Set before the events of A New Hope, Han (Alden Ehrenreich) is a brash and eager outlaw who just so happens to be an Imperial soldier out of desperation. When he meets Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson) and his crew, he sets off on a journey that takes him across the path of some of the galaxy's most dangerous criminals and a ghost from his past.
It's telling that much of the news surrounding Solo has been focused on the behind-the-scenes drama and intrigue and very little on the film itself. If you've been out of the loop, a brief summary follows that the two directors originally hired - Phil Lord and Chris Miller - were dropped at the halfway point in production with Ron Howard drafted in, who then proceeded - if rumours are to be believed - to reshoot well over 70% of the film. When you look at Solo with this knowledge, there's very little of it that feels like a mad scramble to put together something coherent. Indeed, it's almost safe and sort of predictable in how it approaches both the character and the arc of the story. Maybe that's what was needed for a character as deeply ingrained in the Star Wars mythos and pop culture at large - a safe, sturdy film that tells you pretty much what you either already knew or didn't care all that much about in the first place.
Much like Rogue One, Solo eschews all sense of the morality plays from the main series and - quite literally - puts it down in the mud and muck of the galaxy. There's no brave rebellion, no heroes or mystical powers on display, just people desperately trying to survive in an uncaring universe and doing questionable things in the process. From the start, Alden Ehrenreich's performance as Han is weighted with expectation. If he leans too hard on Harrison Ford's performance, he's copying him. If he tries to forge ahead on his own, it's a disservice to what defined him. Cleverly, the screenplay makes it less about his journey and more about the supporting characters surrounding him. Emilia Clarke's love interest shifts gears in an intriguing but kind of predictable way, whilst Donald Glover as Lando Calrissian is criminally underutilised. Phoebe Waller-Bridge's droid character L3 has some of the best lines in the film, whereas Thandie Newton has pretty much an extended cameo rather than anything else. Paul Bettany, meanwhile, makes for a functional if forgettable villain - playing him more like an '80s cocaine dealer than something we've seen in the Star Wars universe to date.
When you get right down to it, Han Solo is an easy enough character to sketch out. He's a smuggler, a pirate, he's the guy who goes out of his way to make it seem like he doesn't care - but we know he does. Charting the arc from that to where he began seems easy enough to do, so really it's just a case of laying the groundwork for more - and that's clearly the approach that Ron Howard takes with this; giving nods and fan service as needed and pushing it towards the endpoint where he becomes the character we remember. It then makes you wonder what exactly it was that the previous directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller had in mind that was so radical and different.
In a lot of ways, that's kind of what lets Solo down - that it's exactly what you expected it would be. There's thrills and spills, flashes of John Williams' score throughout that just beautifully heightens the excitement of seeing the Millennium Falcon dart around the screen, Chewbacca roaring his way throughout - everything you could want from a movie like this. Given how The Last Jedi was so boldly subversive in its approach and how it polarised longtime fans of the series, Solo feels like it's an appeasement rather than a genuine attempt to examine the character and craft a story. Still, as appeasements go, this is a lot of fun and has enough fun and excitement to it that'll make for a far better sequel.