I'm hurtling upside down through the dark while a fighter pilot jabbers incomprehensible French words in my ear. Out of the corner of my eye, a Star Wars TIE fighter screams past, pursued by an X-Wing.
I'm not in a galaxy far, far away, but at Disneyland Paris riding the Hyperspace Mountain roller coaster. Opened in May after a four-month refurbishment, Hyperspace Mountain rebrands the park's version of the famed Space Mountain. It uses the same ride design and infrastructure but broadcasts video of the space battle I glimpsed onto the interior of the "mountain" while piping a soundtrack through speakers in each seat.
I rode Hyperspace Mountain two weeks ago on my first trip to Disneyland Paris. I'd been eager to experience the only Space Mountain with inversions, so it was the first attraction my husband I tried when we entered the park. But even after one ride, the concept didn't work for me. Sure, the roller-coaster portion is thrilling, but I wasn't feeling the force of the Star Wars theme. Hate me if you will, but allow me to explain.
First, some background
Disney parks and I go way back. I grew up not far from Disneyland Anaheim, and in the mid-1990s (I'm that old), I worked there for two summers as a Jungle Cruise Skipper. Yes, I was the guy who drove the boat while telling the hilarious joke (look, everyone, that's the backside of water!) and shooting the gun to scare the charging hippos. It was a fun job and I grew to know the park well.
I've wanted to visit Disneyland Paris since it opened 25 years ago, and I was not disappointed. The architecture and design are gorgeous, you can buy wine with your hamburger, and you ride Blanche-Neige et les Sept Nains instead of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. There's no Jungle Cruise, which is sad, but that's my only gripe. After the original Disneyland, it's my favorite Disney park. Sorry, Magic Kingdom in Florida, but you're just a copy.
A shoehorned Star Wars
I get it: A marriage between Space Mountain and Star Wars sounds like a good idea. They're both about space! What could go wrong? As it turns out, a lot.
To begin with, the whole visual and artistic design of the Star Wars universe completely clashes with the Jules Verne/steampunk architecture of the ride. Outside of some scenes on the city-covered planet of Coruscant (even that's a maybe), there's nothing in Star Wars that resembles the giant cannon on the mountain's exterior that rockets you on your way. If anything, the (formerly) all-white and modernist Space Mountain in California is a better match.
It all just felt shoehorned in, like Jar Jar Binks serving as a Galactic Senator. (Disneyland Anaheim added a similar overlay to its Space Mountain in 2015, which I did not ride, but it undid the makeover this month as the park builds its new Star Wars-themed Land.)
The experience starts in the queue, where monitors flash images of Star Wars vehicles and a talking head says … something in French. Banners hanging above the boarding area depict X-Wing fighters, but that's really all the Star Wars imagery you see before "launch." What's more, the roller coaster's blue-and-gold steampunk trains haven't changed a bit. They're lovely, but a Stormtrooper riding in one would look ridiculous.
Once you're strapped in and the cannon launches you briefly into the daylight, you plunge through a simulated hyperspace light tunnel into the mountain. There, while you swoop through the careening track, a soundtrack plays a dogfight between the Alliance and Imperial forces at the Battle of Jaku.
Over John Williams music performed by the London Symphony Orchestra, you hear the familiar sounds of laser beams, along with fighter pilots talking to each other. The dialogue is all in French, so I didn't catch a word outside of "merci," but that's not the issue. Rather, like the line outside, the Star Wars bits feel tacked on. You barely get to see the video clips of the battle as you zoom past and, unusual for a Disney ride, the "story" is hard to follow. It feels like watching Star Wars while someone violently shakes your chair.
Save Space Mountain
A Star Wars theme made parsecs more sense the next day when we rode Star Tours, the familiar simulator ride that rockets you through the galaxy with old friends like R2-D2. From the moment you enter the queue to when you leave, the theming is immersive and cohesive. That's a Disney trademark -- there's no mystery about where you are and what the attraction is about. Even C-3PO speaking French made sense. It's Star Tours: you know what to expect.
Don't get me wrong: I'd definitely ride Hyperspace Mountain again. It was a blast from start to finish, but Space Mountain never needed improving beyond the occasional new coat of paint. The roller coaster in the dark, between the flickering stars and the asteroid that looks like a giant chocolate chip cookie, is what made the ride so amazing and incredibly fun from the moment I was tall enough to ride it in California. Adding Star Wars didn't make it worse, but it certainly didn't make it better.
If you visit Disneyland Paris, do these things:
- Big Thunder Mountain is amazing, the best Thunder Mountain there is and the best ride in the park.
- Ratatouille: The Adventure at Walt Disney Studios is exceptionally well done. But it is weird walking around a fanciful re-creation of Paris ... in Paris.
- Unlike in the American parks, It's A Small World has a whole section devoted to the US, complete with the Golden Gate Bridge, a Midwest farmhouse and the Statue of Liberty. Oddly, the song doesn't get quite as stuck in your head when it's in French.
- Peter Pan's Flight is amazing as ever, especially the beginning part where you fly over London.
- Have a cocktail at the Cafe Fantasia at the Disneyland Hotel overlooking the park.
- For a departure from theme park fast food, enjoy a delicious Mediterranean lunch buffet at the Aladdin-themed Restaurant Agrabah in Adventureland.
Star Wars at 40: Join us in celebrating the many ways the Force-filled sci-fi saga has impacted our lives.
Crowd Control: A crowdsourced science fiction novel written by CNET readers.