IF Ryan Johnson’s The Last Jedi propelled George Lucas’s saga into a galaxy far, far away from the old-fashioned charm of the original trilogy, Solo slingshots at light-speed in the opposite direction.

Scripted by Jonathan Kasdan and father Lawrence, co-writer of The Empire Strikes Back and Return Of The Jedi, the film sketches the formative years of the charismatic scoundrel Han Solo. Ron Howard captains the hulking ship after director duo Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were tossed into a sarlacc pit over ‘creative differences’ a few months into production.

Behind-the-scenes turmoil hasn’t manifested noticeably on screen. Howard’s gung-ho romp of double-crossing criminals is clinical, bookmarked by impressively staged set-pieces laden with special effects.

Solo’s name is emboldened in the title but he’s the least interesting element and Alden Ehrenreich’s performance falls short of the smouldering, rascally delights of Harrison Ford. Instead, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, creator of award-winning comedy Fleabag, shines brightest through the digitally rendered gloom as a rebellious droid. A nifty prologue illustrates the doomed romance of Han (Ehrenreich) and sweetheart Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke).

Three years later, after meeting with Wookiee sidekick Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), Han seeks a route to Corellia by hijacking ‘crystal fuel coaxium’ with thief-for-hire Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson).

The heist doesn’t unfold as planned and the deflated reprobates become indebted to crime lord Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany). Thus, Han and Beckett reluctantly undertake a more dangerous assignment.

To accomplish this feat, the thieves must wrest the Millennium Falcon from smuggler Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover). Solo feels like a throwback to the original canon but the series’ mythology limits the number of characters who can sustain serious injury. Consequently, there’s scant dramatic tension despite composer John Powell’s efforts.

A lean script underscores Han and Chewie’s jocular banter and Glover has fun with his flirtatious chancer, who always deals himself a winning hand.

“I’ve got a good feeling about this,” grins Han, a neat reversal of Luke Skywalker’s famous line in A New Hope. I harboured similar feelings for Howard’s picture but like the Millennium Falcon, when she emerges from the Kessel run, my expectations were badly dented.

RATING: 7/10