Donald Glover is probably the best thing about this Star Wars spin-off that might have been released just a little too close to its predecessor.

Solo follows a pre-Rebellion Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) as he joins forces with Beckett (Woody Harrelson) on a dangerous mission to recover the valuable hyper fuel ‘coaxium’ and deliver it to the evil Dryden Voss (Paul Bethany). It soon becomes clear that Voss has nicked his girlfriend Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) after a failed attempt to escape their homeland together. Along the way, he bumps into his soon to be copilot, the alien Chewbacca who is not, apparently, a yeti, and steals a ship from Mr Smooth, Lando (Donald Glover). 

It’s been a pretty bumper year for the rapper otherwise known as Childish Gambino. His ‘This is America’ video this year was a viral sensation, a biting comment on contemporary American culture. Glover is easily the best thing about Solo. He is smooth as a chocolate liqueur when we meet the smuggler during a card game in which Solo attempts to bag his beloved ship. Committed fans will know that Lando later ends up one of the leaders of the Rebellion, but here he’s a quick-witted conman who says things like “buckle up, baby” with all the coolness of James Brown mixed with overtones of Barry White. He’s about to play Simba in the live-action remake of The Lion King, so he’s probably not going away soon.

Alden Ehrenreich Solo

Alden Ehrenreich makes a sassy Solo in A Star Wars Story © 2018 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

As in The Last JediStar Wars does a remarkable job at ensuring that its female protagonists are there for reasons other than to be draped off the arm of a man. Emilia Clarke is resplendent as Qi’ra, the mysterious vixen with a history, and a loyal companion to Solo. Thandie Newton is always a pleasure to watch, and its a shame that her character is cut off early. Phoebe Waller Bridge as L3-37, Lando’s droid with sass, is as much of a pleasure to see, or hear rather, as she was in BBC Three’s Fleabag.

In the lead role, Alden Ehrenreich makes for a devilishly charming Solo. His James Dean version of the character made famous by Harrison Ford probably won’t please fans of the original films who can’t envisage anyone else in the role, but with his low cut shirt and biker jacket, this Solo is one for millennials. If it weren’t for the presence of Donald Glover, Ehrenreich would probably have survived much of the criticism he’s garnered for his take on the role, but he’s somewhat outshone by his co-star.

At 135 minutes, Solo feels considerably longer than it should. The action scenes are well-crafted set pieces but the film feels like an extended cutaway scene from the wider Star Wars saga to its detriment. It’s less enjoyable to the uninitiated than The Last Jedi was, owing to its more confined story, deeply engrained in the Star Wars psyche and overarching narrative. Following the success of Rogue One, its sure to fall to the traditional hurdles faced by prequels; that anyone who’s likely to see it is probably a die-hard fan of the originals and therefore has an eagle-eye for errors and goofs. For most, several of the easter eggs will probably go unnoticed, but even then most of us will know Darth Maul’s face, if not his name.

Perhaps it’s just been released a little too close to its predecessor which debuted over Christmas, but Ron Howard’s Solo feels like a slightly poorer relation to Rian Johnson’s epic.

★★★☆☆

Solo: A Star Wars Story is out in cinemas now. Book IMAX tickets here.