Before you begin, you must choose between the Novice mission and the Pro mission. The main difference between the missions is the frequency of enemies. First time players are recommended to play the Novice Mission. Regardless of which mission you choose, Luke will lose one life whenever he gets hit (unless he is riding in a Landspeeder). There is no chance to continue, so once you run out of lives, you will have no choice but to start over from the beginning of the game.
In order to complete the game, you must guide Luke through seven stages. The first six are side-scrolling exploration stages across different planets in the galaxy, where you must rescue various allies. Each stage must be completed in the order presented; there is no way to skip or repeat a stage. The seventh stage is unique and features a top-down vertical scrolling presentation of Luke's attempt to blow up the Death Star in his X-Wing. Between each stage, you must pilot your way to the next destination aboard the Millennium Falcon. This game play is present between each stage and is presented below.
When you complete a stage on one planet, you must fly to the next destination. You will receive a message from a captured ally. Then you will engage in hyperspace, and when you arrive, several of the empire's enemy fighters will be present to greet you. In order to safely land on the planet surface, you must clear the area above the planet of fighters.
At first, you will only encounter five before you arrive at the second stage. You will encounter two more with every stage, for a final total of fifteen before the seventh stage. Only three fighters will ever appear at one time. Every fight only takes one hit to destroy. Likewise, the Millennium Falcon can only sustain one hit. However, you have three deflector shields that you can engage at any time in combat. When engaged, the screen turns blue, and any bullets that strike the Falcon during that time are rendered harmless. However, once you run out of shields, there is no way to regenerate them until you complete the next stage.
Engaging the enemy craft in combat is not always easy. The craft that appear start out far away and slowly approach the Falcon until they are within range to fire, and then veer off. While they are visible on the screen, they actually fly in straight lines and they only change direction when they hit the edge of the screen. In this way, it is actually easier to get them between your cross-hairs by flying in the opposite direction that that are traveling in order to force them to hit the edge of the screen and return. If you try to chase them, they are more likely to continue flying away from you and unable to hit the edge of the screen.
When you see an enemy fire a bullet, you must make a quick decision. It is possible to dodge the bullet without using up a precious shield if you manage to scroll the bullet entirely off the screen. If the bullet is already close to a screen edge, fly away from the bullet to make it disappear. If it is not close to an edge, you must use one of your shields to survive. Once you use up all of your shields, the only way to avoid dying is to run away from a fighter when it gets close enough to fire at you.