How the 501st and Rebel Legions Became Part of Star Tours

Disney Parks’ Star Tours got a facelift three years ago and became Star Tours – The Adventures Continue. The Star Wars-themed ride first opened at Disneyland in 1987 and Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Orlando in 1989. The new version of the attraction features familiar features like the StarSpeeder, but the queue and experience got an upgrade and became more powerful than you can possibly… You get the drift.

When it came time to gather material that would be used in the queue, Disney put a request in with the 501st Legion’s Southern California Garrison and asked members to appear at a silhouette photo shoot. Though they didn’t know it at the time, the footage would be included in the silhouettes scene featured in the queue of Star Tours – The Adventures Continue. The panel features the silhouettes of stormtroopers, Imperial officers, and citizens as they walk through the spaceport. It gives you the impression that it’s a hustling and bustling joint.

I caught up with 501st Legion and Rebel Legion member and fellow Star Wars blog contributor Lawrence Green to find out how he got involved and learned how the Force was with him the day of the shoot. How did the 501st become part of Star Tours – The Adventures Continue?

Lawrence Green: At the end of of July 2010, then Commanding Officer of the 501st Legion’s Southern California Garrison, Lesley Farquhar, received a request for several 501st members to appear at a silhouette photo shoot for something for Disney. Often in cases like this we also line up a reserve member or two in case one scheduled member is unable to make it, and I signed up to be a reserve Trooper.

On the day of the shoot in August 2010, Lesley called to tell me that everyone who had signed up was heading out but said that if I still wanted to go as a handler and senior member to help and observe I should do so since the event was for something unusual and important.

I’m not sure why and can only attribute it to a disturbance in the Force, but for whatever reason just as I was about to leave, I decided to load my Return of the Jedi Luke and X-wing pilot outfits into my car and headed out, not realizing how crucial that decision would turn out to be upon arrival. What was filming like, and who did you end up dressed as?

Lawrence Green: The location we were given turned out to be a small, non-descript studio located in the [San Fernando] Valley. Our four stormtroopers (Tom Brink, Al Eisenmann, Daryl Hokama, and Peter Rode] were already there and had been informed that this was far from even a “special” photo shoot and what was officially named “Project: Lodestar” was to shoot segments for the revamped Star Tours attraction! To say we were surprised would be an understatement. But amidst all the paperwork and NDAs we were filling out and confirming — and before we could really celebrate and contemplate what this opportunity would mean — we had a huge, unexpected problem to surmount: The two Imperial officers scheduled for the shoot had updated to say they were unable to make it!

Although the Imperial officer outfit is not a relatively difficult one to do, finding someone who would fit the role at that moment when shooting had to commence immediately would be impossible.

The director and producer were getting ready to leave the makeshift trooper armor green room to brainstorm, asking us to think of a solution if possible, when I came up with a suggestion and offered that I could go back to my car and combine my Luke boots and belt with the X-wing jumpsuit and gloves. I offered that as long as I kept everything relatively taut, it would look reasonably like an Imperial officer’s uniform except for the completely unorthodox colors and the fact that I didn’t have a regulation Imperial cap. Daryl however had a cap from his TIE pilot outfit with him, and the producer approved the idea on the spot, saying that since we were shooting in silhouette for the new ride it would be perfect. And so literally less than 15 minutes after proposing my idea, I was suited up and on the set by 9:40 a.m. to get things rolling!.

As I wrapped my solo shots, the stormtroopers made their way to set and began both their individual and group run/walks past the window. To specially-emphasize speed and urgency the troopers sometimes ran past the camera and always heavily emoted their movements, and in a few takes, they all had to get a jog-in-place start before being cued to go across the window.

Before we wrapped completely for the day, the producers approached me by way of thanks to appear as a second character. With a quick reshuffling of my outfit and removal of the cap, I also had an opportunity to appear as the character that shows up from time to time operating a large, “hover-platform,” with various items on top. How many different characters and costumes were involved? Did both 501st and Rebel Legions participate?

Lawrence Green: All told we had four stormtroopers on site with me in the two make-shift roles in place of the of the members who were unable to make it. Of the troopers, all four are official members of the 501st and both Al and Peter are also members in the Rebel Legion. But, we also had another member of the Rebel Legion make a huge contribution to the revamped Star Tours: if you are fortunate enough to do the Hoth mission as part of your Star Tours adventure, the snowspeeder pilot featured on the comm is Sunrider Base member Rob Howe.

So our collective crew was:
Thomas Brink, stormtrooper
Al Eisenmann, stormtrooper
Lawrence Green, Imperial admiral and hover platform operator
Daryl Hokama, stormtrooper
Rob Howe, Rebel snowspeeder pilot

[Note: 501st Golden Gate Garrison member BH-1034 portrays Boba Fett in the ride.] What is it like being part of Disney and Star Wars history?

Lawrence Green: It was and remains incredibly exciting to have been able to help out and be a part of something so special, especially because events like this are very rare. We are especially thankful we could do our part, and make sure everything came together when absolutely needed.

Amy Ratcliffe is a writer obsessed with all things Star Wars, Disney, and coffee. You can follow her on Twitter at @amy_geek and keep up with all things geeky at her blog.

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