Ever wondered what it would be like to fly the Millennium Falcon? If you’re a Star Wars fan of any kind, be it a franchise-long diehard, a recent convert inspired by the new trilogy or ongoing animated works, or even a casual enthusiast, the answer to that question is a certain yes (if not an outright “duh”). With the arrival of Galaxy’s Edge, the Star Wars-themed park expansion arriving at Disneyland on May 31 and Disney World on August 29, Disney and Lucasfiilm are giving you the opportunity to step inside your own Star Wars story and climb aboard the fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy.
How does it hold up to the dream? Pretty impressive overall; heck, even the first moment you get to see the full-scale Falcon is a breath-taking experience, but Smuggler’s Run also has the burden of being the single ride attraction at Galaxy’s Edge on opening day (the much-hyped Rise of the Resistance won’t open until later this year), and for all its thrills and immersive charm, Smugglers Run isn’t quite innovative or awe-inspiring to live up to the hype on its own. At times, it feels more like playing the most expensive Star Wars game in the world than a traditional theme park ride, but it is a rather addictive game; one that’s fun as hell and created on a spectacular, impressive scale.
Down to its core concept, Galaxy’s Edge is intended to be an immersive experience for visitors, who don’t just step into iconic scenes from the franchise and sit back a la Star Tours but write their very own story over the course of their visit. In fact, you won’t even see the words “Star Wars” on the merchandise in Galaxy’s Edge. Why? Because you wouldn’t find Star Wars merchandise in a Star Wars story either!
In keeping, Smugglers Run is an immersive game, not just a motion simulator that takes you soaring (or most often, smashing) through the galaxy, but an interactive game that required everyone on board to take on a roll in the ship. And you’ve got a mission too! All of Galaxy’s Edge is set in the roughly present of the franchise, which means the Falcon is now in the hands of Chewbacca, and Smugglers Run finds The Clone Wars and Rebels character Hondo Ohnaka borrowing the ship from his furry old pal for a special shipment.
First you have to find the Falcon, tucked into the central area of Galaxy’s Edge, and the moment you come upon it, it’s quite the vista to take in. The life-sized ship exterior is stunning, especially at night, and to the left of the ship, you walk into the queue, where you wander through the Ohnaka Transport Solutions hangar. Once you reach the top, you’re escorted to the room where you meet Ohnaka, who recruits you for a special mission to retrieve some valuable coaxium from Corella to help the Resistance.
Once the impressive Ohnaka animatronic runs down your mission, you walk through a hallway with an incredible view over the Falcon, straight into the ship, which is spectacularly rendered with film-level attention to detail (minus those exit signs) and a primo area for photo opps. While the line is no doubt going to be extremely long, the designers took care to make sure that, along with the rest of Galaxy’s Edge, the queue is also an immersive experience where riders can use the Disney Parks Play app to interact with various elements, whether it’s translating a sign in an alien language or tuning into and eavesdropping on comms.
Once you’re in the Falcon, be sure to keep an eye out for Porg nests (though I didn’t spot any of the furry creatures, their nests are abundant), and take in the sights of the fully functioning ship — because it may not be in such good shape by the time you land! As I said, each rider takes on a roll in the ship, and if your team crash lands or gets blasted out of the sky, the Falcon will take the hit, with a busted up Falcon, including bursts of steam and blaring red lights, awaiting you on the exit side.
There are six seats in the ride; two pilots in front, two gunners in the middle, and two engineers in back, and you’ll be handed a color-coded tab that assigns you your role and provides some basic instructions. I was lucky enough to ride Smugglers Run four times over the course of the press visit, so I’ve got a pretty comprehensive breakdown of what you can expect from each role. As you’d expect, pilots fly the Falcon, the pilot on the right handling the up/down movements (as well as controlling the light speed lever) and the pilot on the left taking on the left/right movements. This is going to be the fan-favorite position — after all, the whole hook is the dream of flying Han Solo’s iconic ship — and it is a hoot, but it’s also hard. You’re gonna need a few runs before you figure out how much to tilt and where the hell those pesky brakes are. This is also where you get the best view of the action happening through the window, and it’s as immersive as it can get.
Gunners are tasked with shooting down assailants, as well as shooting through some harpoon cables when the time comes to free your shipment. There are two options for gunners; automatic and manual. While manual is definitely harder, it’s also more fun since the auto setting mostly involved endlessly pushing a single button. On manual, you have an up/middle/down option for firing that makes the job a lot more challenging, but also more fun. At the end of the ride, you get a number count of how many fighters you shot down.
The engineer is in charge of fixing the ship during all the wear and tear it takes from knocking into spires and taking fire. Ultimately, that amounts to hitting buttons and flipping switches, which flash when they need attention. That might not sound like a hoot, but it was actually my favorite roll to play, and I’m rather chuffed to report I finished my final ride with 100% success in engineering. Oddly enough, this is the part of the ride that jostles you the most but made me feel the least motion sensitive (that would be the pilot’s seat) — and fair warning, while you’re bumping around in there, be careful not to knock into one of your switches! I did on my first engineer run and watched my perfect score rapidly drop to 72%.
Bottom line, there is a lot to experience with Smugglers Run and it’s one heck of an impressive addition to Disneyland’s lineup of attractions, but the fact that the ride is designed as a gaming experience with replay value in mind means you may not get your dream experience on the first go. That wouldn’t be such a big deal, but considering how long the waits are going to be and the fact that you’ll probably only get to ride once, maybe twice per visit until the hype dies down (if that ever happens), a lot of visitors aren’t going to get the dream experience. After all, there are only two pilot seats per ride and there’s no denying that’s what most folks will want to do. Not to mention the fact that, if you’re not in the pilot’s seat, you might feel torn between watching what’s happening through the window and performing your job.
That replay value is a bit of a double-edged sword, to be sure, but it also makes for a ride you can experience over and over again with different results. If your hyperdrive breaks, you might end up stranded in an asteroid field as we did, where gunners become the focal point until the pilots can take over again. And depending on how much coaxium you score, and how much damage your crew does to the Falcon (you get a full points breakdown at the end of the ride), you might walk out with some spare credits to your name in the play app. Alternatively, you might end up in debt to Hondo, and if that’s the case, keep an eye out. You might just be sipping on a Yub Nub at Oga’s Cantina and hear murmurs that there’s a bounty on your head.
That immersive element is what really makes Smugglers Run, and Galaxy’s Edge, a success overall. There’s just nothing else quite like it, certainly not in the realm of Star Wars, and when you throw that element on top of the giddy excitement that comes with climbing aboard one of cinema’s most beloved ships and making it soar, Smugglers Run is a special experience.