It’s the end of a Disney theme park era: the last StarJets attraction closes today (October 10, 2017). Is a post paying tribute to a spinner attraction that was long-ago retired at Walt Disney World and Disneyland excessive?
Eh, probably. At Disney Tourist Blog, something being “unnecessary” has never stopped us from babbling about it, so here we are. Plus, I have a few cool photos of StarJets that I don’t think I’ve previously shared.
StarJets shaped the skyline of Tomorrowland at Tokyo Disneyland since the park opened in April 1983, and the attraction has an even longer history around the world. In order to understand StarJets’ place in Disney history, let’s take a trip back in time (AND SPACE!) and look at its legacy elsewhere…
The attraction’s roots date back to March 1956 at Disneyland, less than a year after that nascent park opened. There, the first ride of this sort went by the name Astro-Jets, and was stylized in a way that would feature heavily in Disneyland’s celebration of the Space Age.
In Walt Disney’s original Tomorrowland, the Astro-Jets replaced the Court of Flags, a formation of 48 flag poles flying the flag of every state of the United States. The Astro-Jets were themselves replaced about a decade later in July 1967 with the Rocket Jets, which debuted atop the NASA launchpad above the PeopleMover.
Name aside, Disneyland’s Star Jets were the StarJets. Everything else about the design of the attraction is the same, right down to the “USA” emblazoned on the Saturn V rocket in the center of the attraction at Tokyo Disneyland.
About the only noteworthy differences are that Tokyo’s elevated version was not elevated above a PeopleMover (but rather, the Space Place FoodPort) and this version is sponsored by Japan Airlines.
The similarities at Walt Disney World mirrored those at Disneyland, as the Star Jets in Magic Kingdom were also elevated above the PeopleMover, and also had an identical design to the version cloned to Tokyo Disneyland. The Magic Kingdom version also utilized an elevator to access the elevated Star Jets.
Both Disneyland and Walt Disney World lost this incarnation of the attraction in the mid-1990s due to the New Tomorrowland project, which brought with it Astro Orbiter (or Orbitor). Same idea, but with a different aesthetic. If variations of these attractions still exist in Florida and California, why does anyone care?
For many Walt Disney World and Disneyland fans of a certain age, I think it’s largely a matter of nostalgia. Probably not just nostalgia for StarJets, but for the crisp, clean aesthetics of the bygone Tomorrowlands the attraction represent.
Outside of the spires at the entrance to Tokyo Disneyland’s Tomorrowland, this is a focal point design-wise for those pre-1990s incarnations of Tomorrowland.
For many Disneyland and Magic Kingdom fans, those lost versions of Tomorrowland represent a better version of what now seems like a perpetually-dated and thematically-lacking corner of the park.
I’d include myself among this group, and seeing old photos of Tomorrowland–particularly Disneyland’s version–makes me wish New Tomorrowland never happened. If attractions could’ve just been updated while keeping the basic style, we could still have that ever-green design.
To me, the linchpin of success for any Tomorrowland is not the precise substance of its attractions and whether those remain relevant visions of the future, but it is in a land that evokes a romanticized sense of progress and optimism. For this, architecture that simply looks futuristic is necessary.
Certain styles of architecture embody themes of futurism and progress, regardless of their age. Despite being over 60 years old, I’d still describe both the Stahl House and Kauffman Desert House as looking sleek and modern. By contrast, more recent designs from the 1980s and 1990s look like time capsules of those decades, which are (part of) the problems these Tomorrowlands face.
It’s this wistfulness for that lost Tomorrowland that makes fans like me fond of the StarJets–they represent that lost design. The problem is you can’t go home again.
StarJets might exemplify what we miss in Magic Kingdom and Disneyland, but that Tomorrowland has exactly the same problems as its U.S. relatives. It’s a design hodgepodge, features a variety of ill-fitting attractions and clashing styles.
Despite a few design touches that remain wonderful (I hope those spires never disappear and the rest of Tomorrowland receives placemaking to better-fit that aesthetic), Tomorrowland at Tokyo Disneyland is every bit the mess it is in Florida and California.
In Japan, part of the problem is the sprawling layout of the land. It’s essentially one very long corridor, “transitioning” from Monstropolis to an alien outpost to sections of futuristic design.
This is why, although I’ll pour one out for StarJets (proverbially, with this post), I’m more looking forward to the future. The ambitious New Fantasyland project at Tokyo Disneyland will expand its most popular land, while adding a Beauty and the Beast sub-land with a $750 million price tag. (The attraction in that land is being described as a “Mega E-Ticket.”)
This Beauty and the Beast area of Fantasyland will swallow part of Tomorrowland. That’s a bold move, but I think it’s the appropriate one. If you walk from Monsters Inc Ride & Go Seek all the way to StarJets, you get the feeling that Tomorrowland is interminably long. That, coupled with the clashing identities, necessitated some type of big change.
While I wish that ‘big change’ could’ve occurred at the other end of Tomorrowland, where the aforementioned Monsters Inc. and Star Tours attractions are the biggest thematic-offenders, the reality is that those attractions are incredibly popular (and well done).
By contrast, StarJets has had a long run, and is not nearly as beloved. And, it’s receiving a fond farewell from fans and the park, and there are even a few pieces of merchandise to commemorate the “Final Mission” of StarJets.
In other words, it’s the end of an era for Tomorrowland, but for Tokyo Disneyland, it also marks another milestone towards the beginning of a new era. New Fantasyland there is another step away from cut and paste clones from the U.S. parks that typified its early years, and a step towards the wonderfully immersive environments that Tokyo has been perfecting since it added Critter Country, and really refined with Tokyo DisneySea. If losing StarJets is necessary to gain better-themed and more engaging spaces at Tokyo Disneyland (and it is), that’s a trade-off I’ll take in an instant.
If you’re thinking of visiting Japan for the first time and are overwhelmed with planning, definitely check out our Tokyo Disney Resort Planning Guide. It covers much more than the parks, from getting there to WiFi to currency and much, much more. For more photos and an idea of what we did day-by-day during our first visit, read our Tokyo Disney Resort Trip Report.
Do you agree or disagree with our advice? Any questions? Hearing feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!
Losing an attraction at the Tokyo Resort is infinitely easier than losing an attraction at the US parks. The difference being that when Tokyo Disney Resort makes a change, you are almost certainly guaranteed that the end result will blow your mind, and you’ll hardly even remember what was replaced. In the US parks, however, you can’t even be certain that you’ll end up with a new attraction at all, let alone one that is better than its predecessor.
Unlike the Disneyland versions with sci-fi rockets, the WDW StarJets were Space Shuttles around the old Saturn V. Amazing how TDL once again captured the WDW style, but improved on it; the views from the top of the vehicles – especially the one at night – really sells a futuristic design rather than the 70s designed and developed Shuttles. Don’t get me wrong, the Saturn V is a classic look that fits the 60s DL/70s WDW/80s TDL Tomorrowland skyline, particularly when elevated. I just wish Disney took the time to update the ride vehicles everywhere once they redesigned them for Japan.
On the other hand, the perfect spheres of the Astro Orbiter can be timeless, too, a Spaceship Earth to the rest of the futuristic land. I’ll take a look and see if I’m put off by the ironworks of WDW … and check if the League of Planets is actually spinning!)
This brought back a lot of happy memories of the Rocket Jets at Disneyland. While I didn’t bother to ride them much, I loved to watch the ride. It added so much energy to Tomorrowland, which was my favorite land growing up. For me though, that is the Tomorrowland of the mid-80’s until the horrible New Tomorrowland debacle. After Star Tours opened and America Sings! closed. Nothing against AS, I loved it as a kid, I just didn’t understand how it fit in Tomorrowland thematically
The Jets swirling. The Peoplemover (which I called the People Remover as a kid, Lol. My Mom kept having to correct me) constantly in motion around them, going through the entire land. Including a Tron segment that I loved even though I didn’t see Tron until around the last time I ever got a chance to go on the it before it was closed.
I know for some people Star Tours replacing Journey Through Innerspace was the beginning of the decline, but others were happy about that change. (My parents certainly were and my Dad had grown up going to Disneyland)
That “New Tomorrowland” Astro Orbiter just looks ugly. I want to like the steampunk aesthetic, but it feels totally phoned in. And taking it down off the platform was a HUGE mistake, but I assume that was also done for the stupid Rocket Rods. That is what destroyed Tomorrowland imho.
These photos from Tokyo are fantastic. It’s sad to see the last of the clean, crisp mid-century image of the future gone.
I too couldn’t resist one last ride on this a few months ago. I think it actually proves how well white works (as a colour) in depicting the future.
Without wanting to get too philosophical, it’s notable that the original Tomorrowland has to be enjoyed on a different level (i.e. more abstract) from the rest of the park (which can be enjoyed more literally). That was arguably of necessity from when Disneyland was built – the future conveyed symbolically – but we can now do a great job at simulating a future we haven’t yet reached using ever-advancing simulation technology. E.g., Pandora FoP and Tron.
Although I love the aesthetic of Old Tomorrowland (and even “for now” Future World), it’s hard to justify a symbolic aesthetic when modern attractions can “do the talking”. You only have to think how ridiculous a “symbolic” Frontierland or Adventureland would be.
SDL, as the first chance Imagineering got to define the future from a blank canvas and to a culture that doesn’t have the same preconceptions as we do, is a particularly interesting case study in creating a “tomorrowland” that is more apt to be taken literally.