Imagineering Awesome: Death Star Trench Run

This post is part of the Imagineering Awesome series

This is a TRIPLE SUPER EXTRA SPECIAL BONUS edition of the Imagineering Awesome series so if you’ve missed any of the previous posts, click on the link at right. It will open in a new window.

Today’s exciting new attraction (and officially the LAST attraction in this series) comes to us from Katherine of Food Fitness Fantasy (and of just generally being awesome).

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I was basically a Disney fan since I was in the womb, so I can’t really pinpoint the moment when I became obsessed. I can, however, pinpoint that moment that I became a hardcore “Star Wars” fan.

I had avoided the franchise because it seemed like a “stupid gun movie for boys,” as I allegedly told my father as a preteen, but he still insisted on taking me to see the special edition theatrical release of “Star Wars: A New Hope” in January 1997. I complained during the entire short ride to the movie theater and complained while I stood in line for popcorn. I complained basically until the fateful blue letters proclaiming, “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” appeared on the screen.

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And somehow, from that point on, I was absolutely transfixed. I don’t remember having that kind of a reaction to a movie ever, except, of course, when my dad took me to see “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi” in the theater in the following months.

In the decade and a half since I’ve seen these films, I have shown my love for “Star Wars” in the normal ways other “Star Wars” fans show their love — wearing apparel and costumes, purchasing personalized sheet cakes, reading expanded universe novelizations and comic books, giving the prequels numerous extra chances (alas), getting TIE fighter tattoos, et cetera et cetera.

While I’ve never been able to plan a trip to Walt Disney World during Star Wars Weekends (for shame!), I always head in the direction of Star Tours right off the bat during any trip to Hollywood Studios. I’ve always loved that WDW (and Disneyland!) has had a “Star Wars” simulator ride, Star Tours: The Adventures Continue provided a thrilling and much-needed update to the beloved attraction.

Star Tours (from Disney.com)

Of course, now that Disney OWNS the franchise, the possibilities for attractions are limitless. And being a huge “Star Wars” and theme park aficionado, of course the first place my mind went upon hearing of the acquisition was, “SO WHEN AND WHERE ARE THEY GOING TO BUILD STAR WARS LAND?” Early reports from Disney seemed to quash the idea of jumping right into theme park expansion until some new films were released, but blogosphere reports from the last few weeks seem to indicate that Walt Disney World has gotten or will be getting the green light for both a Star Wars Land and a Cars Land at Hollywood Studios.

Of course, this is thrilling news, as it basically all of my childhood dreams coming true and all of my interests in one accessible place that I visit at least once a year. It is also the perfect setting for my attraction idea, the Death Star Trench Run, arguably the best and most thrilling part of the original “Star Wars” trilogy. Why mess with the classics? There’s no better way to win the affection of serious “Star Wars” fans by creating an attraction based on the first movie where you become Luke Skywalker.

The exterior of the attraction resembles Yavin 4, the wooded, rainforest-y moon that is home to the rebel base — and slated to be destroyed by the Death Star as soon as the space station is within firing range. As you enter the complex that houses the attraction and wind through the queue, you’ll see life-size X-wings and the Millennium Falcon being prepped for takeoff — last minute mechanical updates, droids being placed in the craft, and so on.

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As you get closer to the ride, a cast member in Rebel Alliance garb will cordon off a group of people to place in a room for the pre-attraction instructions, such as in the Haunted Mansion or Test Track or Alien Encounter (RIP, Alien Encounter).

Here, straight from “A New Hope,” a hologram of the bearded General Jan Dodonna will appear to give you instructions.  “An analysis of the plans provided by Princess Leia has demonstrated a weakness in the battle station. But the approach will not be easy. You are required to maneuver straight down this trench and skim the surface to this point. The target area is only two meters wide. It’s a small thermal exhaust port, right below the main port. The shaft leads directly to the reactor system. A precise hit will start a chain reaction which should destroy the station. Only a precise hit will set off a chain reaction. The shaft is ray-shielded, so you’ll have to use proton torpedoes … man your ships. And may the Force be with you.”

A door opens and you’re on the loading dock for the attraction! It’s an Omnimover dark ride, again like the Haunted Mansion. But instead of Doom Buggies, you’re in X-wing ships with room for two people. Instead of a bar lowering, the front part of the vehicle slides down, as with Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin. Each person gets a trigger-type controller on their side along with a screen that will ostensibly play messages from the rebel base and also work as the onboard targeting computer, letting you know when you’re close enough to hit the exhaust port. A preliminary warning from Princess Leia on the video screen warns you not to press the trigger until you’re close to the target or an Imperial fighter will be on your tail— this should be an immersive experience that makes you feel like you’re really trying to blow up the Death Star, not some Buzz Lightyear shoot-at-Zurg free-for-all.

Leia Warning

You take off with more speed than the average Doom Buggy, and that’s when you realize you’re not just riding slowly in one direction with the ability to tilt or rotate slightly. No, this is an attraction along the lines of Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey at Universal’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter — the X-wing ride vehicles are attached to a robot arm that rotates, elevates and tilts, taking you alongside movie screens showing the trench run footage from the actual film! Like in the Harry Potter attraction, the IMAX-type movie screens are combined with actual physical props and scenery that resembles the exterior of the Death Star, so it feels like you’re really there. Watching the footage combined with the movement and slight shaking of the X-wing ride vehicle is akin to flying, and it’s not exactly a smooth ride — the Empire’s TIE fighters are shooting at you from all directions. Directions from the General and Princess Leia encourage you to fire at enemies, and you actually feel the heat and see the sparks from just-exploded TIE fighters that your ride vehicle swoops by.

Finally, you’re approaching the exhaust port. The screen switches to your targeting computer and you’re encouraged to fire, but the torpedoes exploded on the port’s surface. Your vehicle pulls out of the trench and heads back in, preparing for another run, when your on-board computer intercepts a message from Darth Vader (dun-dun-DUN)! It turns out he’s pursuing you in his own TIE fighter! Your X-wing shakes slightly as it moves to avoid Vader’s fire, all while you receive messages from his craft, showing that he knows you’re strong in the Force — and that he has to kill you.

Suddenly, the ghostly bluish image of Obi-Wan Kenobi appears on your screen. “Let go. Use the Force.” You’re approaching the exhaust port, but Vader’s still on your ass — you can tell from the enemy fire and the alternating screens of Vader saying menacing stuff like “I’ve got you now.”

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Out of nowhere, the Millennium Falcon swoops in firing and Vader’s craft careens out of the trench. Han Solo appears on your screen: “You’re all clear, kid, now let’s blow this thing and go home!” Your trigger glows the same bluish color of Obi-Wan, and you fire.

Your torpedoes enter the exhaust port, and your X-wing lifts up and leans out of the trench as the screen pulls back and the Death Star gets farther and farther away until it beautifully and gloriously explodes. “Great shot, kid, that was one in a million!” Han says on your screen, and as you pull in to disembark, the voice of Ben Kenobi can be heard echoing all around you: “The Force will be with you. Always.”

You exit through the gift shop, obviously, where you can totally buy a replica of that sweet medal that Han, Chewbacca and Luke get from Leia in the throne room at the conclusion of the film.

Is the Force strong with this attraction? Let us know in the comments below. 

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