The certerpiece of Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge is a full size recreation of the Millennium Falcon that sits at the heart of Black Spire Outpost. Next door to that you'll find the land's single (for the moment) E-ticket attraction, Millennium Falcon: Smuggler's Run. It promised to let guests pilot the fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy themselves, and in that it delivers, but in a way that I'm not sure is going to appeal to every guest in the same way. It's more video game than theme park attraction.
The attraction's story set-up sees Hondo Ohnaka, of Star Wars: The Clone Wars fame, having made a deal with Chewbacca to borrow the Millennium Falcon. Ohnaka uses the ship for smuggling, but along with his own goods, he includes some for the Resistance, helping out Chewbacca as a form of payment. The guests are freelance smugglers looking for work at Black Spire Outpost.
We see all of this explained to us in the form of an Ohnaka animatronic character who speaks with Chewbacca on a screen. After that, guests are ushered down a corridor where they're met by a cast member who assigns flight roles in groups of six: two pilots, two gunners and two engineers. From there, you head down to the Falcon's galley where you can sit at the famous holo-chess table or otherwise wander around the most perfect recreation of the inside of the Falcon you could imagine. The room itself is a highlight of the entire attraction if you're a Star Wars fan.
When your crew is called, you make your way into the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon and the experience begins. In the most interesting decision, flight controls have been split in half between the two pilots. The left hand pilot controls the ship's horizontal movement, while the co-pilot controls the vertical. Gunners control a set of guns on the left and right side of the ship, which can be set to automatic to make targeting easier or manual to make things more of a challenge. Engineers handle deployment of a tow cable and also repair any damage done by collisions or blaster fire.
Without going into the specifics of the story (no need to spoil anything there), the pilots fly the ship, avoiding obstacles and getting gunners and engineers in position to do their jobs. There's plenty for everybody to do, especially if the pilots tend to crash into things, making more work for the engineers.
This is somewhat likely considering that flight is broken in half. Even if one pilot is a pro, if the other is not, you're going to be colliding with things a lot. On the one hand, it's understandable why they would split up control of the ship. It allows two people to feel like they are pilots rather than just one. Of course, it's not exactly efficient from an actual flight perspective. It's one of the few decisions made in all of Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge that feels like a "theme park decision" rather than an "immersion" decision.
This level of interaction for a Disney Parks attraction is unparalleled; there's never been an experience that guests have had such control over and it really does make you feel like you're inside the Millennium Falcon. At the same time, that's not entirely a good thing. The interaction requires a lot more of the guest than previous attractions.
I got to sit in the co-pilot seat and actually help fly the Falcon when I visited the new land last week. As a longtime video game player, the experience feels largely like a "rail shooter." The Falcon's general course is set, you can't even control speed and you just have a basic ability to direct the Falcon up or down and left or right from within that set course.
In one moment, I saw an obstacle coming up, and it appeared that I would have the ability to fly over or under it. However, as the ship approached the obstacle, it came in low, meaning that I didn't actually have the ability to go over the object as I had planned, and it was too late to get low enough in time, resulting in a collision.
This was one of the major moments where I felt that I wasn't so much experiencing a theme park attraction as I was playing a video game. The ride even gives a score at the end based on how successful you were with your mission and how much damage you took. Gunners shooting at TIE Fighters certainly have a similar experience.
As a lifelong video game player, I'm not necessarily against this idea, but thinking about it in broader terms, I found the whole thing limiting. For every person who wants to ride Smuggler's Run several times to try and get the best score, there's going to be somebody who just wants to sit back and enjoy the ride. That doesn't appear to be an option; you can't have the ride do your job on its own.
Even while I was engaged in my responsibilities, I felt like I was missing something. I was so focused on looking for where I was supposed to fly next that there were things on the screen I didn't really get to look at. Being able to pay less attention and feel the attraction rather than direct it might have been nice.
What's more, you're relying on other people a lot. Few of us probably go to Disneyland in a group of six people, which means you're likely to find yourself paired with strangers. If those strangers are not as good at their job as you are with yours, it's going to impact the experience that everybody has. If you've played through a multiplayer game where your team has a weak link, you know this frustration.
Other Disneyland and Walt Disney World attractions allow for different levels of interaction. Something like Toy Story Midway Mania lets you play carnival games for points, and while you're competing against others for the high score, your experience is still largely the same if you score high or low.
Epcot's Mission: Space gives guests different roles to play and buttons to press the same way Smuggler's Run does, but if you don't press them yourself, they go off automatically and the experience progresses exactly the same. That's not the case here.
While it's impossible to "fail" your Smuggler's Run mission entirely, you can perform better or worse depending on your skills at various video game style mechanics. Lots of people will have these skills, as many more people plays video games today than did in years past, but there will still be a lot more people who would much rather sit back and experience a ride rather than a video game.
I look forward to flying the Millennium Falcon many more times. I was a much better pilot by the end of my first run than at the beginning and I want to try every job from every position. Having said that, I will be approaching my future flights in a very different way than I do my other favorite theme park attractions.