming down after the Frozen freak out Disney came along last week and announced that the Backlot Tour at Disney Hollywood Studios was also closing… effective pretty much immediately and with no replacement yet announced. Unlike the Norway situation most fans (including us for the most part) welcome shutting down the Backlot Tour. Yes, this was an original attraction dating back to 1989 but really it’s just a shadow of its former self. When it was new the tour was great fun. It featured not only the water tank and tram tour (then a bit longer than the most recent version and with the promise of more to come… that of course never did) but also special effects demonstrations and extensive walking tours through sound stages and post-production facilities. A bevy of late 80’s celebrities guided us via video screens and the whole affair took several hours to complete. But over the years it was scaled back and simplified, parts were removed, the walking tour was deleted and in general it became just an excuse to bus people out to see Catastrophe Canyon (itself a blatant rip off of the superior Universal Earthquake attraction). The tour takes up a huge expanse of space and the possibilities of what may go there have fans very excited indeed.

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Screw you tram tour… apprantly no one cares.

So here we are, at a crossroads. Is Disney going to blow us away by doing something truly amazing with this land? Are they going to play it safe and do something pretty good or are they going to pull a Frozen on us and stick some cheapie nothing back there so that (on paper) they can point to the expanded attraction count and market the hell out of in essence nothing?

Lets look at the possibilities:

Dream scenario:

I think there is very little chance of this coming to fruition… but it’s not impossible and it is fun to imagine what could be.

If you look at an areal view of the park you can see that about 30% – 40% of the park holds more or less nothing. Starting just past Star Tours you have Muppetvision 3-D, some shopping and dining locations, then the car stunt show “Lights, Motors. Action!” and then a bunch of now closed space that the Backlot Tour took up. Imagine if the closures were not done? Imagine if Disney announced that both Muppets and the car show were also going away. This would free up a huge expanse of space that would be absolutely perfect for the Star Wars land that we all know and hope is coming. It would give them the space to do something amazing. It would be an opportunity to show what they are capable of and with any luck they would nail it. Sure losing Muppets would be sad but it’s old and in need of a refresh… maybe they could even movie it over to the Animation Building and re-theme that area a bit?

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Yes it’s a crazy dream that never is going to happen… but come on, THIS would shut up critics once and for all.

Star Tours would stay exactly where it is likely with a re-worked exterior (sorry At-At), it would serve as the entrance point to a massive world that could span multiple Star Wars locations and truly be a park within a park; beyond anything they have ever done before. Streets of America, Honey I shrunk the Kids playground, Catastrophe Canyon…. it all gets bulldozed. There is so much land there that they could fit half a dozen major rides. There is room for restaurants, shops, attractions, meet and greets and more… all perfectly situated off on it’s own and with endless possibilities… eat me Potter!

More likely scenario:

Alas the dream scenario also would cost a billion or so… well worth it in my mind but since when has Disney been into spending that kind of money at Walt Disney World? Sure, new Fantasyland is nice and all but at the end of the day it is one dark ride a kiddy coaster and some meet and greets… it is not the scale of what Star Wars begs to be. So what else might be going into that now suddenly available space?

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They could do worse.

Probably an expansion of Pixar Place… this may not be all bad. For a couple of years there have been rumors of a version of Carsland coming to Florida and clearly there is space to do that now. Muppets would stay, car show would stay (and I guess possibly, just maybe, could even be re-designed into a “Cars” theme. The park would get the major ride from the Carsland expansion at DCA (Radiator Racers) and it would be a big hit. I’d much prefer keeping that unique to California but it certainly would do well in Florida and we know how Disney likes amortizing it’s development costs over multiple parks… and here they certainly could do just that. We also know how they like jamming the animated films everywhere they possibly can (cough… Frozen… cough) and there you go. A nice major addition that few could complain about even if it is not the absolute greatest thing they could do.

Another option would be a similar major expansion with Pixar but with an all-new ride, perhaps the Monsters Inc. coaster we have heard a lot about over the past few years. Either way the location of the Backlot Tour lines up perfectly with Pixar Place and would make for an easy expansion while losing very little and gaining a lot. Of course this makes less room for the eventual Star Wars addition (unless they are thinking much larger… like expanding outside of the current park boundaries or- gasp – it’s own park altogether).

Most likely scenario (and please let this not happen… PLEASE):

Years ago I would have bet Disney would aim high and go for one of the previous options… but Disney of today especially in Florida seem to have very different priorities… and spending a lot of money is certainly NOT one of them. So this leads to what is actually the most likely scenario and the absolute worst one I can think of: Adding a cheapo Pixar expansion; a clone of those in Paris and Hong Kong. Listen, I have been to both of those parks and I can tell you unequivocally that the Pixar Place kiddy areas are amongst the worst things Disney has ever done. They are going back to the original execution of Disney’s California Adventure by taking off-the-shelf amusement park rides, painting them Disney colors and slapping a cute name on them. They have no business being in Disney parks and exist solely to add capacity and to give the marketing guys some quick ammunition. It is easy to pass them off as something new and special but they are not special… they are as far from special as you can get. But I know that the similar Bugsland stuff in DCA does reasonably well for them and the Pixar stuff in both Hong Kong and Paris have served an effective purpose. By far the easiest, cheapest and worst option would be duplicating it at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

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Here we see the Pixar Place expansion Disney added in Paris and Hong Kong… oh wait, this is a pile of garbage. Our mistake.

This puts us in a bad position. It would be very hard to maintain any amount of enthusiasm for the park if this is what they decide to do. Perhaps this in addition to one of the other expansions would be OK but this alone amounts to more or less a slap in the face. It would be clearly announcing that they no longer care about the fans or even future fans… that they are going for the simplest and easiest way to market without any real desire to deliver unique or deep or creative experiences for guests. They might as well light a match to the park.

Who knows what will actually happen? I guess they will announce something soon and all we can hope is that they choose wisely. I think the D-23 Expo next summer will bring big Star Wars park news… whether the Backlot Tour closure is connected to that or not we will have to wait and see. Maybe they will announce a modest Pixar Place expansion now only to surprise us with a larger Star Wars expansion later?

What we know is that change is afoot and they have the opportunity to do something great here… or to do something that disappoints many for an easy short-term gain.

Is this going to be more of the same or mark the turning point when they get serious about the new properties they have and how to incorporate them into the parks?

Will they squander the one property they have that has the potential to redefine what a theme park experience can be or will they blow us all away and re-establish their position as the leaders and innovators of the industry?

Keep your fingers crossed… and May the Force be with them.