Six months after The Last Jedi divided Star Wars fans, this second spin-off movie (after 2016’s Rogue One) has endured a bumpy road to cinemas.
The film’s original directors were fired midway through filming, and rumours of acting coaches being hired for star Alden Ehrenreich didn’t help matters.
Those fearing an Episode 1 level disaster can relax, however: Han Solo’s much-hyped origin story is, for the most part, a lot of fun. Ehrenreich plays the fan-favourite as a young man, joining up with smuggler Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson) and new buddy Chewbacca (Joonas Suomato) to embark on a dangerous mission to steal a valuable energy source. The story gallops along, replete with humour and space chases, including the infamous Kessel Run.
Director Ron Howard was brought in to steady the ship – in this case the Millennium Falcon – and that’s exactly what he does. He’s always been a safe pair of hands, making big-budget Hollywood productions with lots of polish but not always much soul.
Here, he delivers an entry-level romp that satisfies like a bucket of ice cream, provided you aren’t too invested in the series. The set pieces are wonderful eye-candy, particularly Han and Beckett’s high speed train robbery, and the overall tone is kept light, which feels appropriate for the character.
The problem is, the pleasure is all so transitory, with nothing grabbing you the way it should. When we first see the Millennium Falcon, or a grinning Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover), the gravitas is missing. The planets are visually impressive but have little to distinguish them, eventually starting to feel like repeated textures in the later stages of a video game.
At its worst, it feels thrown together, a passionless, production-line project designed to satisfy a deadline rather than embrace a legacy, hoping that the familiar names and faces will distract from its myriad failings.
As for Ehrenreich, any actor would have a tough time stepping into Harrison Ford’s shoes. Han isn’t like Chewbacca or Darth Vader; he’s more than a costume that can be passed on. So much of his appeal is linked to Ford himself, and the young star just isn’t right.
Part of the problem is beyond his control: he spends most of his time pining for estranged love Qi’ra (a wooden Emilia Clarke), but even beyond the narrative failings, he’s more cheeky infant than swashbuckling scoundrel.
One person who does fit right in is Donald Glover, with a superb take on Calrissian that has enough of Billy Dee Williams to feel authentic, but enough of Glover not to be an impersonation. He’s used much less than the advertising implies, but most will agree Lando: A Star Wars Story would be brilliant. Elsewhere, Woody Harrelson does his usual grizzled thing as Han’s mentor, and Paul Bettany is excellent as the sinister criminal they all owe money to.
What Solo unequivocally proves is that nostalgia only gets you so far. Amid all the laser beams and music cues, there’s a hole at the heart of this galaxy that even some fine individual performances can’t fill.
For casual fans there’s plenty of forgettable space-opera silliness to revel in, but for those of us who remember how good Han Solo used to be, this is a disappointingly ordinary adventure.