When it comes to dream gigs, it doesn’t get much more exciting or challenging than turning the Millennium Falcon into an immersive ride experience. The iconic Star Wars ship, the fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy, sits center stage at Disneyland’s Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, the new Star Wars-themed land that closed its reservation period and opened for everyone on June 24. But the Falcon isn’t just a centerpiece in the intergalactic landscape of Batuu, the home planet of Galaxy’s Edge, it’s an immersive experience in its own right that lets riders pilot, engineer, or man the gunner’s post. And as the ride project engineer, Walt Disney Imagineer Steve Goddard oversaw the design and execution of the technologically ground-breaking ride systems.
Part motion-simulator ride, part interactive game, Smugglers Run puts parkgoers front and center in their own Star Wars story, where they take a smuggling gig from Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels familiar Hondo Ohnaka, manning the Millennium Falcon in groups of six on a perilous journey through the Galaxy. Each rider’s performance in the game directly affects the outcome of the mission, and if you lose the cargo or bang up the ship, Ohnaka puts it on your tab (in the form of credits through the Disney Parks Play app.)
Just before taking my first ride on Smugglers Run, I had the opportunity for a quick chat with Goddard, to talk about the challenges of executing the ride and his favorite things about how it turned out. The ride project engineer talked about how they approached creating a ride that called for unprecedented technology, his favorite role to play aboard the Falcon, what happens when a flight goes wrong, and his tips for the must-do activities during your Galaxy’s Edge visit. Watch what he had to say in the video above, or read the transcript below.
Tell me a little bit about the specifics of what you do here at the park and your specialty.
STEVE GODDARD: I’m the ride project engineer for the Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run, so that means I’m responsible for the design and production of the ride system for that ride.
Without giving away the surprises, what is your favorite detail about Smugglers Run?
GODDARD: I think that what actually makes this special is that you are actually flying the Millennium Falcon, you’re on board the controls, you steer it, you’re firing the blasters, you’re repairing damage, so it’s a completely interactive game, which is a big technology jump for us because that means we’re rendering everything with real-time graphics, real-time motion cues. It’s not something that we’ve done before.
Was there a particular hurdle to realizing that and bringing it to life?
GODDARD: Absolutely. When we started this, the technology for doing our rendering of graphics didn’t even exist. We’re filling an enormous screen with theatrical quality graphics in real time, and that technology didn’t exist when we started. So we found ourselves just kind of looking over the horizon, trying to figure out what’s going to be there when we need it, and what isn’t there, that’s what we’re going to invent.
That feels like good life advice to just take home in general.
GODDARD: [Laughs] Oh, absolutely!
How does the ride itself, the experience on Smugglers Run, play into the story that you guys are building overall here at Galaxy’s Edge?
GODDARD: When you think of Star Wars, you think of the Millennium Falcon. It is the quintessential ship for — it’s not only the fastest ship in the galaxy, it’s the ship that everyone wants to fly. It’s been in so many of the episodes, and it anchors this land and it brings it to life as the Star Wars galaxy.
What’s your favorite role to experience in the ride — do you like to play the pilot? The engineer?
GODDARD: I’m an engineer, so it’s hard not to take the engineering position, but who doesn’t want to fly a space ship? That’s fun as well!
I’m scared! I don’t want to crash the Millennium Falcon.
GODDARD: You’ve never flown a space ship before?
All the time. I am so qualified. It’s gonna be fine… you know, I might be more of an engineer too. Let me fix what you did.
GODDARD: The gunner’s a lot of fun too, you’re blasting things up, it’s a good time. Everyone has a role in there, so it’s a lot of fun.
I imagine that’s going to be quite the debate point between families or groups of five or more — who gets to take what role.
GODDARD: Absolutely. Our operations team will hand you the placards that define your positions. and then you can fight it out amongst yourself where you want to go. So families can put the little ones up front if they want to, or maybe dad just takes the controls and drives the car. We’ll see.
But if dad crashes the car, you’ll see that at the end.
GODDARD: Oh yeah, there’s repercussions. Hondo Ohnaka runs this company and he gets upset when people damage his goods. You’ll know about it, you’ll hear about it if you crash it.
Was that fun or sad to design a busted up Millennium Falcon, because no one wants to see that, right?
GODDARD: [Laughs] Yeah, it’s part of the deal! It was kind of fun to design it. There’s a lot of effects that go off on the inside. If you crash it, you get sparks and lights flashing and air blasts in your face. All things that are just all in good fun.
Obviously the Millennium Falcon, that’s your jam, but other than that, what are three essential stops or things to do when people get to the park?
GODDARD: You gotta fly the Millennium Falcon. I would build a Lightsaber, if it was me. There’s a lot of seedy characters walking around here and having a lightsaber might come in handy. I wouldn’t skip Oga’s Cantina, out of world experience, a lot of fun going on there. And you’ve got to get some blue milk while you’re here as well.