Disneyland Park, Anaheim, CA
Ladies and gentlemen, as we promised in our First Thoughts post this past Tuesday on Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, today is the first in a series of deeper dives into various aspects of Disneyland’s newest and most spectacular themed land. The planet of Batuu is currently open to guests with reservations gained either from last month’s online sign-up or an overnight hotel stay on Disney property, but everything within the land is fully operational—except for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance.
Our topic today, however, is the other ride at Black Spire Outpost—Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run, a stupendous attraction in and of itself, easily worthy of an E-Ticket designation, and the flagship of most any other themed land in any of Disney’s many theme parks.
Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run fulfills the dream of many a Star Wars fan by allowing them to step inside the famous Corellian freighter and operate it on a daft mission to Corellia to “procure” some energy sources on behalf of unscrupulous smuggler—er—transporter Hondo Ohnaka. Rich in detail and technological innovation, this attraction brings forth the next generation in motion simulator rides, merging video game interactivity with a tactile set and teamwork enterprise to produce an experience that is different and unique with every ride. We’re about to cover a lot of facets to this attraction, so turn back now if you want to avoid spoilers. You have been warned!
In the Queue
By now, anyone who has hungered on Galaxy’s Edge details has seen the glorious views of the Millennium Falcon parked in front of a string of towering rockwork, framed by large plaza space in front of it and flanked by the towering, petrified tree spires that mark this rugged planet. The rock in particular behind the Falcon is called Bakkar Spire, and it serves as the not-so-secret operations base for the ex-pirate-turned-smuggler Hondo Ohnaka, who has turned to secretly aiding the Resistance—in ways that help him turn a profit for himself, of course.
The life-size Millennium Falcon marks the start of the line for its signature Smuggler’s Run attraction, and this queue is an attraction in and of itself. Although lines for the attraction have dropped to as low as 15-20 minutes during the limited, reservation-only admission thusfar, I actually think that a slightly longer half hour line serves first-time guests better to really take in all the sights, sounds, and details of this incredible setting. Guests who also want to take advantage of interacting with various game elements via the Disney Play app would also need some amount of time to scan the various QR codes scattered throughout the line and then complete the various tasks.
Guests enter the line to the left of the Millennium Falcon, curving around behind it and before switchbacking and entering a hangar in earnest. Inside, guests can still glimpse to the Falcon and the exterior along a select few windows, but the eye candy is really all of the elements that quickly immerse people into the environment of a space smuggler. Welcome, then, to Ohnaka Transport Solutions! The whole place is basically one big interstellar garage. Equipment, engines, piping, uniforms, and tools are scattered about. The line slowly ramps up, ascending to the second floor by wrapping around the various elements in the room. This is great in its accessibiity. Disabled guests don’t need to take a separate entrance onto the ride. They can roll along with their group members and take in the scenery and ambiance just the same!
A look through the line shows just how intricate this attraction is, and it really calls to mind that Tokyo Disney Sea level of hyper-realism that is mind blow and incredible. The immersion into the Star Wars galaxy kicks in the moment guests enter the land, but the eye candy within the Smugglers Run queue is a particular highlight. it convincingly feels like being in a Star Wars film, giving off rebel base vibes, and provides plenty of items to spy out and enjoy. The way the line wraps around and above itself presents different frames and orientations throughout the wait, allow people to take in props and theming elements from multiple angles. It all feels exceptionally immersive.
If all of this wasn’t enough, there are plenty of visual easter eggs strewn throughout the queue scenery to delight even the most hardcore Star Wars fan. A set-up of the card game, sabacc—the way Han won the Falcon from Lando Calrissiian, can be easily seen on the left when entering the hangar. A proton torpedo stands next to a slightly ajar gray crate just beyond. In the room, there are also a large selection of weapons situated around, including Stormtrooper heavy blasters, Jyn Erso’s blaster from Rouge One, and the rear gun from a T-47 snowspeeder seen on Hoth, just to name a few. One of Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru’s homestead droids lurks further in the background too.
Don’t let the eyes do take all the pleasure, though. There is a banter on the intercom that can be quite hilarious at times, too. mostly featuring a hopelessly inept and clueless low level employee named Garr. Whether it be getting flummoxed by malfunctioning engine testing to grossly overestimating his competence for higher level positions to obliviously giving away Hondo’s illicit activites to the listening public, Garr’s lines and dialogue with a colleague (and at times, even Hondo himself) are absurd and entertaining. Within the serious nature of Galaxy’s Edge theatrical immersion, there is still room for comedy.
The ascending route eventually allows gazes out onto an elevated view of the Black Spire Outpost over and beyond the top of the Millennium Falcon. Here are the only signs of “off-planet” presence. The buttes of Big Thunder Mountain can be seen in the distance from a few windows, though the similar language to the Batuu spires means that this sightline to another land is forgivable and logical. There’s also an obstructed view of the Fantasyland Theater, though one needs to know where to look and what position to take to catch the right line.
Ultimately, guests come to a grouper who sorts them into one of two sides. The sliding doors open, and guests move into the next portion of the queue…
Meeting Hondo Ohnaka
The interface with Hondo Ohnaka himself serves as the preshow of the attraction, laying down the mission and goals of the ride. Hondo has struck a deal with Chewbacca to use the Millennium Falcon to engage a smuggling—sorry again, I meant “transport”—activity. Groups of six are to navigate the ship to the Core Worl planet of Corellia and procure two loads of coaxium, a valuable energy source for moving craft of all types. In return, Hondo helps provide supplies to the Resistance, and he takes a [large] cut of the profits for himself as well!
The audio-animatronic for Hondo is amazingly smooth and magnificently advanced. Behind the Na’vi Shaman in the Na’vi River Journey attraction at Disney Animal Kingdom’s Pandora: The World of Avatar, this is the second most advanced animatronic ever created, with three and half dozen expression functions in its face alone and a fluid and realistic sense of motion that touches the [galaxy’s] edge of the uncanny valley. Hondo’s cheerful and sarcastic demeanor are on full display as he outlines the tasks at hand. But before guests can linger too long, they’re sent on to the next portion of the queue.
Also, Hondo’s droid, R5-P8, has teeth. Teeth!! It’s kind of glorious.
Inside the Millennium Falcon
The last scene before boarding the ride is a watershed moment for all big Star Wars fans, and a total photo op moment tailor made for today’s Instagram-centric crowd. After switchbacking one more time down a corridor, guests come into the interior of the Millennium Falcon herself. As the in-character cast members are sure to tell you, feel to touch anything, as most things are broken and dusty anyway. But to the eye of the Star Wars fan, it’s actually immaculate.
A faithful recreation of the Millennium Falcon’s sitting quarters unfolds before guests as they wait for their turn to actually ride. After being given a colored group placard with their role (pilot, gunner, or engineer), guests are invited to walk around, take pictures, and enjoy the space (while reading the instructions for their role on the ship / in the ride). The famous Dejarik board where C-3PO famously advised R2-D2 to let Chewbacca win is prominently located in the center, ripe for guests to sit around for pictures.
The richness of the theming is almost impossible to really articulate, even in photos, but it very much feels like being in the Falcon. Guests at this point have been absolutely inundated into the cinematic world. The cylindrical hallways, the scattered equipment and tools, the splayed conduit, the spartan furnishings. This will bring a tear to the biggest fan’s eyes and absolutely harken memories all the way back to the original film. But don’t stay agog for too long. There’s still a mission (ride) to complete!
The Millennium Falcon’s cockpit has room for six occupants who all have roles within the ride experience. There are two pilots—one who controls left & right motion, the other up & down; two gunners—who basically control the forward-only shooting; and two engineers—who repair damage to the ship and also fire the harpoons to steal the containers of coaxium once the pilots properly position the ship behind each transport train carrying them.
Each of the positions offers a different experience and has different appeals for different reasons.
The pilot position is up front and the most exciting, because it directly controls the motion and “path” of the ride. Unlike a traditional motion simulator like Star Tours where the film is all pre-recorded and played in sequence (though The Adventures Continue version at least mixes up scenes seamlessly), the entire video of Smugglers Run is rendered real time, just like a video game. This allows rider reactions to directly influence the game, and the pilots can evade or crash into plenty of objects.
The gunners have the easiest job on the ride: just keep shooting. The cockpit is full of actual tactile buttons, switches, dials, and levers that actually perform functions, and the ride requires guests to hit different activators when they light up. Shooting, though? It’s pretty much the same button the entire time, allow guests to just constantly pay attention to the screen and button mash blindly to rack up firing points.
The same cannot be said for engineer, though, which has the most distracting role. Riders’ attentions are constantly split between watching the events unfold through the cockpit window in front and glancing to the side to check what buttons are turned on in order to repair damage. In addition, the engineers must work together to launch the harpoon cables to reel in the coaxium from the First Order train. Because of the split attention, some guests may not enjoy this position quite as much—although it also offers the overall view of everyone else working together.
It’s pretty nifty how seamlessly each Smuggler’s Run carriage works. True to promises, when riders board the cockpit, it feels like they’re entering the only cockpit of the ship. In reality, the ride operates on a turntable system, with (I believe) seven ride vehicles on each turntable and four turntables overall. Loading occurs quickly. Riders buckle in. And the mission promptly commences after the doors close. In real life, this means the ride vehicle starts rotating and moving on the turntable, almost like a motion simulator on an omnimover. But inside, there’s hardly any clue that you’re not the only ride vehicle in the entire show building.
The journey can be rough and tumbly, though that is directly a result of how well the pilots fly the spacecraft. Run into objects, and the entire ride is literally rougher and more prone to inducing some amount of motion sickness or dizziness. Fly better, and the ride is much smoother. Every once in a while, completely at random, guests might even catch a bonus scene—a firefight with TIE Fighters high above the stratosphere of Batuu upon returning from a hyperspace jump back from Corellia. Though we initially thought this was tied to if the mission went well enough, we were later told by a cast member that getting the bonus scene was completely random. But this added element of surprise only increases the re-rideability of the attraction. There’s also word that in the future, there may be other missions added, offering even more incentive to come back and ride again.
Finally, after a successful mission (more or less) and a tally of scores, guests are ushered out of the cockpit and led down a series of rocky, tunneled corridors. This is the only time the illusion of exclusive pathways is broken, and only to those who pay attention. Some guests will descend down some stairs and into a ground-level hallway, while others will see the guests coming down the stairs into the hallway that they’re in. But the Imagineers have done a spectacular job masking the copies of ride vehicles and systems in place. There is no “hallway of doom” here like in DCA’s Tower of Terror, where the illusion of boarding the only elevator was broken by a hallway intersecting the path onto the elevator carriage right before embarking.
In addition, the walls themselves are amazingly striated with beautiful rocky grooves, evidence of how Bakkar Spire was tunneled and settled. Ohnaka Transport Solutions may have questionable repute and even smuggling recruitment capacities, but man do they know how to bore through rock!
In maintaining the consistency of Galaxy’s Edge being a veritable trip to a land far, far away instead of just being a themed land in a theme park, there are no on-ride photos available to purchase. Once guests daylight outside, they’re back into the heart of Black Spire Outpost. Just know that depending on how they did, they may also find themselves wanted men or women by the First Order!
It goes without saying that Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run is a sensational attraction—and it’s technically the “B-ride” of Galaxy’s Edge! But the immersion, interactivity, fun-factor, and originality of each experience really make this a winning and super advanced ride beyond what Disney has done in almost all of its portfolio.
Smuggler’s Run offers an entertaining experience that includes high incentive to return and ride again. And along with the immersive, interactive, theatrical orientation of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, it really showcases what the theme park of the future is going to be like!
(A reminder to reservation guests who visit Batuu from now through Sunday, June 23: avoid riding Smuggler’s Run during the first hour of your 4-hour reservation slot and the last hour. These are overlapping hours with the group before and after you, and it will see a rush into the queue. Lines during this time may exceed one hour, but get in line after the initial rush or before the 4th hour begins, and the wait should be half or a third of that.)
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