Space cowboy Han (Alden Ehrenreich) meets Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), gets a last name and is taken under the wing of Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson), a criminal who is looking to eliminate what he owes to the feared wealthy gangster Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany). This motley crew is joined by charismatic gambler Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) on a heist that will clear Beckett's debt. Han is getting close to his goal of becoming a pilot, getting a ship and reuniting with Qi'ra (Emilia Clarke), the girlfriend he was forced to leave behind on an Empire-controlled planet. But there is trouble along the way.

The early life of Han Solo unfolds in this action-filled galactic western, complete with gunplay and showdowns. Anyone who grew up with "Star Wars" will be thrilled with
all of the pop references, many foreshadowing future characters and events. For fans, goosebumps will be raised at the first sighting of Chewy, the Millennium Falcon (owned by Lando) and several other inclusions. This sci-fi journey may not be the best in the franchise's series, but it is epic in scope and covers a lot of ground in the story of the iconic rebel. It took me a while to get used to a face that didn't belong to Harrison Ford. But Alden Ehrenreich ("Hail, Caesar!") grows on you. He doesn't look like, or even mimic, Ford. Yet he comfortably slides into the role with a cocky assurance that is expected of a young Han. He gets help from a stellar supporting cast that includes Woody Harrelson, Paul Bettany and a fearless Emilia Clarke (without her "Game of Thrones" dragons). But it's Donald Glover who steals the scenes as Lando. Just a look or sudden movement grabs attention (look out Billy Dee Williams). Thandie Newton appears as Val, Tobias' partner in life and crime. New characters lending a comic touch are Beckett's multi-armed alien pilot Rio Durant and Calrissian's droid L3-37, voiced by Jon Favreau and Phoebe Waller-Bridge. By film's end, you can't wait for further adventures. This project was rumored to be riddled with problems during production. One known fact: directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were let go due to the dreaded "creative differences". The gifted Ron Howard took control and brilliantly made all of the pieces fit. The end result is short of riveting, but Solo's exploits and questions dating back to the original "Star Wars" are satisfyingly presented and answered - none revealed here. A smart screenplay, by Lawrence Kasdan ("Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back" co-writer) and his son Jonathan, fills in all of the blanks. Mostly a salute to oaters (complete with a great train robbery), there's also an homage to war movies. Hearing John Williams memorable theme, woven into John Powell's new score, is truly heart-pounding. While this film is light in tone, the action sequences are dark - literally. It is difficult to see what's going on. Hopefully it was the projection in the theater and not the filmmakers' intent. The stand-alone "Solo: A Star Wars Story" shoots from the hip, aims to please and hits the target. (4/5 CAMS)

Rated PG-13 (sequences of sci-fi action/violence)
Running Time: 135 minutes

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