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New, slicker Star Tours relaunches at Disneyland

After shutting down for a redesign, Disneyland's Star Tours ride opened this past weekend to return star travelers to a "galaxy far, far away." The retooled Star Tours: The Adventures Continue" featuress 3D tech, HD screens, and more.

ANAHEIM, Calif.--After being closed for more than a year for a major redesign, the 24-year-old Star Tours ride at Disneyland reopened this past weekend as Star Tours: The Adventures Continue. Disney and Lucasfilm have equipped the re-imagined ride with new 3D technology, HD screens, and improved audio animatronics, so CNET strapped into the simulator to test the the new attraction.

Since the original Star Tours based on the first three "Star Wars" films ("A New Hope," "The Empire Strikes Back," and "Return of the Jedi") opened in 1987, George Lucas and company released a second trilogy of films introducing new characters and locations into the Star Wars universe. Meanwhile, improved audio technology and animatronics, HD screens, and 3D imagery have made their way into popular consciousness. The new Star Tours joins of all those elements together into a more modern entertainment experience.

While I managed to get a look at the new attraction with a press pass, park visitors waited in two-hour lines. As they wove through the traditional theme park wraparound lines, new high-def screens presented themed messages about possible destinations and the ride's security procedures. A new and improved animatronic C3PO and R2D2 bicker while they prepare your shuttle for travel through a galaxy now ruled by the Galactic Empire. While the ride remains similar in feel to its predecessor prior to boarding that shuttle, its art direction and technology got a serious upgrade.

It's not until you step into the retooled motion simulator that the most important redesign elements come into play. First, the large HD 3D monitor serving as your "view port" --combined with new Dolby 3D visuals and surround sound--make your travel into a new galaxy more vivid and involving. The redesign also did away with the annoying comic-relief robot (voiced by Pee Wee Herman's Paul Reubens) that got your space shuttle lost in the original ride and replaced him with the obvious and preferable addition of C3PO (voiced by Anthony Daniels) and R2D2.

The new ride takes place between the two movie trilogies, offering the potential for combat and action during the in-ride experience. Riders travel to any two of six destinations, including Coruscant, Hoth, Kashyyyk, Naboo, Tatooine, and The Death Star and can run into Darth Vader, Yoda, Chewbacca, Yoda, Boba Fett, and others while they join the Rebel Alliance. With three beginning sequences and three endings, riders can now visit Star Tours a total of 54 times and have a different experience each time.

With an entire ride time of about 4.5 minutes, it all flies by in a bouncy blur once you strap into the simulator. But the 3D is effective, and the addition of more venues and characters should keep rabid Star Wars fans satisfied as the ride navigates them through their favorite galaxy far, far away.