Veteran director Ron Howard was brought in, and apparently shot around 70% of the finished film - but the joins aren’t noticeable at all.
It’s a fresh, funny, very exciting addition to the lore of the canon, that’s an extremely entertaining adventure in its own right, but also pays homage to the spirit of the earlier instalments. This is particularly evident in John Powell’s score - listen carefully, and there’s a few reprises of John’s Williams’s triumphant theme!
It obtains the right balance between being old-fashioned in its almost Western-esque sensibilities, while also telling us the humble origins story of one of the most iconic, best loved characters in the franchise: Harrison Ford’s Han Solo.
Alden Ehrenreich (hilarious in the Coen Bros. Hail Caesar) steps into those swaggering shoes - and he handles it terrifically, with the perfect mix of smooth charm and edgy recklessness. He doesn’t need to copy Ford’s grouchy cynicism, but captures just enough of the essence of Han’s slightly morally unorthodox methodology - plans that seem risky but always win the day - to definitely convince us.
There’s plenty of dazzling special effects and energetic set-pieces - chases on speeders, trains and the Millennium Falcon. There’s also an impressive supporting cast: Emilia Clarke as Qi’ra, Han’s mysterious love interest, Thandie Newton as no-nosense trooper Val, cute little co-pilot Rio - and a brilliant villain in Paul Bettany’s Dryden, brandishing red laser-boomerangs. There’s a huge surprise at the end too, but I won’t give it away!
Rating: * * * *