Why Disneyland's Millennium Falcon is not one ride, but three

June 25, 2019, 10:42 PM · After visiting Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge several times over the past month, I feel like I should stop saying that the land has only one ride. I know that Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance isn't open yet and that the other "attractions" in the land (Oga's Cantina, Savi's Workshop, Droid Depot) are not by any stretch rides. But, to me, Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run — supposedly the only ride now open in the land — should not be considered as just one ride.

Because it's really three.

On Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run, riders are assigned one of three roles to play in the famous spaceship's cockpit: Pilot, Gunner, or Engineer. Pilots sit in the front row of the six-seat ride vehicle, gunners in the middle, and engineers in the back. But these titles are not simply cute ways for Disney to assign seats on the ride. Smugglers Run might be the most interactive major theme park attraction ever built, with its riders given real tasks to perform during their mission.

Unfortunately, many Disneyland visitors don't realize that, assuming Smugglers Run to continue the well-established theme park attraction convention where visitors just sit and watch. On my most recent ride, a woman in the pilot seat said as the cast member closed the cockpit door, "I don't really have to do anything, do I?"

Uh, yeah, you do.

And the pilots, gunners, and engineers each have to do very different things. So much so that they aren't always sharing the same experience. That's why I think it's more informative to consider Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run as three distinct attractions rather than one. Many roller coaster fans considered the late Chinese Fireball and Hungarian Horntail to be separate credits, but I didn't find the difference between those interwinding coaster tracks nearly as pronounced as the differences between being the pilot, gunner, and engineer on the Falcon.

Why does this matter? Because the differences between these three roles are not limited to the view you have and the buttons you need to push while riding. The quality of the experience you get from the ride varies wildly depending upon the role you are assigned. As a frequent visitor to Disneyland, that affects my desire to wait in the queue to ride Smugglers Run again.

Obviously, this isn't an issue for a first time visitor. Stepping into that cockpit for the first time can be an amazing experience, especially if you are a Star Wars fan. But I would recommend this attraction to anyone, as it represents something innovative, unique, and even socially valuable in the theme park business. With three distinct roles to play and the potential to craft multiple outcomes, Smugglers Run offers great value for repeat rides, as well.

But the expected value of those repeat visits plunges swiftly if you keep getting assigned to two of the three roles on the ride, and that threatens to become an issue as this ride matures, especially at Disneyland with its high percentage of annual passholders.

Hard truth: I have zero desire to wait in the Smugglers Run queue and get assigned to be a gunner again. I might accept one more go as an engineer, and I definitely would take one for the team if I were in a group of six where the majority had not ridden before. But the only role I really want to play on Smugglers Run is as the Falcon's pilot.

That is the role where you have real control over the mission and by far best view of what's happening on the ride. As a gunner or engineer, you're essentially an obstructed-view passenger on someone else's ride. Whatever the current wait is for the Falcon, I would wait twice as long for a guarantee that I could sit as a pilot.

So what if Disneyland would let me... as well as others who feel the same way? If I could make one, fantasy change to the Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run, it would be to divide the queue into three: one each for the roles as pilot, gunners, or engineers.

If Disney offered separate queues for the three roles, I believe that it would maximize guest satisfaction with the attraction after its first year of operation, as fans could choose what they wanted to do in the cockpit and not be disappointed with a random assignment that they could not trade. Maybe I'd even accept another go as a gunner if it were a walk-on. Or as an engineer if I wouldn't have to wait more than 15 minutes. But I'd gladly jump into a 90-minute queue for that pilot seat.

Three lines also might encourage visitors to get more engaged with this interactive attraction. Choosing which queue to enter would force you into active decision making as you enter the attraction. If people know what they will be doing from the get-go, perhaps they might be more open to paying attention to in-queue training on that role, eliminating situations where people climb into the pilot's seat and ask, "I don't really have to do anything, do I?"

Of course, this plan only potentially works with single riders and couples. What happens with parties of three or more? Perhaps they could be instructed to enter the longer queue, with "extra" party members assigned to jump into a gunner or engineer seat with their pilots when they get to their cockpit. But more likely, the whole operation would just fall apart, as families and large groups complained that choosing from these three roles meant that they could not sit together.

Sigh.

For most fans, especially at Walt Disney World, riding the Falcon will be a one-and-done experience, since many Disney theme park visitors are not blessed with the means to visit the parks on a regular basis. The gunners and engineers will love the ride and walk away happy, even as the pilots who pay attention and learn to use the ride's controls walk away really, really, really loving it.

But I do believe that the disparity between the quality of experience in the Falcon's three roles will become an issue as more and more fans get the opportunity to experience Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run — and a significant number of them get to ride multiple times. There is much to be learned from Disney's ambitious technical, creative, and social experiment with the Falcon. Whatever debates this ride inspires will be part of that collective learning experience for theme park fans and professionals.

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Replies (14)

June 26, 2019 at 1:40 AM

Haven't ridden yet, but have followed reviews and descriptions closely. Calling it three rides is stretching it, it should really be called three different experiences, not three different rides.

There really should be an autopilot mode, I've read where people get frustrated trying to figure out the controls, then being shamed for not performing well. Being shamed by strangers is not a good experience. Some people don't want interactivity, they just want to experience the ride.

If you have repeat access like Annual Passholders, it's ok if your first time is a failure, you can always come again and improve your skills, but if you are an infrequent visitor, you may not want something that requires a learning curve to have a good experience.

June 26, 2019 at 6:16 AM

Being shamed by repeat riders because you don't perform to standard? Sounds about as fun as sitting at a blackjack table and getting shamed for not "playing the right way and messing up other people's hands."

June 26, 2019 at 6:46 AM

.... and if this is happening at Disneyland, just imagine what it's going to be like at DHS with all the tourists intermingling.

I think Disfan has a point ..... maybe there should be an autopilot mode. Taking that a step further, how about having a green/orange option as mission space ?

I'm still very concerned how this is all going to play out at WDW, but we will soon find out.

June 26, 2019 at 7:12 AM

I agree with disfan. If I had a choice between piloting it or going auto pilot I’d choose the latter. As is pointed out, if you able to make frequent visits then great, you can gradually get the hang of it. But if like myself ( and I assume most visitors, esp to WDW) you only get to visit disney parks every 2 or 3 years and also if you are not a gamer, it will be too difficult to grasp and piloting might be better on auto. In fact, when we go in November, if I get given the pilot role i’ll probably try and swap it

June 26, 2019 at 7:14 AM

During my visit last week, I was able to ride Millenium Falcon twice. The first time as a pilot and the second as gunner. I enjoyed both experiences. As a pilot, I was in control...and I put us into lightspeed. As a gunner, I was yelling (nicely) to the pilots what to do (while firing away). I was a bit disappointed that the experience was pretty much the exact same on both trips. I had hoped that the videos would be slightly different, which would definitely add to the re-ride factor. I have a strong feeling that in 5 to 10 years, this ride will have to see an update. Any video based attraction will get old. Look at the original Star Tours, or Mission: Space in Epcot. I admit that I'm surprised that Imagineering would not have taken this into consideration to create two or three videos.

June 26, 2019 at 8:15 AM

This is all just as I thought it would be. With this randomness as to the quality of experience you’ll have (unless you’re a kid. Then you’re pretty much guaranteed the pilot’s role), I certainly can’t see myself queuing for repeat rides, if the wait time is long. As Robert said, I have a feeling that this will be a one-and-done ride for me. Hopefully, ROTR will be the exact opposite.

June 26, 2019 at 8:21 AM

I think RotR will solve any problems with the Falcon. If the dark ride is as good as rumored, the only guests visiting Batuu riding the Falcon will be the ones that know what they're doing.

I do find it interesting that Disney does not have an "auto-pilot" function given that they allow gunners to sit back and watch through an auto-fire function. It would be as simple as having the computer taking over the controls if there's no positive feedback through the first 10 seconds of the journey and then turning it back over to manual controls if it sensed significant feedback in the pilot controls for more than 5-10 seconds during the journey. The Falcon from the movies is advertised with an auto-pilot, though it's only engaged when cruising or in hyperspace, and not during the height of a mission. It wouldn't seem to be much of a stretch for Disney to build this into the experience for those that really don't want the pressure of piloting - though you have to wonder why they wouldn't be convinced to switch out of those seats by guests assigned to the back of the bus.

In the end, I think there's a relatively small amount of guests that really care about stuff like this. When we obsessively ride Men in Black, I'm always amazed at how few people are really paying attention to their score and possess a desire to ride again to improve it. I think Falcon is in the same boat where few will see the sense in trying over and over to better their score/experience, particularly with the added complications of needing an entire cockpit of guests to also help out (on MIB it's actually better to have oblivious guests in your vehicle, leaving the valuable exhaust port of the opposing vehicle live and stable instead of spinning every time someone else hits it). The Falcon might just be a bit too ambitious for the typical theme park guest, and while it may eventually gain some traction at Disneyland, it probably will sink like a lead balloon at DHS (DCA's version of TSM has a few "expert" riders, but not so much at DHS).

June 26, 2019 at 10:50 AM

I've ridden it 8 times now and bean in all 3 roles. I was able to enjoy all roles and taking gunner off "auto" ups the skills game considerably. Certainly pilot is the most interactive but also the most pressure. The biggest issue I actually have (this only applies without reservation only entrance where I was no longer with a whole cockpit of my own group, but being put in with strangers) is being with a group with newbies as pilots who don't know what they're doing (like that woman sho said, "I don't have to actually do anything do I?") because then the experience for everyone else is greatly lessoned. My 18 year old son (gamer) is a great pilot. When he's in the left pilot seat (handling left and right controls) the experience for everyone else is improved. We have ALWAYS gotten the max 2 containers of coaxiom and experienced the asteroid field to the end. When these newbies were there we only got 1 container and didn't even see the asteroid field, the ride is actually shorter. What I'd like to see (and maybe this will only work at DL because of so many multiple riders) is first timers being assigned non-pilot roles, so they get a better understanding of what to do before moving to pilot.

June 26, 2019 at 1:29 PM

While I like the idea of having an interactive ride experience, and I appreciate that the experience appeals to gamers and those looking for an interactive, engaging experience, I doubt that the answer is to split the line in three and encourage people to ride it three times or more. Imagine if everyone who comes to Disneyland or DHS does that: what an unpleasant day in Star Wars Land!

The primary issue with Smuggler’s Run right now is that Rise of the Resistance isn’t open, as that is the over-the-top ride experience while also sponging people out of lines and onto the ride. It’s not that I don’t think that Smuggler’s Run isn’t fun and engaging, but we’ve done that ride before to a degree (I mean, take Star Tours and cross it with Mission: Space and eliminate the vomit factor.)

In DHS, the issue will obviously be capacity. Even if the land opens with both rides, there’s just not enough to do at DHS to sop up the rest of the guests. I mean, in August, they’ll be basically seven actual rides and twelve other attractions (ranging from a sing-a-long show to the Muppets to Fantasmic.) That’s just not enough stuff!

I understand why they chose DHS, as that park has suffered from a lack of attractions since opening day. But, there are going to be a lot of peeved guests finishing up their day at the park by 2pm,

June 26, 2019 at 1:33 PM

@ BellesRose2K, I’d be a first timer but I’m also a gamer. I like to think that I’d know how to handle the pilot controls sufficiently enough to get a decent ride. I wouldn’t be too keen on queuing for however long, to have no shot at getting to fly the Falcon.
Besides, how would the Falcon’s CM’s be able to know who’s riding for the first time, and who isn’t?

June 26, 2019 at 1:41 PM

There already is an autopilot function. Once you sit down and buckle your seatbelt your console begins to flash green. If you don’t touch anything and the ride begins your role will be autopiloted.

And a CM ops friend told me asteroids have nothing to do with skill of the riders, it’s only a timing thing used if dispatched are taking too long.

June 26, 2019 at 3:13 PM

@80smam that's true. My son did great as a pilot his first time (me not so much, but I was with a group of friends), and I agree there's no way for the CM's to know. I was just sharing my experience that the skills of the pilot affects the experience of the other riders, and I feel a bit frustrated when boarding with incompetant pilots because I know my experience as a gunner or engineer will be impacted. After a long wait that is not great.

@starboy that's interesting to know. I've gone with no asteroids, with only getting through a few seconds of asteroids (got hit by one early on) and basically clearing the field. So if the next ride needs more time the asteroids will show?

June 26, 2019 at 4:12 PM

To clarify, from experience there is an "auto-pilot"/non-interactive option for each station. It's actually very simple to do, and the instructions from the ride op are to simply not activate your station when you sit down. That's also how the ride knows how to operate when there's not a full cockpit. Hondo will actually say dialogue to this effect acknowledging that "autopilot has been engaged" for those roles. I've been on 3 different operating days and have seen this happen multiple times, both when people forget to activate their station and when missing riders.
Also, regarding wanting to be pilot: the groupers usually encourage riders to trade amongst themselves if they want, and I've definitely been offered to trade to Pilot from Engineer on multiple occasions. Not everyone wants to have that responsibility, and people enjoy taking turns on each role. Personally I might enjoy Engineer more than Pilot because I like the AC blast when they crash the ship and smashing the buttons for points (I'm having fun trying to get the highest possible Engineer score).

June 29, 2019 at 6:05 AM

Sorry, but I think people are being a bit snobbish if they complain about how someone is fulfilling one of the other roles. It's a theme park ride, if a poor pilot makes that much difference to the ride experience then Disney have dropped a serious clanger. Yes, you can justify a good pilot leading to a slightly improved ride experience, but a poor pilot shouldn't significantly lower it for everyone else.
As for having separate queues for each position, that creates issues when you go as a group and want to ride together, or when you get an aforementioned poor pilot and it lowers your experience in one of the other roles.

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