ANAHEIM, California — In a way, you enter the Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run ride almost as soon as you enter Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge.
The stone-colored land that opens in Disneyland Park on Friday, May 31, with its towering spires and jagged peaks, is centered around a life-size Millennium Falcon parked in the land's main plaza, just waiting for its pilots, gunners and engineers.
It makes sense that the Millennium Falcon dominates Galaxy's Edge. That "hunk of junk" is as much a beloved character in the "Star Wars" universe as are its captains or passengers — and we all know that it's had some notables over the years.
But when you step into the hangar where (this according to the press material) Chewbacca brought his ship following all the "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" drama for a few repairs, it's not the "Star Wars" characters who greet you, but the wonderful sense of being in a real place. In fact, all of those familiar faces that fans have come to love are notably absent on this ride.
Yes, Hondo Ohnaka is the guide — he's from the animated TV shows "Star Wars: The Clone Wars" and "Star Wars Rebels" — and Chewbacca makes an appearance on a screen during a briefing, but really, the characters this ride focuses on are us, we who are part of this thrilling, immersive adventure.
Instead of Han or Luke or even Lando, who lost the ship gambling, the characters you encounter on Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run are your friends and family, and the (hopefully) happy but weary strangers who have been waiting in line with you.
One of the most brilliant things Disney's Imagineers have done with Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run is allow the riders a chance to just hang out inside their favorite ship. After you are divided into groups of six, each member of your party receives a colored card with an assigned role: pilot, gunner or engineer. And then, you can kick back inside the Millennium Falcon's main hold, just as so many of us have dreamed about since we first saw it on the big screen.
And it's all there: the Dejarik (chess) table, plenty of equipment, some mysterious, annoymous-looking boxes (presumably illegal items that Hondo is smuggling), ladders that lead into other parts of the ship. In typical Disney style, they have recreated the ship's interior down to the hoses, switches, decals and pipes, giving visitors the sense that they really have somehow landed inside their beloved Millennium Falcon.
After a maybe 6- or 7-minute wait — just enough time to snap some photos of yourselves sitting at the Dejarik table — a Smugglers Run worker will call your color, and you and your group will head into one of the holds before you enter the ship's cockpit. You'll get one last piece of advice from Hondo and then, swish: the doors slide open and it's your turn to fly or shoot from or manage that old "bucket of bolts" yourself.
Each role allows for two players. The two pilots sit up front, with the Falcon's control board spread out in front of them, with the gunners directly behind them and the engineers in the back.
Remarkably, this ride is so immersive that if your pilots can't steer, as mine couldn't, you really do hit the sides of buildings, other ships and whatever else might be in your way, and careen out of control. The pilots are responsible for pulling the lever that will send you into light speed (I'm not sure what would happen if they didn't pull it) and the left and right pilots need to work together to keep the ship steady.
We gunners mostly had to just pound on a little blinking light to keep the firepower coming, and while I wouldn't say it required a whole lot of skill, just having a job made the experience more exciting and personal.
The engineers have to keep the ship in working order, especially if your pilots aren't so hot, pulling levers and pushing buttons to put out fires and help things stay under control.
Hondo calls out instructions throughout the ride, informing the crew of incoming dangers and, at the ride's end, told us what damage the ship suffered due to our inept flying.
Our crew members, who didn't know each other, were laughing breathlessly and grinning at each other by the end, talking excitedly as we exited the ride, feeling the exhilaration of, perhaps not exactly saving the galaxy, but at least having played a role in the world we've come to love.