Director Ron Howard's slick, funny prequel offers a respectable lead performance that captures Harrison Ford's smirky, roguish charisma and fills in several Star Wars gaps. While purists may never be fully satisfied with any prequel that revisits beloved original characters (some Potterheads feel the same way about Fantastic Beasts, for example), Ehrenreich deserves props for rising above pure imitation. He and Glover make their legendary characters their own, even if audiences must suspend disbelief a bit that either man could have changed quite that much in just 10 or so years. Both are amusingly arrogant and self-possessed -- and, in Han's case, also vulnerable. Yes, it's compelling to explore how Han hooked up with Chewie and Lando, but it's even more interesting to uncover the particulars of Han's background, his introduction to smuggling, and his first (ultimately doomed) love story.
Solo, like most spin-offs, isn't strictly necessary, but it's still massively entertaining when it gets things right. A couple of key moments will definitely make fans cheer (mostly having to do with the Millennium Falcon). There are several well-performed supporting roles, especially among the women. Clarke, who's best known as the Mother of Dragons on Game of Thrones, is great as Han's often underestimated partner in crime. Newton is extremely effective in her small but pivotal role (with a deadly stare familiar to those who've seen her in Westworld or Line of Duty). And British comedian/TV writer Phoebe Waller-Bridge (who sounds a lot like Tilda Swinton) is hilarious as outspoken android rights' activist L3-37. Bettany is fantastically creepy as a chilling mob boss who just wants to get paid, and Harrelson adds his signature, laid-back style to the proceedings as Han's roguish mentor. By the end, audiences will feel even more intensely for Han Solo, knowing more about his victories and losses as a younger man.