Part of what makes the new Star Tours so awesome, for me at least, is the incredible level of inside jokes, easter eggs, cookies, remnants, and homages. Probably this is because I publish a book of such tributes (Walt Disney World Hidden History: Remnants of Former Attractions and Other Tributes).
Here’s what we’ve been able to find so far, listed “chronologically” as we progress through the queue and ride. It should be noted that numerous posters on a couple Disney fan sites helped me by adding to my initial list with new items, that are now folded in:
THX1138. On the terminal boarding announcements, watch the bottom of the screen for Flight 1138 to Chandrila. There’s also a verbal announcement for landspeeder THX1138, an echo (though a new recording) of a similar announcement pre-rehab.
Fantasy in the Sky fireworks. One video on the large viewscreen mentions Fantasy in the Sky, a reference to the longtime fireworks show at Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom.
George Lucas. One verbal terminal announcement pages Egroeg Sacul (George Lucas), a holdover announcement from the ride’s previous incarnation.
Tom Morrow. Another verbal announcement mentions Mot Worrom (Tom Morrow backwards), which honors an Audio-Animatronics figure from Tomorrowland’s past (at Disneyland, more than one!)
NCC-1701. Just before reaching the large overhead screen, look to your right for white circle designs in the wall. One is labeled in red font with N1C7C01 – an ‘every other letter’ cipher for the number designation of Star Trek’s Enterprise, NCC-1701.
C3PO and R2D2. Another circle design in this same location uses a backward cipher for the droid names.
Tony Baxter. In the corner just below (just after) the overhead screen, look for lettering in dim light saying TWB3000. This is in deference to Senior Vice President of Creative Development at WDI Tony Wayne Baxter, and the old Star Tours flight number 3000.
Captain Rex. As you cross into the second queue room, look to one side to spot Rex, our former pilot. He’s now marked “defective” and is being sent back for repairs. Listen for a while and you’ll hear some audio from the original ride. I love this tribute, but I’m aware that it’s anachronistic. We’re in the time frame between Episode 3 and Episode 4, so the Rex pilot we know and love hasn’t even been installed yet—having a joke about him is a bit “out of time.” I suppose this is an “even earlier” version of Rex we’re looking at?
Robot Birds. In the original Orlando queue, robotic birds sat atop the entry door just after the second G2 droid—they looked a bit like Salacious Crumb, the lackey “monkey” near Jabba in the movies. They are now encased in a cage near Rex, no longer animated.
TK-421. The Stormtrooper who “wasn’t at his post” in the original Star Wars movie is honored here with a sign just above Rex and the other droids. Note: TK421 is again referenced by the luggage droid, who sees a stormtrooper helmet in the scanner and wonders why he’s not at his post.
America Sings. The two droids in the second queue room were remodeled slightly in the rehab, but you can still see their webbed feet and wagging tails – these animatronics began life as oversized geese in America Sings (later the Innoventions building) in Anaheim’s Tomorrowland. You can see identical geese – their brethren – who were later moved from American Sings to the first indoor scene of Splash Mountain in Anaheim (the whole thing was reproduced here in Orlando, even though the “history” is referential rather than direct).
Star Tours-Anaheim’s Opening Date. Star Tours in Anaheim opened on January 9, 1987 (I was there!), so the mention of 109.87 is no accident! This number appears on the front side of the “suitcase tube” behind G2-9T (the “take a picture it will last longer” droid).
Luggage scanner jokes (movie and character references). The suitcase scanner looks inside baggage to illuminate what’s inside, and there’s often a joke here, like a stormtrooper helmet, Madame Leota, C3PO’s head, Wall-E’s eyes, the Aladdin lamp, Mouse ears (with the name “Luke” on them), Major and Minor Domo from Captain EO, Chip and Dale, or the Incredibles outfit. Also visible at one point is the old logo for the Living Seas pavilion at Epcot.
Ellen’s Energy Adventure. G2-9T (the luggage droid) says “you just think about that!” in a way reminiscent of Ellen’s preshow.
Fix broken droids. G2-9T (the luggage droid) says “this job is a lot better than, say, fixing broken droids all day” – which was his job prior to the refurbishment (and he even sang “I’ve been working on the same droid / all my livelong day.”
Han Solo’s Detention Center banter. G2-9T (the luggage droid) says “boring conversation anyway,” echoing language used by Han Solo on the Death Star intercom while breaking Leia out of the detention center.
Hidden Mickey R2. The shadow figures at the bend in the upramp include an R2 with Mickey ears (also known as R2-MK).
K-DROID. In the original Star Tours queue in Anaheim, a radio sat opposite G2-9T on the first upramp, displaying “107.9” (it was different in Orlando) with the announcer calling it K-DROID every few moments. In the new queue, wait until you are on the second platform, looking down at G2-9T, and you’ll spot a panel labeled KDRD 107.9.
Soarin. The second droid (who constantly urges us to move along) is voiced by Disney veteran (and Soarin’ host) Patrick Warburton. This droid quotes the Soarin’ safety video with phrases like “place all carryons in the overhead comPARTments” and “nice work, pal.”
Alison Janney. Ali San San’s name can be traced to its voice: actress Alison Janney (the ‘sound’ of the name is similar).
Delta Airlines. A prominent safety spiel on Delta airlines uses a coy tone of voice and wagging finger to say “smoking is never allowed on Delta flights”, and Ali San San uses much the same phrase (also including photography) in a clear homage.
Inappropriate flash photo. In the 1987 safety video, a little boy turns around to the row behind him and takes a flash photo of Chewbacca, causing Chewie growl in protest while a nearby Calamarian threatens the boy with a backhand. In the 2011 safety video, a different little child does the same move, and again Chewie reacts while the Calamarian threatens a backhand (a little more subtly than in 1987).
Crazy haired safety spiel lady. The lady with the wacky hairdo in the old ride’s preshow is still around, as party of the group getting onto the speeder in the safety video, though she doesn’t have a speaking role. Look to the second row of the speeder, wearing a purple cloak (she will be on the right side of the screen).
WDI Street Address. We’re on Flight 1401. Sound familiar? WDI is located at 1401 Flower St in Glendale, CA.
PeopleMover. Vehicles at the start of the Stormtrooper opening (moving luggage) are shaped like Orlando’s PeopleMover TTA cars, but they are colored white (with a blue stripe) like Anaheim’s PeopleMover. These luggage cars are also visible on the preshow video if you get there early enough.
Wilhelm Scream. The speeder bike clone trooper who crashes into a tree (just after the wookie slides off the viewscreen) gives the famous Wilhelm scream.
Restricted Combat Zone. “Star Tours – What are you doing here? This is a combat zone. It’s restricted. Ease off on your main thruster.” This phrase is largely kept in the new movie during the Hoth scene: “Star Tours – This is a restricted area. What are you doing here? Stay clear of the combat zone.”
Mission Space homage. The finale of the Mission Space ride at Epcot includes a moment where the spaceship teeters at the edge of an icy canyon, and our host Gary Sinise says “Don’t move a muscle.” A similar phrase is used when our Starspeeder-1000 teeters on the edge of an icy canyon on Hoth.
Rex’s Death Star run. In the original movie, Rex claims “I’ve always wanted to do this! We’re going in!” In the new movie, C3PO says something similar in Tatooine: “Oh a podrace! I’ve always wanted to do this!”
Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. Leia’s famous phrase is here relayed as “Help me, Star Tours. You’re my only hope.”
What message? C3PO’s famous phrase is also repeated here as “What transmission?” (and Threepio is still talking to R2D2!)
Rex’s lack of brakes. In the original movie, Rex screams “Brakes! Brakes! Where are the brakes?!” near the beginning of that movie. C3PO says the same exact phrase at the end of the Naboo sequence.
I have a bad feeling about this. As we approach the Death Star, C3PO utters the phrase used in all Star Wars movies.
Mighty Microscope. Inside the Death Star (Mustafar/asteroid scene) is hidden the Mighty Microscope, on the left side of the screen in the tunnel as we exit the Death Star. The Mighty Microscope was a prop/element in Adventure Thru Inner Space, an Omnimover ride that preceded Star Tours in Anaheim. When Star Tours moved in (1987), the Microscope showed up as a prop in the hangar of the movie (also true of the Orlando attraction, which used the same film).
Tomorrowland-T. One of the electronic billboards we fly past includes the “T” logo from Disneyland’s 1998 Tomorrowland re-do.
FUEL Truck. We almost crashed into a truck labeled FUEL (all caps) in the original movie, and a similarly-named truck can be seen at the end of the Coruscant sequence.
Hidden Mickeys. Look to the back wall in the last scene of Coruscant for a whole row of Hidden Mickeys.
If you find any more, please drop a note here in the comments!