When Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge was first announced (without its official name) nearly four years ago at D23 Expo 2015, I had a feeling the element of Disneyland’s groundbreaking new land I would be least excited about would be its flight simulator attraction. Fast forward to a couple days ago at the Galaxy’s Edge media preview, and my wariness was confirmed.
Keep in mind that as a lifelong Star Wars fan and Disney Parks addict, I feel as though Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge has been targeted directly at me as a demographic, and after my two days exploring the land I feel entirely satisfied with it having lived up to my very high expectations. From the moment I stepped in through the gates on Wednesday until I left yesterday afternoon I was overwhelmed with emotion and enthusiasm for what I saw, with the notable exception of when I sat down in the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon. At that point I was just… well, whelmed.
The initial pitch of Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run to fans was that it would fulfill a lifelong dream of piloting the “fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy” and while the finished ride technically does that, I’m disappointed to report that it never actually feels like you’re in control. As a pilot (one of three possible roles assigned to guests boarding the attraction) you can steer the ship either slightly left or right or slightly up and down while the pirate Hondo Ohnaka– voiced by actor Jim Cummings, reprising his role from Star Wars: The Clone Wars— barks orders at you to press certain buttons to brake or pull levers to put the ship into Hyperspace.
Smugglers Run is what they call a “rail shooter” in the video game industry. The Millennium Falcon is on a set path and the pilots can only pinpoint its exact position along that path. The other roles on the ride (out of six total passengers) are two gunners and two engineers. The gunners fire the Falcon’s blaster cannon to take out ships and debris ahead of you, while the engineers push buttons indicated by blinking lights to repair any damage sustained by pilot error. The outcome of the ride varies by how well each role performs and guests are given a percentage success rate once they land back on Batuu.
Don’t get me wrong– Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run is fun enough. The first time I rode (as the left pilot) I found myself shouting and laughing, trying (inadequately) to dodge spires and support beams. During my second journey (as the right pilot) I got to send the ship into Hyperspace at the designated moment, which was admittedly a thrill. After that, however, I didn’t feel a pressing need to board again, which seems odd for the opening-day E-ticket attraction in Disney’s most highly anticipated theme park attraction of this century.
I think the problem may lie not within the ride itself, which is perfectly fine if not mind-blowing, but in everything surrounding it. Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge’s environment is so impressively designed, jaw-droppingly executed, and undeniably “real” that once you sit down at the Millennium Falcon’s controls it’s extremely hard to forget that you’re looking out at a screen. I realize that’s a dilemma inherent to flight simulators as a concept, but the contrast is impossible to ignore. Outside the attraction (and heck, even in its wonderful, atmospheric queue and film-accurate boarding area) everything is right there in front of you in glorious physical form. During the ride, I was never truly convinced of any kind of reality.
Is Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run the first E-ticket Disney attraction to be completely overshadowed by the land that surrounds it? If so, it’s a testament to the astounding work that went into bringing Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge to life. I have every intention of becoming a regular in this amazing experiment, but I can’t see myself lining up for Smugglers Run more than every once in a while when the wait isn’t too terrible.
On the other hand, Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance (the area’s second high-profile attraction, delayed until later this year) has every indication of retaining that tactile Galaxy’s Edge feel in the way that Smugglers Run does not. As a much bigger fan of immersive dark rides such as Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean and Haunted Mansion rather than flight simulators like Soarin’, I am eagerly looking forward to stepping foot into that ride vehicle. Until then, I am more than happy to continue exploring Black Spire Outpost and drinking in every detail (not to mention Oga’s concoctions) of Batuu.
Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is open now through June 23 for guests with reservations. On June 24, it will become available to all ticketed Disneyland attendees.
Mike has been fascinated by theme parks and Disney all his life. He has worked in the entertainment journalism field since 2015, after spending a decade as a film projectionist at one of Hollywood’s most prestigious movie theaters. He resides in Burbank, California with his wife and cat.