Ron Howard takes the wheel and manages not to crash

Taking one of the most beloved characters in all of popular cinema and crafting a backstory for him is no easy task, but Solo: A Star Wars Story manages to do just that in a way that should please audiences, but not necessarily diehard fans.

Prequels are problematic. Does the new, younger actor act anything like the old, older actor? Do the formative events in the character’s life match the actions and attitude we know and love? Can throwaway lines from the original be turned into extended plot points in the current film? Solo doesn’t nail all of these, but the end product is an enjoyable work regardless.

Devil-may-care Han Solo won us over with a mix of lovability and snark. That his upbringing was the hardscrabble one of an indentured servant is bleak but informative. While being made to steal and scam for his alien master, he falls in love with a fellow member of the underclass, Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke).

After bouncing around in the Empire’s military of all things, he falls in with a group of rogues lead by Beckett (Woody Harrelson) and manages to start putting his ego-driven skills to work.

Along the way, they pull in Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) in an attempt to offer some real fan service. Glover trying to channel Billy Dee Williams often falls flat, but the character is so outlandish that he had to be a bit over-the-top.

Paul Bettany goes from the sympathetic Vision in The Avengers to smarmy bad guy in Solo. While Jabba the Hutt is only hinted at, this world of gangsters and ne’er-do-wells is a nice change from the revolutionaries and authoritarians of the series’ main thread.

The famed “Kessel Run” gets fully explicated here and, considering its outsized importance in the legend of Han, turns out to be an entertaining ride. In fact, most of the action is pretty well done, filling up the two and half hour screen time with extended bouts of adrenaline.

Whether or not Solo: A Star Wars Story fits well into the larger Star Wars universe will be the subject of much debate, but when seen as a Ron Howard movie, Solo stands on its own, no small feat given the gravitas that’s been placed on the grandest space opera of our time.

Further Reading from a Long Time Ago in a Galaxy Far, Far Away:

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