Based approximately ten years before the events of Star Wars: A New Hope (1977) a young Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) and his girlfriend, Qi'ra (Emilia Clarke) attempt to escape the shipbuilding planet of Corellia where they live as orphans and are forced too steal for criminals in exchange for protection. Qi'ra is caught as they're fleeing planet, and in order to prevent his own capture Han enlists in the Impeiral Navy as a flight cadet, vowing to return to Corellia to rescue Qi'ra. Three years later while fighting for the Empire on the planet Mimban, Han meets a group of criminals who are undercover as Imperial soldiers and planning to steal an Imperial ship to use for their next job - stealing a shipment of coaxium (hyper fuel) on the planet Vandor. He convinces them to take him and his newfound friend, Chewbacca, as an extra pair of hands on the mission in an attempt to get enough credits to return home to Corellia to rescue Qi'ra.
Solo boasts an impressive cast, playing a variety of entertaining characters. Emilia Clarke is a capable as ever as Qi'ra, despite some questionable characters motivations, as is Woody Harrelson as Tobias Beckett, the leader of group of criminals Han encounters. He is joined by Val (Thandie Newton) and alien Rio Durant (voiced by Jon Favreau), who both end up being underused. Donald Glover is perfect as Lando Calrissian, but his co-pilot L3-37 (voiced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge) steals the spotlight as an outspoken female droid. Paul Bettany plays the most lively and charismatic villain the Star Wars franchise has seen in crime lord Dryden Vos. And for all the concern about Alden Ehrenreich's portrayal of Han Solo, he does well, adding a nice touch of naivety to the young, wise-cracking smuggler.
The film looks spectacular, with a number of new planets and ships for Star Wars fans to admire, particularly in the action sequences. Dryden Vos' yacht floating through the clouds is one such example. And the score is as good as always, with composer John Powell incorporating a lot of John Williams' pieces from previous Star Wars films.
The film only starts to falter when, as hardcore Star Wars fans will do, you begin to think about it too much. It's odd that ultimately a film marketed as the origin story of Han Solo isn't really that at all. Had the entire film revolved around his time and escape from Corellia it would have been, but as it is Han is still very much an enigma. He is a character clearly desperate for an outlaw image, but none of his actions in the film will generate questions of his morality from the audience - he is the hero no matter what he, or the film, wants us to think. This is in spite on him joining the Empire as an Imperial trooper (something I personally find very uncharacteristic), and his actions towards Beckett at the end of the film.
Similarly, a masked gang of pirates called the Cloud Riders skirt around the edge of the film as obvious foes to the protagonists, yet a third act twist sees their previous actions forgotten as they reveal themselves as trying to spark the rebellion against the Empire. The most painful of these character motivation problems lies with Qi'ra, easily the films worst female character. By the end of the film you still have no idea where her allegiances lie, with her childhood sweetheart Han or the criminal syndicate in which she works - Crimson Dawn. It's easy to say her allegiance is to herself, but then give her a reason to act this way. Unfortunately her time between attempting to escape with Han and coming to work for Vos is left unexplored, leaving audiences unenlightened.