In terms of new characters, the key figures are Qi’ra (“Game of Thrones'” Emilia Clarke), the girl in Han’s life, and his motivation for much of what ensues; and Beckett (Woody Harrelson), a smuggler/thief whose anything-for-a-buck mentality will play a role in forging — and defining the contours of — Han’s own moral code. (“Westworld’s” Thandie Newton is part of Beckett’s crew, adding to the HBO fantasy/sci-fi connection.)
It’s all a trifle uninspiring at first, before giving way to what amounts to an elaborate heist section, with a muscular, fast-paced action sequence. But the film really kicks into a higher gear — literally as well as figuratively — when Han finally meets one of the great loves in his life, the Millennium Falcon, his face lighting up the first time he settles in behind the controls.
The technical wizardry augments these scenes, as do the musical cues incorporated by composer John Powell, weaving in snippets of John Williams’ earlier themes — most notably from “The Empire Strikes Back” — in a way that helps recapture the spirit of the original trilogy, at least during certain key moments.
With so much going on in the “Star Wars” universe since Disney acquired Lucasfilm, there’s always a question of when new stand-alone projects will begin bumping into each other or run out of real estate. But perhaps the most encouraging thing one can say about “Solo” is that unlike “Rogue One,” it not only leaves room for a possible sequel to this prequel, but finishes strongly enough that such a prospect seems enticing.
In hindsight, tackling such a beloved character — 41 years to the day after “Star Wars'” introduction with “A New Hope” — presented an especially daunting task, inviting sky-high expectations. While “Solo” hasn’t completely overcome the long odds, those harboring a love of the franchise should come away, ultimately, with a good feeling about this.
“Solo: A Star Wars Story” premieres May 25 in the U.S. It’s rated PG-13.