Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge at Disneyland: What it's like to fly the Millennium Falcon

It's not often you get to live out one of your childhood fantasies. Yet here I am, ready to make the jump to lightspeed.

As a child, my best friend and I would climb into the tree in his backyard, pretending it was the iconic Millennium Falcon spaceship from Star Wars. One tree branch would form the cockpit, another the gun turret. We'd pretend we were Han Solo and Chewbacca fighting off enemy Tie-Fighters.

Now, three decades later, I'm actually sitting at the controls of the Millennium Falcon about to make those dreams a reality.

This is Smuggler's Run, the centrepiece ride at Disneyland's new Galaxy's Edge attraction, a giant expansion of the happiest place on Earth (™) developed over five years at a reported cost of $US1 billion. Initially requiring advance reservations after its opening on May 31, this weekend Galaxy's Edge become accessible to all Disneyland visitors.

Before we're ushered into our six-person cockpit we wait in the Falcon's loading bay, an exact replica of the set seen in the movies, right down to the circular chess board (unfortunately missing the film's holographic alien chess pieces). Here, we're assigned our roles for the ride – pilot, gunner or engineer, each with a specific task to perform during the mission.

I score the pilot role and take my place in Han Solo's seat. It's my job to steer the Falcon left and right, while my co-pilot takes care of our vertical movements. Behind us, the gunners will need to fire the ship's blasters and the engineers will try to repair damage by hitting a series of buttons on their consoles.

Behind the cockpit windows, the image of our hangar appears. Disney has used cutting-edge technology to create the virtual environments we see – they are sharp and somehow the projections have depth, despite not requiring 3D glasses.

The cockpit shakes and shudders as we take off and we're soon launching into hyperspace to another planet, where we attempt to steal containers from a futuristic train using the facilities available on the ship.

The Force, it seems, is not with us. We fly badly, smashing into walls and obstacles and damaging the ship in the process. The cockpit reacts to the depicted environment – jumping to lightspeed throws us back into our seats and hitting objects causes the ship to lurch and rattle. I do my best to steer as we swing from side to side following the train down a trench.

Advertisement

After just a few minutes, the ride is over and we're back at the hangar. We're given a score out of 100 (it's bad) and then exit through the corridors of the Falcon (a clever feature I discover is that we don't always exit the same way – on our first attempt, there's evidence in the corridor of the damage we did to the ship, something that's missing when we do better on a second attempt).

From here, we step back out into Black Spire Outpost on the planet of Batuu, the setting for Galaxy's Edge. In front of us, a full scale replica of the Millennium Falcon forms the centrepiece for this giant new part of Disneyland.

Disney decided to create an all-new world for its Star Wars land, opting against making the park a "greatest hits" of existing places from the movies (and avoiding any criticism from hardcore fans about inaccuracies in the process). Smuggler's Run is currently the only ride in the park, but a second, even bigger one, called "Rise of the Resistance", is set to open in December.

However, going on rides isn't really what Galaxy's Edge is about. The park is supposed to be an immersive experience for guests, to make them feel like they've actually stepped into a Star Wars movie. In that respect, it has more in common with Australia's own Sovereign Hill than the rest of Disneyland.

The scale of the park is impressive, stretching across 56,000 square metres, featuring huge buildings, mountain peaks and full-size starships and fighters. But for fans it's likely to be the little details that impress most.

Although brand-new, Black Spire Outpost looks lived in – walls are worn, metal surfaces show rust or damage, even the paths feature the imprints of small animals or droid tracks. Walking through the park, the sounds of alien creatures or ships taking off can be heard through hidden speakers. It really does feel like I've stepped into a scene from an as-yet-unmade Star Wars movie.

Paying tribute to one of the original film's most iconic scenes, there's a cantina on site, featuring a droid DJ and various themed snacks and drinks. It's also the only place in Disneyland you'll find alcohol, with drinks such as the Bloody Rancor, the Fuzzy Tauntaun or the Carbon Freeze, most of them brightly coloured and very sweet.

Elsewhere, there's a marketplace selling all manner of souvenirs including alien pets, clothing and toys. Interestingly, you won't find anything in Galaxy's Edge that's actually branded "Star Wars". Since we're supposed to be inside the world of the movies, the merchandise available is designed to be part of that world, not simply souvenirs.

The most sought-after is creating your own custom-made lightsaber. This happens at "Savi's Workshop" a hidden spot in the park where aspiring Jedis can build a weapon away from the prying eyes of the First Order. The custom lightsaber will set you back $US200.

If that's too steep, you can purchase pre-made a replica of one of the iconic lightsabers used by some of the movies' stars - Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker and Kylo Ren among them. Prices for these vary based on the model, but they start from about $US100. They're found inside "Dok-Ondar's Den of Antiquities", a treasure trove of items for sale by an animatronic hammerhead alien. The store is filled with plenty of other items that aren't for sale, including a golden Jar Jar Binks head and, for those who look closely, the Ark of the Covenant from Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Throughout Disneyland and its adjacent hotels, staff are officially called "cast members", but at Galaxy's Edge the term takes on new meaning. Those who work in the park are given roles to play, whether it's as locals who live on the planet, undercover rebels, or members of the First Order, who may approach you and demand to know what your business here is. Each has their own individual costume and backstory.

As the sun sets, I run into a young woman who bears a striking resemblance to Daisy Ridley's Rey from the new trilogy, right down to the outfit and staff. "I haven't seen you before," I say.

"Well, I haven't seen you before either," she says in an English accent. It may not be Ridley, but she certainly has Rey's attitude down pat.

Upon leaving Galaxy's Edge, I don't quite feel like I'm coming back to reality. After all, I'm still in Disneyland, with plenty more to see and do in the Magic Kingdom. Back to Earth, perhaps, but not back to reality. Not just yet.

FIVE MORE DISNEY HIGHLIGHTS

Star Tours

NEW ADVENTURES ON STAR TOURS -- In a new adventure inspired by the upcoming film, 'Star Wars: The Last Jedi,' guests on Star Tours Ð The Adventures Continue at Disneyland Park and Disney's Hollywood Studios will discover a thrilling new journey to the farthest reaches of space and find themselves in the middle of an epic battle on Crait. (Photo Illustration: Disney Enterprises, Inc./Lucasfilm Ltd.)
str22-starwars Additional Disneyland rides for breakout of Craig Platt Star Wars Galaxy's Edge story. Star Tours is NOT part of Galaxy's Edge.

The first Star Wars-themed ride at Disneyland actually opened back in 1987. Star Tours is a 3D ride hosted by droid 3-CP0 and is similar to Smuggler's Run, if less cutting-edge and interactive.

Tip: The gift shop here is the only place you'll find Star Wars-branded merchandise, since "Star Wars" as a concept doesn't exist in the world of Batuu.

The Incredicoaster

This giant roller coaster has been open at Disney's California Adventure Park since 2001, but was rebranded as The Incredibles-themed Incredicoaster last year. One of the longest roller coasters in the world, the ride now features Incredibles elements to add a storyline to the ride. You'll be too busy screaming to follow it though.

Tip: If you don't care who you ride with, join the single-riders line and you'll be on board in five minutes, while others wait up to one hour in the main queue.

It's a Small World

SPRIT OF AMERICA -- Among the enhancements to the classic it's a small world attraction at Disneyland is an entirely new Spirit of America scene. It s based on original concept art by Mary Blair and maintains the a small world theme that friendship crosses all nationalities, including that of the United States.
(Paul Hiffmeyer/Disneyland) str22-starwars Additional Disneyland rides for breakout of Craig Platt Star Wars Galaxy's Edge story

No visit to Disneyland is complete without going on one of its most famous rides. It's a gentle boat ride through all the regions of the world, each represented by animatronic children in national dress. Fun for all ages.

Tip: Take some headphones. By the time the ride is getting to an end you'll have heard that famous earworm of a song at least a dozen times and will need to listen to something else to get it out of your head.

Indiana Jones Adventure

INDIANA JONES ADVENTURE -- In addition to the special events offered throughout the 'Indiana Jones Summer of Hidden Mysteries,' the Disneyland attraction that redefined the 'E-ticket' experience, the 'Indiana Jones Adventure Ð Temple of the Forbidden Eye' continues to thrill guests daily - more than 95 million of them since its opening in 1995.   str22-starwars Additional Disneyland rides for breakout of Craig Platt Star Wars Galaxy's Edge story

Another Lucasfilm property, the Indiana Jones ride puts you in a jeep bouncing through tunnels and ancient temples while narrowly avoiding traps and snakes. An animatronic Indy makes an appearance, as does the famous boulder from Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Tip: It's still one of the most popular rides at Disneyland, so keep an eye on the queue wait-times via the Disneyland app.

Soarin' Around the World

Perhaps not a famous as some of the other rides, Soarin' Around the World is no less spectacular. Essentially a giant curved cinema screen, the ride lifts guests out of their seats to create the sensation of flying over some of the world's most famous landmarks (including Sydney Harbour). Shot with HD IMAX cameras, with added computer graphic effects, the ride is surprisingly effective. Not for those who suffer from vertigo.

Tip: Keep your eyes peeled for little in-jokes such as the appearance of an abominable snowman while flying over the Matterhorn.

TRIP NOTES

Craig Platt travelled as a guest of Disney and Virgin Australia.

FLY

Virgin Australia flies from Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane to Los Angeles. The airline launched special packages for Galaxy's Edge. See virginaustralia.com/starwars

STAY

Disney's Grand Californian Hotel & Spa is one of several hotels located adjacent to Disneyland. Standard rooms (which can sleep up to five adults) start from $US586. See disneyland.disney.go.com

VISIT

Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge is included as part of entry to Disneyland in Anaheim, California. A one-day pass (not including entry to the adjacent California Adventure Park) costs $US149 for adults with cheaper rates during quieter seasons. Multi-day passes also offer significant savings. See disneyland.disney.go.com

See also: First look: Inside Disneyland's giant new $1 billion Star Wars theme park

See also: This spectacular island where Star Wars: The Last Jedi began

Comments