★★★★

The latest expansion of the Star Wars franchise, Solo: A Star Wars Story, is worthy of its predecessors and only suffers from a few small imperfections which it overcomes to produce a high-quality Star Wars installment. Most importantly, Solo is just plain fun to watch. We see the origin story of a beloved character as mile-a-minute heists, battles, and escapes unfold one after another, while also meeting fascinating new personalities, and being captivated by first-class effects and cinematography.

As Han escapes the terrible planet of Corellia, leaving behind his first love Qi’ra, a customs agent asks him for his last name. When Han takes on a confused expression, the agent asks “Who are your people?” Han replies he has no one, and the agent bestows on him the name Solo. Han wants to be a pilot and makes it into the Imperial Academy but, of course, his independent streak gets him kicked out and transferred to the Imperial infantry. In the aftermath of a fierce battle, Han discovers his Captain, Tobias Beckett, is actually a smuggler. Han joins Beckett’s band of outlaw misfits and, after dealing with our villain, Dryden Vos, and encountering Qi’ra in surprising circumstances, he and his new smuggler compatriots chase after a quantity of rare valuable weapons material and meet the beginnings of the rebellion. While all of these events combine to build a perfectly serviceable plot, the occasionally relentless pace of the action becomes tedious at times.

The film also takes on a rather bleak palette throughout. There is the flat brown of the mud and muck, the sandy brown of ubiquitous dust storms, the stout gray of star ship hulls, and the dirty white of the perpetually dim sky. These color combos might begin to wear on some viewers because, while it’s a perfectly reasonable set of hues for the story being told, it’s also a bit depressing.

Without doubt, Woody Harrelson’s work as Tobias Beckett is the best of this movie followed closely by Paul Bettany’s spot-on bad guy turn playing Dryden Vos. The lead role of Han Solo, taken on by Alden Ehrenreich, is not the compelling character the movie deserves. Frankly, Ehrenreich’s performance can be fairly called out as amateurish. He has a somewhat plastic sheen to his acting, such that he seems to be trying too hard, and audiences will clearly see him “acting” like Han Solo rather than “being” Han Solo. Opposite Ehrenreich as Qi’ra is Emilia Clarke, who surfaces with a more authentic portrayal of a survivor transforming into a sophisticated intergalactic femme fatale.

Solo: A Story Wars Story holds its own in the company of its excellent companion Rogue One, but leaves the latter the superior film. Hardcore Star Wars fans will be satisfied with the story of how Han became Solo and wider audiences can enjoy keeping up with the hijinks and triumphs of Beckett’s team of smuggling renegades. While frequently looking a touch dismal and a bearing a sometimes dizzying whirlwind of exploits, Solo stands tall in the final appraisal as a well executed and captivating addition to the cherished Star Wars World. It’s true that some demanding fans will find a few minor flaws, but every class of audience will have a blast in the theater with Solo: A Star Wars Story.