A long time ago at a cinema far away (from my current location), a friend commented that The Phantom Menace suffered from the lack of Han Solo. Twenty years later, we get a prequel/spin-off (pre-off? Spin-quel?) all about Han, later Solo (Alden Ehrenreich). Ron Howard’s film makes a virtue of omitting the baggy story of those earlier installments while still referencing such Star Wars lore as the Empire, Tatooine and the Kessel Run. The film’s closest cinematic cousin, however, is Serenity, incorporating elements of the western and the heist film. These elements include lawless planets, a train job, gun slinging (including an unambiguous first shot), crime syndicates complete with menacing boss Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany), and perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of the film: a motley crew of vagabonds. This crew includes Beckett (Woody Harrelson), Val (Thandie Newton), Rio Durant (Jon Favreau), Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke), L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), the introduction of other familiar characters including Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) and Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), and a certain spaceship that any Star Wars fan would love a ride on. Ehrenreich embodies the cocksure charm and charisma needed for the young Solo, and his relationships with Qi’ra, Beckett and Chewbacca give the film heart. Howard incorporates these characters into some thrilling action set pieces – including a speeder race that recalls the director’s Rush – and some exhilarating space chases and dynamic combat sequences including the closest the film comes to a light sabre duel. This distance indicates the film’s major weakness: without the mystical element of the Jedi and the wider menace posed by the Empire (used to great effect in Rogue One), Solo feels somewhat flimsy and underpowered, the central McGuffin allowing little more than suggested links to wider events. Han has always been a fun character, but he works best in comparison to more idealistic figures such as Luke, Leia and, more recently, Rey and Finn. Here, everyone is a charming rogue and Han is simply the fresh blood, his arc and contributions offering little that we have not seen before. Solo is enjoyable while it lasts, but overall it lacks a certain Force.