Solo: A Star Wars Story ★★★★

Here it is. The Star Wars spin-off/prequel that we were all excited about when Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (the masters of making unlikely hits) were attached. That excitement started to fade when they parted ways from the project, the safe "creative differences" was the excuse given. And then there were expensive reshoots. And then the film was released, going on to achieve some fairly disappointing numbers at the box office.

I didn't rush to see it, and I didn't hear from too many people who did. It felt like something lacking the spectacle and magic of the main movie series (which even includes those much-criticised prequels, I hasten to add). It felt a bit, dare I say it, pointless.

The mess that led to this film underperforming and being viewed as a big mistake in the ongoing development of the Star Wars cinematic universe is a bit of a shame, because the film itself is a fun sci-fi adventure that benefits from some great lead performances and an enjoyable backstory for a beloved cinematic icon. Okay, we never needed that backstory, I agree, but the writers here - Jonathan and Lawrence Kasdan - at least make it a fun one.

I'm not going to cover the plot details here. It's enough to say that the film follows young Han (played by Alden Ehrenreich) as he sets out to make a name for himself, gets involved with someone who taches him a valuable lesson or two, befriends a large Wookie, meets Lando Calrissian (owner of the Millennium Falcon), and ends up flying through the Kessel Run.

I can't emphasise enough how much this film is lifted by the casting of Ehrenreich in the main role. Some may disagree, and my wife numbers among them, but I think he has just the perfect mix of what young Han should be, in terms of both looks and attitude. I first enjoyed Ehrenreich's acting, like so many other viewers, when I caught him in Hail, Caesar! and I hope that he just keeps going on to bigger and better things (and I would have liked to see him in another Solo movie, but that seems unlikely now). The other three people who easily hold the screen alongside Ehrenreich are Woody Harrelson (as Beckett, a criminal type who becomes a bit of a mentor), Joonas Suotamo playing Chewbacca, and Donald Glover as Lando. All of them are fantastic, but it's Glover who would steal the movie if it wasn't full of so many great little moments for everyone. Emilia Clarke, playing the woman who inavdvertently set Han on his path through life, is better here than she has been in some other movie roles, Paul Bettany gives a fine performance as a crime boss that you should never cross, and Thandie Newton, Jon Favreau (his voice anyway), and Phoebe Waller-Bridge (also a vocal performance) all do solid work. Waller-Bridge has the most fun, which makes it a shame that her character wasn't onscreen for a bit longer.

Ron Howard is the man who ended up in the director's chair. He does the perfectly competent job that you would expect him to do. It's not up there with his best work, and it's not up there with the best of the Star Wars movies, but it's a genuinely good time for viewers wanting to sit back, relax, and spend a couple of hours in the company of a reluctant hero they can find out a little bit more about. The script drops a number of lovely little details throughout, fleshing out a few of the main characters in scenes that entertain without ever betraying their essence (although it's quite easy when you keep things so simple - e.g. Lando is a charming rogue).

There are some touches that feel a bit forced, especially in the third act, but the pleasant surprise is just how much the film feels like Han at every turn. The music by John Powell aside (it never hits the heights that viewers might expect), this feels effortless and charming. It's one that I can see myself revisiting often, which is all down to how much I enjoyed spending time with these characters.