HOW many Star Wars films is it now? All but the most scholarly fans could be forgiven for losing count. Prequels, threequels and anthology spin-offs are landing in multiplexes with such regularity that you can forget which galaxy you’re in. Solo: A Star Wars Story arrives only six months after The Last Jedi, but with a much more tumultuous production back story. Original directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were fired mid-shoot, and Ron Howard was parachuted in.

His task was to bring discipline to the rangy origin story of Han Solo, played by Harrison Ford all those decades ago and now assuming the personable guise of Alden Ehrenreich. We first encounter Han as a young aspiring pilot confined to the dreary factory planet Corellia. He and his girlfriend Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) try to bribe their way out, but only he escapes. (It’s border guard who gives Han his eponymous lone-ranger surname.)

The next time Han encounters Qi’ra, it’s at one of those sassy George Lucas cocktail functions where half the fashionable guests look like molluscs or arthropods. She’s now working for the brutal oligarch Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany), while Han has hooked up with hardassed bandit Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson), who specialises in epic intergalactic burglaries. Two of these heists form the film’s big whizzy setpieces.

One thing Howard has not resolved is the sheer dinginess of the film’s palette. The plot moves from trench warfare to a muddy dungeon in which Han first encounters his life pal Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo under all that Wookiee fur), then a mountainscape with a spectacular railtrack, and there’s an extended flying sequence through gloomy cumulus. The screen only brightens up for the last twenty minutes when the ensemble all reconvene somewhere sunny and sandy by the sea. Mostly it’s like being stuck in a basement with shades on.

The tone is somewhat lightened by lashings of chortling banter, not always audible over the bulldozing sound effects, between Han and his various pardners. Among them is the airborne smuggler and gambling addict Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover), who we know in the original trilogy lost his ship the Millennium Falcon to Han in a bet. As usual the screen is peppered with Brits. Bettany sends himself up as a leering villain, Emilia Clarke is strikingly wooden in a role whose ambiguities feel fatally unexplored, while Thandie Newton gets short shrift as a moody outlaw with a side-parted Afro who blows herself up.

The pick is Phoebe Waller-Bridge, better known as Fleabag from the BBC Three comedy. She voices a bolshy anarcho-syndicalist robot rebel known as L3-37 and gets many of the liveliest lines. “I’m sure you’ve noticed Lando has feelings for me,” she tells Han. “We’re just not compatible.”

There will be no compatibility problem for the franchise’s faithful flock. It’s not a car crash like Phantom Menace but Solo: A Star Wars Story – scripted by Star Wars vet Lawrence Kasdan and his son Jonathan – is a gruellingly relentless caper with little of The Last Jedi’s verve and splendour.