In an age of hyperbole, the low-key release of Solo: A Star Wars Story has felt somewhat refreshing. Rumour has it that Disney feared they had a bit of a turkey on their hands, meaning this got neither the usual Christmas release or fanfare that has become almost traditional with each instalment of the long-running space saga. The second of the studio's spin-off films from the main trilogy-of-trilogies, Solo has practically sneaked into cinemas under the cover of the megalithic Avengers film, carrying with it low expectations and even a sense that even the universe's mightiest franchise might be running out of steam.
It is certainly the strangest and least Star Wars-like film of the series so far. Filling in the backstory of Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich), the wisecracking space-smuggler from the original trilogy, the chief point of the movie seems to be to tick off fan's unresolved plot questions. How did Han get his ship the Millennium Falcon? How did he meet hirsute co-pilot Chewbacca? What's the deal with Han and famous frenemy Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover)? All of these issues and more – including, excruciatingly, where the titular character's surname comes from – are all resolved along the journey of the plot, but in truth there's not much more plot than that. The film is incredibly light; it's a fun, frothy heist movie involving Han having to steal some expensive fuel in order to avoid getting killed by Paul Bettany, and as such it's a galaxy far far away from previous spin-off movie Rogue One.
While that film was as epic as everything we've come to expect from the series, Solo is a comparatively small movie. There are no huge space battles; no universe-spanning sub-plots, and only the merest whiff of the far greater canvas beyond the story. Yet while some will suggest that it doesn't feel like a real Star Wars instalment, I actually found it quite refreshing. Just as the Marvel Cinematic Universe sustains its extraordinary growth by mixing light and shade (the film to follow Infinity War will be Ant-Man and The Wasp), Disney can't possibly continue to churn out massive war epics every year under the Star Wars banner; there has to be a little variety, and even room for a bit of whimsy.
That's what Solo offers. In filling Harrison Ford's lead role, Ehrenreich shrugs off the understandable scrutiny and produces a performance that is both likeable and an entirely believable fit with Ford's version. I'm not sure Glover is quite as scene-stealing as some of the reviews suggest but he's certainly enjoyable as Lando, while Phoebe Waller-Bridge's Social Justice Warrior droid L3 is probably the best – and definitely the funniest – thing in the movie. Their adventures are great fun; they're a space crew that you enjoy zooming around the universe with, and doing so in their company for two hours is well worth the price of a cinema ticket.
While the film is undeniably lightweight, it does still have some interesting themes. Central is the question of trust – obvious perhaps given that Solo is set in a world of double-crossing petty criminals – and whether it really is better to live in a way that expects betrayal from everyone eventually. Christian theology suggests that since 'all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God', everyone will eventually let you down; the characters in Solo simply take this idea to its extreme logical conclusion and decide that trust is foolish as a result.
Perhaps the clearest resonance with Christian belief however comes through the familiar juxtaposition of 'sin' and redemption. Two characters in Solo illustrate differing perspectives on this: one, Qi'ra (played by the brilliant Emilia Clarke) believes that what she's done in the past makes her beyond forgiveness and redemption, while another, Solo himself, chooses to embrace the freedom that comes with becoming one of the good guys. In keeping with the rest of the film, these themes never feel preachy of over-stated. Yet Qi'ra's sad sense of disgrace and resignation about the future is perhaps the hardest-hitting element of an otherwise-gentle caper, and something that the Christian perspective can speak into.
Solo is already in danger of being labelled a flop; a fairly poor opening-weekend performance suggest it'll make nowhere near the amount of money recouped by other Star Wars films. Yet despite the mid-production change of director, rumours about Ehrenreich's acting ability and that ominous lack of hype, it turns out to be a perfectly enjoyable movie when judged on its own merits. Quite whether the world really needs lots more backstory-filling Star Wars films remains to be seen, but if they're as much fun as Solo, then they certainly won't be doing anyone any harm.