Hot take debate: Disney needs new rules for its Millennium Falcon

April 20, 2024, 5:10 PM · Proposed, for your consideration: Walt Disney World and Disneyland should implement a minimum age rule to sit in the pilots' seats on their Millennium Falcon Smugglers Run attractions.

That's the resolution for this week's "hot take debate," a new feature I am trying out here on Theme Park Insider. You are welcome to submit in the comments your arguments for or against the resolution. I will kick off the debate with some of my thoughts.

Disney fulfilled the wishes of more than a generation of Star Wars fans when it created Smugglers Run. The ride provides lucky guests the opportunity to fly what feels like a real-life Millennium Falcon. However, the nature of the attraction did not support the volume of guest capacity that Disney needed in what was sure to be a popular new attraction. Only four people fit in the cockpit of the Falcon in the Star Wars movies. And two of those seats were for passengers, without flight responsibilities.

While Disney created a ride system that disguised multiple Falcon cockpits within the attraction, it still needed more people in each cockpit in order to reach an acceptable hourly capacity. So it added a third row of two seats, creating gunner and engineer roles for the rows behind the pilots. Disney also split the pilot duties between the first-row riders, with one tasked to operate up-and-down controls for the Falcon, while the other steered side-to-side. [Here is my on-ride video from one pilot's seat.]

The need for the two pilots to coordinate added a literal extra dimension of challenge to Smugglers Run, which essentially brings a video game quest to life by challenging riders to use the Falcon to chase down and steal a load of coaxium for Hondo Ohnaka. But this is not a mere video game. The actions of the pilots directly influence the motion of the cockpit cabin. The Falcon responds to the steering input of the pilots, and wrong moves lead to collisions that leave the cockpit shuddering.

In the capable hands of good pilots, a ride on Disney's Falcon becomes an exhilarating triumph for all aboard. You sweep properly around the obstacles in the ship's away, allowing the gunners to hit their targets and the engineers to grab the loot. But in the hands of bad pilots, the Falcon throws its guests around like a pair of loose sneakers in a laundry dryer.

Experience counts when flying Disney's Millennium Falcon. It's unreasonable to expect that pilots have ridden this attraction before - a Disney trip remains a rare, if not once-in-a-lifetime experience for many visitors, especially in Florida. But experience in driving, sailing or piloting any vehicle translates to help a Falcon pilot do a better job.

Should Disney require that a guest be a license driver to pilot the Falcon? That's probably more than what's necessary. Plenty of kids under 16 have put in enough time on driving and flying video games that they could perform capably in Han Solo's or Chewbacca's roles. But the younger a child is, the lesser the chances that they will be keep from leaving the rest of their crew with physical pain after their ride.

So let's suggest this - If you are visiting Disney on a child's ticket (ages 3-9), you cannot fly the Falcon. You have to be on an adult ticket (ages 10 and up) to do that. That would require cast members to scan park tickets of young guests when assigning roles, then using wristbands or a second check in the cockpit to prevent parents from swapping their children into the pilot seat when boarding.

If each cockpit on the Falcon were limited to a single party, I would not care who sits where. If you want to put your little kid in the pilot's seat, you suffer the consequences. But with Disney mixing parties in the Falcon cockpits to boost guest capacity, especially with single riders, then who sits in those pilot seats becomes more than your family's business.

Maybe if Disney did a better job of communicating that pilots actually influence the motion of the ride, more parents would do the right thing and send their kids back to the engineers' seats. But an age limit on the pilots' seats would help deliver that message, perhaps encouraging the adults who sit those pilot seats to pay attention and try to do a better job, as well. And that's why I think a higher age limit on the Falcon's pilots seats would make Smugglers Run a better experience for everyone who rides.

Let's hear your arguments and counter-arguments in the comments. And when you are ready, here is your opportunity to vote on the resolution.

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Replies (25)

April 20, 2024 at 8:05 PM

My family all agree the ride would be more fun if you didn't have to do so much work on it.

April 20, 2024 at 9:03 PM

I have an idea for a hot take discussion. What if Cedar point became more like Magic Kingdom. What I mean by this is getting rid of the causeway and building a parking lot on the mainland next to Lake Erie. Then you must ride a monorail (the track supports would be on the old causeway) or a ferry on Lake Erie. That would result in guests being dropped off at the parking lot which is now the new entrance area with more attractions to do.

April 20, 2024 at 10:08 PM

This idea just seems so counter to the experience Disney markets that if brought up in an actual meeting I'd suspect the proposer to be attempting sabotage on behalf of Universal. While I don't refute the reality of the experience being subpar with incapable pilots, age is no measure of success and I've had flights where elementary-age pilots performed better than those given the task in a cabin full of adult Star Wars fanatics (degree of Oga's influence was uncertain). Thus, I've got an alternate solution that addresses the core issue without discriminating against visitors for whom the experience may be particularly memorable: split the queue into a line for crew and a line for passengers.

If you choose to utilize the crew line, your party is guaranteed the two pilot positions, with the rest of the group taking up the other seats (unless your party splits into pairs). It's up to you who you choose to seat there, but you know that you won't be in a ship at the mercy of other random guests.

If you choose to utilize the passenger line (or ride as a single rider), you will be assigned to a cabin as a second/third party. While you don't get a say in where you're seated, your tradeoff is that you likely will be able to board with a (possibly significantly) shorter wait.

To make this all work, the story would be retooled into a refugee smuggling operation, during which something goes wrong and the passengers must take command of certain tasks to ensure the ship makes it out (which if you think about it, isn't too far off from the Falcon's original role in A New Hope). Should those adjustments not be a sufficient compromise, you might want to stick to flying with C-3PO.

April 20, 2024 at 10:49 PM

I think an age requirement would be a tough sell. If they might possibly threaten park expulsion for poor piloting perhaps the littles might tighten up their grips a shade? I kid of course. One experience I wouldn’t mind see being offered is a completely “passive” ride through where someone else (let’s say, oh, Chewbacca) has patched in an override and functions as a sort of “autopilot”, thus allowing those on board to experience the mission at its fullest potential and success rate. It would also give those passengers a chance to absorb more detail without having to worry about their tasks to perform. And then after seeing how the mission is supposed to be run, everyone hops back in line for the “involved” mission, fails spectacularly, and gets expelled from the park for crap flying! Thus freeing up the pinch points in the park just a tad and putting a happier face on all. Except the garbage pilots of course. But I’m sure they’ll appreciate the humor after some therapy :)

April 21, 2024 at 6:37 PM

"The experience of piloting the Millennium Falcon is a significant part of the attraction's appeal. If younger children lack the coordination or understanding to fully participate and enjoy the ride, it might be beneficial to set an age limit to ensure that older guests can fully immerse themselves in the experience." - ChatGPT's opinion.

April 20, 2024 at 11:48 PM

If the core argument behind looking for an age requirement is simply "kids will hit stuff making a rougher experience when an adult behind the cockpit will be smoother" I have 2 responses:

1. I'm betting my family and I are in the strong minority on this, but we found smugglers run to be way more fun when the Falcon IS hitting as many obstacles as possible (more shaking => more thrills => more fun). And I've always kind of found it strange that the reward for doing well is a less thrilling experience overall. And I even remember an engineer being happy that he had "more things to fix" as a result of us purposely trying to create a more chaotic flight. Not sure what could solve ensuring a smoother ride for those who want it beyond having an experience without a pilot role as fattyackin mentioned (but then, isnt that just star tours at that point?). The inherent nature of guests being given the flight controls means the passengers are at the mercy of what the pilot wants the experience to be for better or for worse.

2. Putting an age requirement, imo also ruins the great creative intent of the ride: anyone can be given the opportunity to live out the experience of piloting the Falcon. It has such great potential of creating a longlasting memory for a kid (as it does for anyone), that I'd be kinda sad to rob them of that because of an arbitrary age line created because the ride is "shakier" when they pilot.

I guess my hottest take on this is that I don't even think age is the true skill check here. It's experience with video games. Knowing how to drive a car MIGHT help, but Falcon plays like a video game not a vehicle. I'd trust a pilot if they played more video games and didnt drive, than if they drove a car and didn't play any video games.

April 21, 2024 at 5:57 AM

The problem is not the age but the controls. They should remove the separate pilots for up and down and left and right. The responsiveness should also be tweaked. All it does is make siblings mad at each other, which is far from optimal.

One pilot that has full control. One engineer (great for grandparents), and two gunners (just like in the films). No arguments, one person gets to basically sit there, and two people get to shoot. Great attraction but beyond insane in how it operates. I bet with siblings the rate of post ride meltdowns is the highest on this attraction compared to all other attractions put together.

April 21, 2024 at 6:45 AM

I think the better solution is simply offer to reduce(or turn off) the shaking effects for inexperienced players. Too many parents are going to cave in to their children and let them pilot. Also, little children can’t see well in the back seats.

April 21, 2024 at 8:09 AM

Before addressing the proposal, here are my two ways to improve the experience:

- Let single riders have a shot at the pilot seats

- Make Chewbacca mode a random occurrence

Back to the topic, as AJ pointed out, age is no measure of piloting competency. My last ride was with an all over-18 group and struggling was the generous term to describe their efforts. Instead, this will no doubt kill capacity, but take a page out of Mission Space's playbook and have a turntable that's Nerfed (Nerfherdered?) - whether completely autopilot or generous assist (bonus if it's Wookie).

April 21, 2024 at 8:54 AM

My age and automobile driving ability did not help our crew. The first time I rode SR I was put in the pilot seat. I warned all of the other passengers and asked if anyone else wanted the task. They all refused. My youngest son who plays video games every day was a Pro. I crashed into EVERYTHING!!!

That said, I don't think the ride would be as popular as it is if everyone in the group couldn't participate and the ship didn't crash and shimmy.

April 21, 2024 at 9:08 AM

I think this is most important when they are mixing parties. No need to scan tickets they could just assign the pilot position to older kids or adults when dividing the groups. They could also make it clear in the line that the pilot position actually controls the experience so families know not to put the smallest child that wouldn't know what to do or older grandparent for that matter.

In an ideal world you could have a seperate line up for people that want the pilot position but I have a feeling they would run out of room quickly because that ride is only really fun if you are piloting. Maybe have a couple Falcons that are unaffected by the pilots decisions?

April 21, 2024 at 11:03 AM

If you can't reach the hyper drive lever or brakes button your to young to fly.
I wouldn't say ban but the batch position should inform or discourage guest if parents say their to young of a child wants to fly.
I've ridden solo on the ride so many times and it's been a 50/50 with getting the positions I wanted. Some families just don't care and others want that exprience. I see it as I'm the one using the system advantage to not wait in line as long. So I should give larger groups who did wait their preference.
They should also have a spare cockpit towards the exit so guest can get their picture without holding up the ride.

April 21, 2024 at 11:31 AM

I think rather than an age limit, there should be different difficulty modes you can opt into. Something a pilot could do in the cockpit before it starts during the button pushing portion, maybe. The problem with relegating kids to the back seats is that those seat backs are so high, they can't really see anything which doesn't seem fair.

I also think there just needs to be more COMMUNICATION before getting on the ride about what it will be like. I know it's important to keep the storyline consistent and in universe, but some sort of informational how-to video would be a game changer. You'd be surprised how many people go to WDW specifically with NO IDEA about what any of the rides are actually like. Not everyone is a hyper-planner.

Another idea could be for cast members at the boarding point to somehow ask smaller groups how much they care about the overall experience and allow smaller groups of adults to wait and join together rather than being forced into the first cockpit available. They have that whole waiting area but lately they're always rushing people through.

I get that efficiency is the most important thing for ride operations, but I agree that something needs to change about how Smuggler's works. I personally never go on unless I have a group of at least four. But even then, I feel bad if our group takes over the experience if the two other people end up in the back.

April 21, 2024 at 11:43 AM

Once while visiting EPCOT with my family I overhead a elderly gentleman grouse to his wife, "I would like Disney a lot more if there weren't so many children here!"

Children are the reason Disney exists. They're the moneymakers for Disney. So sit in your engineering seat and take your shaking like an adult.

April 22, 2024 at 1:14 AM

I think rather than an age requirement, Disney should create an optional "guided assist," mode where the co-pilots still have the ability to influence the ship, but it would mostly fly itself in the direction(s) it needs to go. Makes for a smoother and more exciting ride, way better visuals (you never get stuck or off track), and everyone can enjoy the experience. And it could simply be a button the castmember switches on before closing the cockpit. Just my 2cents.

April 22, 2024 at 1:59 AM

I’ve ridden this ride 5+ times, and at this point I actually find the attraction significantly more fun when the pilots DON’T know what they’re doing and cause the vehicle to crash. The first time I rode Smuggler’s Run, I thought the most thrilling part of the ride was when I accidentally crashed into some rocks during the ride’s final post-climatic descent. That brief moment shook the vehicle harsher and more unexpectedly than anything else in the ride. In a weird way, it made me realize that by having a good crew and focused pilots, we actually deprived ourselves from a better ride experience full of jerky turns, collisions, and general damage-taking.

Therefore, when I rode the ride several years later with two confused 6-year olds as the pilots, I probably had my best ride experience on Smuggler’s Run to date. It was awesome feeling the vehicle move completely randomly and unexpectedly with no rhyme or reason, sometimes having near-miss moments and sometimes having head-on collisions.

In conclusion: we should ONLY let young children be the pilots.

April 22, 2024 at 8:26 AM

I don't know if age is the issue, it's understanding the "role" and "responsibility." I've ridden this ride close to a dozen time, and my kids were a few of the better pilots in those dozen ride. They, however, understood what to do and how to do it. Some of the worst rides have been when someone doesn't understand English, they get selected to be the pilots, and then are surprised that they "need to do something."

Froggirl87 said there needs to be more communication, and I completely agree. Too often people get put into the pilots' seats and they have no idea that they are "flying/controlling" the Falcon. Add in that there are two pilots controlling different aspects, and the experience goes off the proverbial rails far too often.

April 22, 2024 at 11:38 AM

Hard no…The whole pitch for the ride is that YOU can fly the Millennium Falcon. In what world is it considered a good thing to tell a child they can’t participate the full experience of a ride at Disneyland, because they’re a child? I mean honestly now.

We’re not talking safety concerns here either, height limits and such. No this is being discussed because adults don’t want to have THEIR experience ruined because a child is having a great time at Disneyland.

Some of my most memorable solo rides on Smugglers Run have been with children in the pilots chair crashing the ship all over the place. The laughing and generally great time they’ve had along with their families far outweigh any desire I might have to have a perfect flight in the simulator. This is Disney Adults at their most nepotistic if we’re being honest here.

April 22, 2024 at 11:48 AM

18 replies in 24 hours -- you've still got it, Robert!

April 22, 2024 at 12:32 PM

@sneakertinker and @Juan I agree! The ride is more fun and entertaining when the ship crashes into everything. LOL!

I think the next debates should be about the Smellepants elephants at Magic Kingdom, do we need them? And, should Disney mail AP magnets or make the APs visit a specific park to retrieve them?

April 22, 2024 at 2:25 PM

The streets of America prove that being an adult does not make you a competent driver.

Just have an "easy" mode, and when younger kids are seated as pilots, the castmember asks the parents, "shall I put it in easy mode for them?" If you've got kids who are gamers and know how to fly, you simply say "no thanks."

It's like a kid's menu at a restaurant. Everyone should be able to fly.

Though honestly I could care less who's flying, because I'm bored with the ride. The mission isn't very exciting, or visually interesting--compare it to Star Tours, where you're on the icy planes of hoth, you're flying through a thousand star destroyers, you're dodging giant space whales. Meanwhile, the Falcon ride has you, uh, following the L train to steal a lame maguffin? Where's the drama? Where's the visuals? Where's the freakin variety?!?

Give us multiple missions, let one of them be a raid on the Death Star, or on AT-AT walkers, and watch the ride instantly get 50 times better. Let us do literally _anything_ besides steal a box from a subway.

April 23, 2024 at 12:25 PM

Honestly, the only solution here is to only ride the attraction as a group of 6, because even if you have competent pilots, if the rest of the crew are terrible or just disinterested, everyone gets a bad score. I don't mind the occasional "banging" and mediocre piloting, but I think it's just as common for adults to screw up, especially when they realize that the cabin moves with the sticks and understand how much control they really have over the experience, as kids, so an age or height limit doesn't really change anything.

Perhaps what they should do is force guests to "earn their wings" by sitting in the other seats of the cockpit first. When a group of 6 is assembled, the person with the highest cumulative score on their Datapad gets first dibs on the pilots seats. If you're a first timer, unless you're riding with a bunch of other newbies, you're relegated to the back of the bus.

I do agree with thecolonel that the experience could use some alternative missions, but you'd have to reprogram the entire preshow or somehow integrate freighters of coaxium into those classic Star Wars scenes in order to utilize those settings. Plus, as a fully immersive land, you'd have to find a way to get the Falcon from Batuu (which is on the outer rim) to the Death Star/Hoth, which probably means a "hypersleep" type convention used on Mission: Space and doesn't really port to the Star Wars universe.

April 23, 2024 at 2:46 PM

Or you could just say "now we're magically there" as they do on Star Tours and not worry about it. Definitely definitely reprogram the preshow to ground it in Star Wars characters we know. Swap out Hondo for Ackbar who tells us the rebels are are fighting all over the galaxy and we've got to step in on one of their missions, done and done.

April 23, 2024 at 3:13 PM

@thecolonel - I can certainly appreciate that, and if you're a 1-and-done type of person, that probably works. However, having done the Galactic Starcruiser experience, I have a deep appreciation for the level of detail and thematic continuity WDI was able to achieve within Galaxy's Edge. I would say 75-80% of guests probably don't recognize how integral everything within the land actually is, but sometimes is those thing that you don't even see or feel that build that connection with the guest.

You can do the wipes and flash cuts on Star Tours because it's not located within Galaxy's Edge, but I want WDI to maintain as much immersion as possible inside the land. Personally, I don't mind Hondo - he was introduced in The Clone Wars (over 15 years ago), and probably has more total screen time than all the Mon Calimari combined.

April 23, 2024 at 4:07 PM

I wonder if and when Batuu ever makes its way into a live-action Star Wars tv show or feature film. Of course, the story set in Galaxy’s edge takes place on a fixed point in the timeline. But it would be cool to flesh out this part of the universe at a different point in time.

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