Opening Friday, May 25

As corporate custodians of George Lucas’s space-opera vision, Disney executives have actually done an admirable job with the new batch of Star Wars movies. They’ve commissioned clever scripts, hired smart people, and developed some good films. Movie math is always tricky, but surely everyone can agree with the certainty that The Last Jedi > The Phantom Menace.

Like 2016’s Rogue One, the new franchise installment, an origin story for beloved space smuggler Han Solo, is a spinoff from the main series of films, ostensibly designed to be one-off endeavor. If Rogue One was basically a war picture set in the Star Wars universe, then Solo is a space Westernand a pretty good one, too.

Blockbuster rookie Alden Ehrenreich takes over for Harrison Ford, and he’s perfectly adequate when channeling the character’s outlaw charm. Ehrenreich lacks Ford’s inherent forcefulness, though, and as a result, the entire movie has a lightweight quality that sometimes undercuts the thrills. There’s no menace, phantom or otherwise. Fans of the late, great sci-fi franchise Firefly will recognize the vibe; the movie is remarkably similar in its pulpy comic tone.

Director Ron Howard ably stages a series of action-packed set pieces, including an urban landspeeder chase, several gunslinger showdowns, and the infamous hyperspace heist known as the Kessel Run. The script’s best invention, though, is the suffragette droid L3-37, who doubles as a love interest for dedicated space pansexual Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover). Weird, funny, and unexpected, the droid-love subplot is the movie’s second-best surprise. First place goes to a last-minute character reveal that sets things up for a potentially intriguing sequel.

In the spirit of internet-age rankings, I’d sequence the new movies thusly: Rogue One > The Force Awakens > Solo > The Last Jedi. Feel free to disagree. That’s half the fun.