As it turns out, I’m a terrible pilot. I crashed the Millennium Falcon into so many asteroids, other space vehicles and the ground that it’s amazing the engineer was able to keep it running. Next time I go to Disney World, I expect to find Chewbacca has blocked me from boarding his ship.
But we managed to steal a load of coaxium from a First Order train and put it in the hands of the Resistance, so I don’t think anyone will accuse me — or my equally inept co-pilot — of being operatives for the First Order. That’s a distinct possibility on Batuu, where both factions operate and spies are everywhere.
Piloting the Millennium Falcon, which opens Aug. 29 with the rest of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, takes more skill than you might expect for a theme park attraction.
Unlike Mission: Space at Epcot, where riders are assigned roles but it doesn’t really matter if they push the appropriate buttons, the Millennium Falcon in the Smuggler’s Run attraction is truly interactive, reacting to every twitch and slip the two pilots make.
From the outside, it’s an impressive sight: a life-size version of the ship introduced 42 years ago in the original “Star Wars” movie, backed into a snug docking bay in the rocky landscape of the planet Batuu. On my visit, as other early visitors to Galaxy’s Edge — mostly cast members — came around a corner and saw the ship for the first time, mouths fell open.
In the cockpit, though, the crew gets down to work. Smuggler’s Run is a flight simulator ride where everyone has a job. The six seats are occupied by two pilots, two engineers and two gunners, with the roles assigned, supposedly randomly, by a Disney cast member. However, there are reports from Disneyland that on the California version of the ride, which opened May 31, large groups are allowed to sort roles out among themselves.
Here’s the story line: When Chewbacca lands the Millennium Falcon on Batuu, it’s badly damaged, but the Wookiee can’t afford the repairs. He strikes a deal with Hondo Ohnaka, a Weequay pirate and owner of Ohnaka Transport Solutions. In return for fixing the ship, Ohnaka can use it occasionally. But he doesn’t have enough flight crews, so he recruits them from guests visiting Batuu and its port, Black Spire Outpost.
The engineers and gunners don’t have as much to do and can let the computer take over if they choose. If you’re nervous about being a pilot and killing your family by crashing the ship into an asteroid, or if you just want to observe, those are good roles for you.
But the pilots must steer the ship; they can’t take their eyes off what’s happening outside. These are the most desirable jobs, and they are the most intimidating. It’s not hard to imagine that in many groups, most players will want to be pilots.
Gamers will be at an advantage here and will probably master flying the Millennium Falcon faster than the rest of us. “Hit the brakes!” the engineer yelled at me at one point. I looked around, then yelled back, “Where are the brakes?” Oops, too late. (The last video game I played was Space Invaders.)
With every misstep the pilots take, the ship responds. The ride can get pretty shaky. With every collision, new damage gives the pilots less control, especially if the instruments are damaged. By the time we landed, we had lost so much maneuverability that we may have just fallen out of the sky and crashed. I couldn’t tell the difference.
We came back with one load of coaxium, a rare form of hypermatter needed for high-speed travel, but I hear that better pilots stole more than one load.
The ride is five minutes of intense, rattling fun. George Lucas, who created the Star Wars franchise, said it was like “Star Tours on steroids.” I’d stand in line to ride it again — with strangers, though, because the people who rode with me on this trip certainly aren’t going to let me be pilot again.
But here’s a tip: This is a simulator ride. If you’re prone to motion sickness, find a pair of really good pilots.