What I expected from Solo: A Star Wars Story was a bit of a fawning ode to the original trilogy with lots of sledgehammer subtle references and rehashing of iconic Harrison Ford dialogue. I knew I'd like it because... heck, it's Star Wars, but I genuinely feared that maybe this would be the one where the studio decided to listen to all the squeaky wheels complaining loudly how all the new movies have simply RUINED Star Wars; that after witnessing countless online tantrums about the abuse of Luke Skywalker's character in The Last Jedi they wouldn't dare present anything other than the most timid and prosaic origin story for everyone's favourite scoundrel.
Thankfully I was only halfway right. Solo IS more of a straightforward romp than any other film in the canon, maybe even more so than A New Hope That's not a bad thing though, it was immensely enjoyable.
It's also made with a lighter touch. We know everything is going to turn out okay so let's just punch it and enjoy the ride. I think the ride could have benefited from being a little longer with some scenes and some of the more interesting characters like L3-37 (voiced by Phobe Waller-Bridge) and Thandie Newton's Val given more to do.
The fact that the filmmakers chose not to make Han too-cool-for-school from the get-go was pleasing, as was the fact that the references, when they came, were not telegraphed or accompanied by the onscreen equivalent of someone nudging you going "eh do you geddit, eh?" but just... there.
Solo takes it for granted that you already know all the Star Wars stuff. There's zero exposition aside from a clunky and unnecessary title card intro. But it also knows that there are certain moments that are going to have emotional resonance for long term fans and, for me at least, they were all dealt with well. The first time Han enters the cockpit of the Falcon it's done from his POV and the first time she jumps to lightspeed the camera lingers on Ehrenreich's face in close up and you can see the love writ large.
Han meeting Chewie and the subsequent growth of trust and friendship between them is smashing, as is seeing Chewbacca unleash full Wookie fury a few times. Something that doesn't happen in the original trilogy the same way it does in the subsequent movies/shows (see also lightsaber battles). At one point the Falcon takes off and I realised this was IT... THEY'RE ABOUT TO DO THE KESSEL RUN IN LESS THAN TWELVE PARSECS and I had a grin on my face as wide as Jabba's ass.
Alden Ehrenreich does a sterling job channeling the Han Solo we all remember. Apparently Ron Howard insisted on lots of reshoots to make sure this was the case and if so it paid off. It's all in the subtle details, the way he stands, hands lightly touching his hips, the half smile, the cocksure delivery. He doesn't look like Harrison Ford but he sure as hell looks like Han Solo.
Even as a callow youth, maligned and teased by a cast of supporting characters older and wiser than he is, Solo still exudes that raffish charm we all love him for. The only person cooler is Donald Glover's Lando Calrissian which is exactly as it should be. Paul Bethany delivers a nicely menacing villain, Woody Harrelson's Beckett is fun but not terribly original and unfortunately Emilia Clarke as Qi'ra felt a bit pointless but as we will almost certainly see more of her let's hope that changes.
As ever the visuals and costumes are brilliantly done and fit perfectly into the universe's aesthetic. L3-37 being made from reconstituted R2 units was a particularly nice touch. The main word that comes to mind when trying to sum up Solo is "FUN". Make no mistake though the kind of people who bandy about terms like "SJW", "feminazi" and "raped my childhood" are still going to hate it. I'm sure there are already a thousand hot takes out there called "I had a very bad feeling about this" or "Nolo" but for me it's a very enjoyable 8 out of 10.
Solo: A Star Wars Story
Starring: Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover, Thandie Newton, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Joonas Suotamo and Paul Bettany
Director: Ron Howard
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Running time: 135 mins
Opens 25 May 2018