With Ron Howard directing a Lawrence Kasdan script this is conventional, safe, entertaining Hollywood. It can be viewed as a fairly straightforward cowboy or heist movie, and that in essence tells us the appeal of Star Wars, and in particular the Star Wars universe to Disney. For decades the western was the go to genre for filmmakers to tell newly romanticised versions of classic myths. But of late that has become increasingly difficult with the recognition of the reality of what the west meant for native Americans. And when trying to recognise this reality, recent westerns have lost the initial escapism that made it an attractive setting in the first place (witness the grinding boredom of Hostiles for instance). So enter the Star Wars universe where those movies can be retold without any of that pesky historical reality impinging on enjoyment (and sales).
And, from this perspective Solo is a blast. It has sufficient hooks into the original series to add something to the overall narrative, but it’s effectively a stand alone. Some of the Star Wars nerds have berated it for not adding to the SW arc (probably once they’d taken a break from abusing Kelly Marie Tran), but for me that is its charm. It pays proper dues (this is how Han met Chewie, did the Kessel run, won the Millennium Falcon) but beyond these obligations, it’s free to have fun. Alden Ehrenreich is perhaps a bit too clean to be the young Han, but has sufficient charm, Harrelson plays his usual grizzled outsider to good effect and Donald Glover is perfect as the young Lando. In between all this we have some chase scenes, shoot outs, double crossings all interlaced with the wise cracking that made Solo such a memorable character first time around.
In Star Wars terms these spin offs may be the more successful outings than the formal episodes, because of their greater freedom. But while this is a crackling western, by being removed from the actual historical context of the west (even when that was grossly misrepresented (as in every John Wayne movie) it was still revealing something about our relationship with that past. The freedom of the Star Wars universe allows stories to be told with no such responsibility. But like the reverse of Spiderman, with no responsibility comes no power.