Paul Reubens voiced a lesser-known character in the Star Wars universe, droid pilot RX-24 in the Star Tours ride at Disney theme parks. In 1985. Reubens became a huge star when his Pee-Wee Herman character appeared in the wildly successful Tim Burton film Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure. The following year, he voiced Trimaxion Drone Ship, or “Max”, the robotic commander of the alien spaceship in Disney’s Flight of the Navigator.
Paul Reuben voiced RX-24, the pilot robot on Disney’s Star Tours ride, eventually reprising the role on Star Wars: The Clone Wars.
It might have been his success in this role that put Paul Reubens in the minds of Disney Imagineers when working with Lucasfilm to develop the Star Wars-themed attraction. They needed an actor to provide the voice of RX-24, or “Rex,” the droid pilot of the ship carrying theme park visitors to a galaxy far, far away. Star Tours opened at Disneyland in 1987 and, in 1989, was brought to Disneyland’s Tokyo Park, and Disney’s Hollywood Studios (then known as Disney/MGM Studios). It eventually even made it to France, premiering at Disneyland’s Paris Park in 1992.
Hearing Paul Reubens’ well-known voice in the Star Wars-themed ride was a fun and unexpected treat for park attendees, who were boarding what was supposed to be an intergalactic tour that went awry and rocketed into a four-and-a-half-minute adventure.
Along with EPCOT’s Body Wars, the attraction represented a new kind of ride—a combination movie theater and flight simulator that gave audiences the feeling of zooming, climbing, and plummeting through space, dodging Imperial fire while their panicked pilot (Reubens) tried to keep them safe. Along with Rex, the ride featured animatronic versions of C-3PO (voiced by Anthony Daniels) and R2-D2.
The addition of Paul Reubens added a new dimension of comedic wackiness to the Star Wars universe, and the small character has had lasting appeal. After the 2010 closing of Star Tours, which was replaced by the more technologically-advanced Star Tours: The Adventure Continues, RX-24 was replaced by AC-38, or “Ace,” though Rex still appeared for a few brief moments with Reubens’ archived audio providing his voice. But this wasn’t the last fans would see of the character.
The character of RX-24/R-3X has kept Paul Reubens as part of Star Wars for over 30 years, growing from a theme park ride to an award-winning series.
In 2014, Paul Reubens returned as the beloved droid in an episode of the animated series Star Wars Rebels. The episode “Droids in Distress” gave the character a new name, R-3X, to differentiate from Captain Rex, who appeared in another animated series, Star Wars: The Clone Wars. He was also provided with a new backstory, but he was the same old zany character and was a loving callback to the popular ride.
Eventually, Disney‘s merger with Lucasfilm led to the creation of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, which could have led to R-3X’s retirement, but instead saw Paul Reubens return again to voice the character for Oga’s Cantina, where he now serves as a DJ. There was even further story developed for the character, as it is explained in the book Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge: Traveler’s Guide to Batuu that he was reprogrammed for his current duties after his time conducting Star Tours. His appearance in Rebels is even mentioned as having taken place before his time piloting the tour ships.
Paul Reuben’s R-3X is still part of Star Wars, now working as a DJ at the Oga’s Cantina in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge within Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
And so, like the work and memory of Paul Reubens himself, R-3X endures remaining part of the Star Wars universe. Following his recent death at age 70 after years of privately battling cancer, fans will continue to return to the playhouses, big adventures, and robotic antics that helped Paul Reubens win our hearts. He may have been known as Pee-Wee, but he’ll always be as big as the weird, welcoming, and imaginative world he created for us.