Solo: A Star Wars Story (4 stars)

Solo: A Star Wars Story

Safely-handled and breathlessly exciting addition to the Star Wars saga, from Ron Howard

The Star Wars saga continues with another spin-off story. Like 2016's Rogue One, this is set long before the current crop of main films, winding back to when Han Solo was a would-be pilot on the planet Corellia. Stepping into Harrison Ford's shoes is no easy task, but Alden Ehrenreich (Hail, Caesar!) plays him with just the right measure of easy charm.

Written by Jonathan and Lawrence Kasdan, and directed by Hollywood stalwart Ron Howard (after original directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller exited the project over 'creative differences' several months into the shoot), Solo plays out as part-western, part-heist. It sees the young Han meet his Wookiee co-pilot Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) and smuggler Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover), owner of the Millennium Falcon – not yet the 'hunk of junk' it will be when Han gets into the cockpit. Set in a 'lawless time', crime syndicates overrun the galaxy, seeking coveted hyperfuel.

When Han teams up with Woody Harrelson's unscrupulous mentor figure Tobias Beckett and his partner Val (Thandie Newton), he's soon on a mission to steal some of this precious cargo, at the behest of the vicious Dryden (Paul Bettany). There's romance too, with Han running into former lover Qi'ra (Emilia Clarke). It might not be on the level of Han's affair with Princess Leia, but it establishes the young Han as a less cynical, more optimistic character.

Howard directs breathlessly, with some fine set-pieces, including a thrilling train robbery and a visit to the spice mines of Kessel (one of many nods to things from the original movies). Not everything works: Phoebe Waller-Bridge's motion-capture turn as Lando's robot L3-37 is too broadly comic and feels misjudged, and Solo lacks the emotional kick of Rogue One. But, with the integrity of Han left intact, it's a safely-handled Star Wars tale that's unlikely to provoke the fan outrage that Rian Johnson's The Last Jedi did.

General release from Thu 24 May.

Solo: A Star Wars Story

  • 4 stars
  • 2018
  • US
  • 2h 14min
  • 12A
  • Directed by: Ron Howard
  • Cast: Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover, Thandie Newton, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Joonas Suotamo
  • UK release: 25 May 2018

The origin story of the young Han Solo (Ehrenreich), as he gets out of Corellia, meets Chewbacca (Suotamo) and Lando (Glover) for the first time, and runs into former lover Qi’ra (Clarke). Ehrenreich has just the right easy charm and despite some missteps it’s an enjoyable yarn with fine set-pieces.