Revelations in Web Starvation

Yes­ter­day, I fin­ished mov­ing out of the sit­u­a­tion I’d been liv­ing in for ~6 weeks in the base­ment of a south­east Port­land home near the west­ern base of Mt. Tabor. You’d see it just across from the flat Wash­ing­ton Mall-ish grass rec­tan­gle that pro­vides dar­ing sub­ur­ban explor­ers their most worth­while reward for reach­ing the top. It resem­bles one of many local res­i­den­tial tem­plates which I was com­plete­ly unequipped to under­stand when I arrived in the area last year. You’ll nev­er observe any of its inhab­i­tants out­side doing any of the things peo­ple do when they are unaware of — or uncon­cerned with being observed. Walk­ing by an after­noon front yard “fam­i­ly gath­er­ing” (young white par­ents and their one or two chil­dren) is a prospect of haste. Intro­duc­ing new move­ment to the vicin­i­ty after the sun has gone down stirs a dis­rup­tion from deep with­in its ener­gy. Every­one in this town is afraid. I say it’s an unnat­ur­al way to live, but I’m just a fuck­ing bump­kin.

As you may or may not have observed, the vast major­i­ty of my work­ing being lives on the World Wide Web, which requires, fun­da­men­tal­ly…. An inter­net con­nec­tion. In most any oth­er present-day first world cir­cum­stance, these are infi­nite­ly avail­able, but I dis­cov­ered – after the mov­ing process was entire­ly com­plet­ed, of course – that my ten­ants did actu­al­ly have an in-house con­nec­tion of their own. They explained to me that their neigh­bor – an “IT pro­fes­sion­al” for IBM – had offered to let them use his WiFi net­work, and they’d found the arrange­ment suf­fi­cient. How­ev­er, because IBM is The archa­ic mar­que of dig­i­tal fas­cism (dis­clo­sure: they are also my sworn blood ene­my,) it wasn’t alto­geth­er a sur­prise when they told me that his offer did not extend to “guests.”

I con­sid­ered that a defined peri­od of WiFi fast­ing at home could make for an inter­est­ing exper­i­ment — per­haps even a need­ed men­tal reset — and I couldn’t rea­son­ably afford to acquire my own ded­i­cat­ed 4G hotspot, any­way. The real­i­ty became a relent­less para­noid bat­tle for any trick­le of access — some­times for a dozen bytes per sec­ond; for just the most basic dig­i­tal com­mu­ni­ca­tions like SMS and email — which led to more super­sti­tious hypothe­ses about pre­car­i­ous anten­na ori­en­ta­tion, progress bar hal­lu­ci­na­tions, out-of-con­trol frus­tra­tion, and hope­less fix­a­tion with refresh com­mands than I remem­ber from 2nd gen­er­a­tion cell net­works in the Mid­west, 10 years ago, or even domes­tic dial-up, and tru­ly revealed the extent to which I’d tak­en con­nec­tiv­i­ty for grant­ed.

My obser­va­tions of my own behav­ior through­out this drought are worth more than their mild amuse­ment: even this pet­ty dis­par­i­ty (I was nev­er more than two or three yards from near­ly-whole sig­nal at the top of the out­side stairs) re-sen­si­tized my per­spec­tive to the abstract con­cept of net­work unre­li­a­bil­i­ty which I’d been entire­ly spared since pre­pu­bes­cence. Though 4 bil­lion human beings now reg­u­lar­ly inter­act with the World Wide Web, their con­nec­tions span a math­e­mat­i­cal­ly gar­gan­tu­an spec­trum of speed and reli­a­bil­i­ty. In urban­iz­ing myself as an adult, I have uncon­scious­ly latched on to the enti­tled ide­al that inter­net access is a pub­lic ser­vice and accept­ed dra­mat­i­cal­ly-increas­ing depen­dence on ser­vices that engorge greater and greater vol­umes of band­width with­out any expla­na­tion but their lack of incen­tives for effi­cien­cy. I reflect on my rela­tion­ship with tech­nol­o­gy every day, yet I still became an obliv­i­ous data glut­ton in mind-bog­gling­ly lit­tle time.

The cur­rent state of con­nec­tiv­i­ty in the Unit­ed States, alone is quite alarm­ing under 5-year-absent exam­i­na­tion. Mobile car­ri­ers are still merg­ing and the com­part­men­tal­iza­tion of all ISP cus­tomers between pri­or­i­ti­za­tion tiers con­tin­ues to be test­ed, less encum­bered by reg­u­la­to­ry safe­guards than ever. I don’t know my pol­i­tics on this issue, nor do I have any spe­cif­ic solu­tions, but I’d point to the work of the Nation­al Dig­i­tal Inclu­sion Alliance, and express only that I hope the pace of the technology’s progress is greater than the growth of its mer­chants’ imag­i­na­tions and the scope of their greed so that the sheer vol­ume of plen­ty over­comes even the short­est-sight­ed, and human­i­ty as a whole con­tin­ues toward a more just dis­tri­b­u­tion of con­nec­tiv­i­ty. What I am in a posi­tion to share are the rev­e­la­tions about our cur­rent infra­struc­ture, soft­ware ser­vices, and hard­ware devices I could only have dis­cov­ered from such an expe­ri­ence.

Variables

Opera’s con­nec­tiv­i­ty error mas­cot is the cutest brows­er char­ac­ter. Chal­lenge Me.

I remem­ber stand­ing on top of a John Deere combine’s 15ft-high roof in order to suc­cess­ful­ly make a tele­phone call 10 years ago — one of thou­sands of behav­iors which were more abrupt­ly and uni­ver­sal­ly required for a few years and sub­se­quent­ly more abrupt­ly for­got­ten than any oth­er such unit­ed tick in Amer­i­can his­to­ry. This blip of shared tech­no­log­i­cal adver­si­ty also led to an unfath­omably vast col­lec­tive mythol­o­gy sur­round­ing incred­i­bly tedious manip­u­la­tion of our archa­ic hand­sets in vary­ing degrees of des­per­a­tion for just one bar.


My Sprint plan includes unlim­it­ed 4G LTE data for my iPhone 8 Plus with a 10GB teth­er­ing lim­it — which per­formed so admirably in the lone­ly role of my thin teth­er to the rest of the world that I am oblig­at­ed to actu­al­ly use the phrase like a champ, but the gen­er­al qual­i­ty of its mobile data con­nec­tion was dra­mat­i­cal­ly fucked by the stu­dio apartment’s depth. From the space’s geo­met­ric cen­ter at stom­ach-lev­el, the hand­set indi­cates “1x,” mean­ing CDMA 1x, which is tech­ni­cal­ly a data con­nec­tion, but cer­tain­ly not in any usable sense for the net­work appli­ca­tions of 2018. The native Twit­ter app, Apple Mail, Snapchat, Insta­gram & Face­book, Safari, Opera Mini, Fire­fox, Chrome, and all oth­ers I test­ed in this con­di­tion would sim­ply time­out – giv­ing up after a minute or two of repeat­ed attempts before declin­ing to con­tin­ue, each in their own minor vari­a­tions. An inter­est­ing anec­dote: in a per­ti­nent reflec­tion our human bal­loon­ing expec­ta­tions for con­nec­tiv­i­ty at all times, the lan­guage of our cre­ations across both iOS and desk­top appli­ca­tions has recent­ly become notice­ably less account­able and more accusato­ry. Instead of say­ing “____ can’t con­nect to the inter­net,” many of the browsers will declare an absolute: three is no inter­net con­nec­tion, or just straight up blame the user: “you are not con­nect­ed to the inter­net.” (Empha­sis mine.) No apolo­gies… No regrets.

Dude, no wifi? Where the fuck are U?

Direct­ly above my head’s place on the bed, the phone could be propped on the sill of the East-fac­ing win­dow on a clear-skied day, enabling it to scrounge up and loose­ly estab­lish enough con­tact to receive calls and text mes­sages, claim­ing 1–4 3G “bars,” and a sin­gle in 4G at night, though one over­cast North­west­ern week basi­cal­ly did it in com­plete­ly. If we were actu­al­ly doing some­thing to notice­ably increase our old Nokia box­es’ band­width bids on those ear­ly net­works by turn­ing them every which way to find “bet­ter recep­tion,” it’s com­plete­ly futile on cur­rent devices. (I’m fair­ly sure I remem­ber a net­work pro­fes­sion­al explain­ing this to me when LTE was first gain­ing trac­tion.) It was imme­di­ate­ly appar­ent that ori­en­ta­tion had no effect, but the handset’s bear­ing cer­tain­ly did… Most sen­si­tive­ly so. I real­ized quite ear­ly on that I should endeav­or not to spend too much time stand­ing in dif­fer­ent posi­tions through­out the space attempt­ing to will on a brows­er loader bar above a sto­ry I’ve prob­a­bly read already. Intstead, I com­mit­ted to the very first posi­tion that indi­cat­ed any cor­re­la­tion what­so­ev­er with a bet­ter con­nec­tion: atop the bis­cuit tin on the met­al rack near­est the out­side door.

It’s been three months, but I’m still using my tired old Hewlett-Packard 6930p back­up machine, so I was very skep­ti­cal about the odds we’d be suc­cess­ful­ly reli­ably pair­ing its ancient net­work adapter – now worth just $9.99 – with that of A Cel­lu­lar Phone 10 years its junior with­out strug­gling sig­nif­i­cant­ly with range or reli­a­bil­i­ty, espe­cial­ly con­sid­er­ing that it can­not run a sin­gle one of its vast library of pro­pri­etary dri­vers on Lin­ux. You’d at least assume they’d need to be prac­ti­cal­ly touch­ing each oth­er to main­tain a smooth mar­riage, yet the only com­pro­mise I had to make on the local end was to bring them near to each oth­er as they paired. After­wards, I could return the phone to its tin and work on the lap­top from the kitchen table, 12–15 feet away. (Curi­ous­ly enough, the 6930p itself shipped with hotspot capa­bil­i­ty by way of the SIM card slot behind the unit’s main bat­tery.)

Quan­ti­fy­ing the speed of a mobile data con­nec­tion as you would a ded­i­cat­ed WiFi net­work is incon­gru­ent because the for­mer trades in a much less con­sis­tent pack­et stream. That’s the extent of my knowl­edge, but it’s easy to visu­al­ize: a sig­nal that can trav­el a mile or two in big glob­ules bound to be inter­cept­ed in splash­es upon the device’s lit­tle anten­nae, ver­sus your home network’s local, even­ly dis­trib­uted sauna of irra­di­at­ed mist. It’s much less def­i­nite, to say the least, and I can’t actu­al­ly com­pre­hend the sort of voodoo that’s required in order to expand and main­tain the net­works as they are, nor would I ever wish to bur­den myself with such knowl­edge ever again, which prob­a­bly makes these words noth­ing more than a hasty account of none but anoth­er aver­age, exces­sive­ly net­work-priv­i­leged moth­er­fuck­er. How­ev­er, if I’m some­how gain­ing on some­thing in my recent Y2K, holy shit how did the time fly by so fast quarter(?)-life cri­sis bull­shit, some worth­while answers might be found.

It’s not just that it’d be enter­tain­ing to trav­el the Bible belt snatch­ing up the flick­ers of pecu­liar rur­al Ame­ri­ans’ most tech­no­log­i­cal­ly-vul­ner­a­ble moments in an attempt to dis­cov­er some kind of telecom/Nextel/U.S. Cel­lu­lar pro­to-folk­lore (though I am 100% fuck­ing seri­ous about such a com­pi­la­tion, and rel­e­vant par­ties should Hit Me Up,) — it’s an absolute­ly essen­tial require­ment for us to keep our col­lec­tive heads and retain any abil­i­ty to bal­ance our sov­er­eign per­spec­tives. I have thought about tech­nol­o­gy and our greater rela­tion­ship with it every day, yet a sin­gle month spent just six feet from a sol­id inter­net con­nec­tion ren­dered me at times com­plete­ly and far too obliv­i­ous­ly inef­fec­tive.

The heroes of this Tedious Tale are Opera’s web brows­er and Telegram, espe­cial­ly. As I men­tioned last week on End User’s rec­ol­lec­tion of the ordeal, their band­width fru­gal­i­ty wouldn’t be rad­i­cal­ly con­ser­v­a­tive had the rest of us Online Folk not become so utter­ly waste­ful. The former’s “Opera Tur­bo” fea­ture is a fair­ly-recent and piti­ful­ly-under­hyped inno­va­tion which routes user traf­fic through Opera’s own CDN and choice meth­ods of com­pres­sion to con­serve capped data and bridge poor con­nec­tions as the infor­ma­tion is divert­ed toward the range of their penul­ti­mate snip­ping, skim­ming, and trim­ming. The result? My total band­width con­sump­tion plum­met­ed dra­mat­i­cal­ly, along with the qual­i­ty in con­nec­tion that was required for web pages to actu­al­ly dis­play. So mirac­u­lous and dra­mat­ic was its con­tri­bu­tion that I end­ed the month with a whole 3 giga­bytes to spare of my 10GB hotspot cap. In the process of writ­ing the above two para­graphs direct­ly to Word­Press’ new Guten­berg block edi­tor via Fire­fox, this machine has already burned away 899.2MB after no more than 90 min­utes spent in a con­di­tion some might even call idle, though it’s tech­ni­cal­ly a beta release, and I am in the midst of an acute reac­tionary desire to feast on the web.

The most impres­sive play­er by far, though, was the red-blood­ed VoIP and IM ser­vice Telegram, which I and my friend found to be sig­nif­i­cant­ly more reli­able than SMS mes­sages, even, which would send tele­com engi­neers to skulk away their crip­pling shame in dark places for no less than twen­ty years, in a more  ide­al cul­ture. How­ev­er, our real­i­ty is one of such abun­dance that com­par­ing between thou­sands or mil­lions of bytes per sec­ond has descend­ed into the deep­est chasms of irrel­e­vance. More like­ly than not, you’ll nev­er again live with­out an excep­tion­al near­by con­nec­tion for any notice­able stretch of time — not for the rest of your whole dang Online Life. Espe­cial­ly since you’ve found your­self here — this web­site is a hun­dred times or more heav­ier than it actu­al­ly needs to be, not because its cre­ator is a brain­dead cyberid­iot, but because vir­tu­al­ly every com­po­nent of web devel­op­ment cul­ture some­how man­aged to end up in a griz­zly divorce with vir­tu­al­ly every com­mand­ment from its foun­da­tion­al lit­er­a­ture of Best Prac­tices. Thanks in part to an intrigu­ing online project by LOW TECH MAGAZINE, such an accu­sa­tion no longer comes exclu­sive­ly from a place of aes­thet­ic, tech­ni­cal, or socioe­co­nom­ic judge­ment, but one of envi­ron­men­tal sus­tain­abil­i­ty.

Instead of con­tin­u­ing upon anoth­er rant about the hor­rors of this place where Matt and Bill left us to die, though, I’ve got to return to the essen­tial, human­i­tar­i­an work of archiv­ing the entire­ty of The Com­put­er Chron­i­cles, but I must leave you with a strange lit­tle piece of the truth we’ve just dis­cov­ered togeth­er: keep­ing a Tum­blr account is too envi­ron­men­tal­ly destruc­tive to be veg­an.

The Good Guy, Han Solo

It’s open­ing night at the Bag­dad The­ater on Hawthorne in South­east Port­land and hard­ly anybody’s both­ered to show up. Less than 20% of the venue’s 500 seats are occu­pied by the time the host takes the stage to intro­duce Solo, but those who are here for the last Thurs­day show­ing have been shout­ing, whoop­ing, and gur­gling bad approx­i­ma­tions of wook­iee nois­es since the screen cut to black from its ad slideshow. If my mid­dle row can be assumed an accu­rate sam­ple, only a hand­ful of these are “fans” enough to feel com­pelled to wear a Star Wars t-shirt. As I grab my last cock­tail, the bar­tender tells me that only 300 folks showed up for the evening mati­nee, though he him­self was “excit­ed” to see the movie — one of a minor­i­ty among Port­landers, appar­ent­ly, who still give a shit about Star Wars.

By design, Solo: A Star Wars Sto­ry is a slight­ly more com­plex film than The Episodes in the same way Rogue One was, if a bit bet­ter exe­cut­ed, nar­ra­tive­ly. First, please rest assured that Alden Ehren­re­ich assumes the Han Solo per­sona as tru­ly as any­one could — he tri­umphed through a ridicu­lous­ly exten­sive cast­ing process, and is cer­tain­ly hand­some enough (if not more con­ven­tion­al­ly so than his pre­de­ces­sor) to con­sis­tent­ly look the part. He actu­al­ly bears an unset­tling resem­blance in fea­tures and man­ner­isms to one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met and that through-and-through boy­ish­ness par­tic­u­lar­ly makes sense here, set in Han’s for­ma­tive, earnest youth — the stat­ed pur­pose of the film’s exis­tence. Fran­chise fanat­ics, then, should be con­tent. (It’s a good thing CGI-ing the main char­ac­ter in a live action film isn’t quite a low-risk option yet.) And yes, Don­ald Glover com­plete­ly steals the vain, infi­nite­ly styl­ish Lan­do Cal­riss­ian and inevitably makes one wish to see him cast again. Per­son­al­ly, I am very tired of see­ing Woody Har­rel­son, though all the com­po­nents of his pub­lic per­sona should all but ensure his lik­a­bil­i­ty. From what I saw in Three Bill­boards, I’d con­cede that he is as tal­ent­ed of an actor as I am capa­ble of appre­ci­at­ing, but his role as Tobias Beck­ett in Solo couldn’t pos­si­bly be sub­stan­tial enough to actu­al­ly make use of his craft.

Though I don’t believe in “spoil­ers,” or use of the term to bait read­ers, it’s worth stat­ing for the record what every­one should know by now: there sim­ply aren’t spoil­ers in a Star Wars movie — every human being on Earth knows too much about the for­mu­la to ever have any of these films’ com­par­a­tive­ly irrel­e­vant plots “ruined.” The most sur­pris­ing, his­tor­i­cal­ly-sig­nif­i­cant deci­sion of this whole pro­duc­tion was the omis­sion of the tra­di­tion­al yel­low type open­ing crawl over a back­drop of dis­tant stars, which I gen­uine­ly found myself miss­ing. (Appar­ent­ly it wasn’t present in Rogue One, either — I just failed to catch it.) I was very pleased to see my own num­ber one favorite device of the fran­chise used with­in this film’s first ten min­utes: crimelords and gang lead­ers as huge­ly mag­ni­fied vari­a­tions of the creep­ing and crawl­ing crea­tures our instincts are planned to abhor. Solo’s first vil­lain — the gigan­tic, worm­like boss Lady Prox­i­ma (Lin­da Hunt) — is com­plete­ly incon­se­quen­tial, and only appears in a sin­gle scene, but the prac­tice of gross­ly over­sized mon­strosi­ties leav­ing absolute­ly noth­ing of a baddie’s essence to be extrap­o­lat­ed by the audi­ence from nuance is one of very few ways these films are let loose, and it open­ly shits on the more pre­ten­tious viewer’s assump­tions about good writ­ing, which I think big mon­ey movies should feel more com­fort­able doing, gen­er­al­ly.

This first act begins on Han’s home plan­et Corel­lia — the bleak­er urban, indus­tri­al, work­ing-class coun­ter­part to the clean capi­tol city­world Cor­us­cant — with his rather pre­dictable mis­sion to escape Lady Proxima’s sphere of con­trol with his girl, Qi-ra (Emil­ia Clarke,) who could and should have been more cre­ative­ly named, giv­en her impor­tance not as her own char­ac­ter with depth to devel­op (a no-no for a female role, Gourd help us,) but as Han’s mir­ror image to grow dark­ly apart, prov­ing that he — The Good Guy - is unques­tion­ably more moral­ly for­ti­fied than any­one else in the whole god­damned uni­verse. After hav­ing been drug through so very many, I couldn’t tell you at this point how to make the intro­duc­to­ry escape action of this sort of pro­duc­tion more excit­ing and less for­mu­la­ic. Big sur­prise — their plan goes awry, and Qi-ra is pre­vent­ed from leav­ing the plan­et with Han, who’s imme­di­ate (and I mean imme­di­ate)solu­tion is his enlist­ment in the Impe­r­i­al Navy via the recruit­ing sta­tion right there in the damned space­port (dur­ing which the film takes the lib­er­ty of seiz­ing his surname’s expla­na­tion) to serve the Eng­lish in their grand con­quest of the uni­verse. Bizarrely, he man­ages to serve as a grunt for three whole years of com­plic­i­ty in unmen­tioned atroc­i­ties until he encoun­ters the dis­guised crim­i­nal Wise Old Woody in the mid­dle of pulling a job with his two-per­son crew. The team doesn’t agree to bring Solo along until he meets an asset in Chew­bac­ca for the first time as he briefly inhab­its anoth­er of the clas­sic Star Wars trap: the hun­gry mon­ster in a shad­ow-filled mud pit, but is spared the wrath because of his intro­duc­to­ry grasp on Chewie’s shriek­ing lan­guage (called Shyri­i­wook) in which he man­ages to suf­fi­cient­ly pitch the advan­tages of his sur­vival, and the two escape, chained togeth­er. Observ­ing the addi­tion of Wook­iee to the deal, the crew briefly debates the prospect’s new val­ue in pro­vid­ing “need­ed mus­cle,” which con­vinces Woody to return for them and kicks off a series of case stud­ies in this film’s bizarre atti­tude toward the com­mod­i­fi­ca­tion of the oppressed.

How­ev­er, in a rare depic­tion of his voli­tion, Chew­bac­ca is briefly con­sult­ed before the two seek to be for­mal­ly includ­ed on the job, and is even asked around a camp­fire, lat­er, what he’s shoot­ing for in life at the moment, to which he responds“finding my family/tribe.” Despite hav­ing spent a whole three hell­ish years in the trench­es with the British, the roman­tic Han Solo declares his pri­ma­ry moti­va­tion for all of it still lies in his desire to return to Corel­lia and res­cue Qi’ra. In their stolen Impe­r­i­al ship, the lot descend on a snowy moun­tain-tra­vers­ing Maglev to steal the Ura­ni­um it’s trans­port­ing in a scene that’s straight up jacked from ani­mat­ed fam­i­ly clas­sic The Polar Express, but… oh no!… A gag­gle of “marauders”called the Cloud Rid­ers (yet anoth­er throw­away prop­er noun) roll up on those speed­er bikes from Endor (except these can fly,) and screw up every­thing so bad­ly that both of Woody’s crew end up dead and the booty scut­tled. After the fact, Woody reveals to Han that the job was con­tract­ed by yet anoth­er care­less­ly-named crime syn­di­cate — Crim­son Dawn, and that his only pos­si­ble course of action is now vig­or­ous brown nos­ing to its leader, Dry­den Vos (Paul Bettany)((aka Scarred Jarvis,)) in the wan­ing hope he’ll spare his life to make anoth­er attempt. Fol­low­ing this infor­ma­tion, he firm­ly sug­gests that Han and Chewie fuck off, lest their faces become known in the under­world, doom­ing them to serv­ing it for­ev­er, appar­ent­ly. Already, this vague pre­sump­tion of Han’s puri­ty which all of the pro­tag­o­nists must con­stant­ly ven­er­ate in mar­tyr­dom is get­ting tire­some, as is the dynam­ic of his insis­tence against them.

Nat­u­ral­ly, both Chewie and Han end up along for a vis­it to Scarred Jarvis’ tow­er yacht, where the lat­ter very con­ve­nient­ly stum­bles upon none oth­er than his long lost love, Qi-ra in the bar. Despite hav­ing spent the past three years at war in unspeak­able con­di­tions think­ing only of how to lib­er­ate and be reunit­ed with her, he isn’t both­ered to express more than the mod­er­ate­ly-excit­ed and sur­prised hug you’d expect of some­one who’s just run into the kid down the cul-de-sac from their child­hood home who used to ride her bike over for pop­si­cles on Sun­day after­noons. While he does rehearse for her the tale of their reuni­fi­ca­tion as his one moti­va­tion for every­thing since they were sep­a­rat­ed — includ­ing his pres­ence there, “right now,” he fol­lows the pro­fes­sion up quite abrupt­ly with the sly sug­ges­tion that they fuck as soon as pos­si­ble. True to trope, she is jad­ed and indef­i­nite as she dis­tant­ly implies her binds of servi­tude while flash­ing the tat­too of the extreme­ly-for­get­table and innocu­ous Crim­son Dawn logo on her right wrist. (The total lame­ness of the brands in this movie must be inten­tion­al. I can think of no oth­er expla­na­tion.)

The evil Scarred Jarvis is then intro­duced, quick­ly steal­ing the crown for Best Host of all Star Wars Antag­o­nists before polite­ly ask­ing Woody why he shouldn’t kill the lot of them. As per his infi­nite luck, Han pulls the idea of steal­ing unre­fined Ura­ni­um out of his ass, which has some­how nev­er occurred to any­one else in the room, despite their unan­i­mous top-of-the-head knowl­edge of the sin­gle loca­tion where it is mined. Short­ly, the mer­ry three plus Qi-ra con­ve­nient­ly in tow are off to a casi­no-esque estab­lish­ment to find Lan­do, who Qi-ra describes as “attrac­tive, styl­ish, charm­ing,” and like adjec­tives, to Han’s obvi­ous sex­u­al cha­grin, which is fur­thered by his sub­se­quent loss of a card game with Lando’s ship — the Mil­len­ni­um Fal­con, of course — in the stakes. Of course, the attrac­tive, beau­ti­ful­ly-dressed black man only bests Solo — the earnest, sim­ple­ton, Good Guy white dude who wears the same out­fit for decades — in front of Qi-ra, the female prize by way of sleight-of-hand, the film shame­less­ly play­ing on that strange inse­cu­ri­ty white guys have about their part­ners’ secret­ly ever­p­re­sent and very pow­er­ful temp­ta­tion to dump them with­out warn­ing for black cock. Fur­ther emas­cu­la­tion is inflict­ed on poor lit­tle Han when Lan­do turns his oh-so-crafty(actu­al­ly just very charis­mat­ic) charm upon Qi-ra, who reveals that she’s the boss of the gig. The final blow to Han’s dick­i­tude is cast when he tries to enter the nego­ti­a­tion between thEEEEEEe two and Lan­do chides “the adults are speak­ing,” but even­tu­al­ly agrees to pro­vide them a lift for a 25% cut, so the lot make prepa­ra­tions to leave.

Enter my new favorite char­ac­ter of the fran­chise, Lan­do Calrissian’s co-pilot, L3-37 (voiced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge,) or “L3,” the proud­ly sen­tient, vio­lent­ly rev­o­lu­tion­ary pro-rights droid who is intro­duced as she is plead­ing with two fight­ing droids in a square cage sur­round­ed by scream­ing spec­ta­tors (easy does it on that the­mat­ic slav­ery) to cir­cum­vent their “fight­ing pro­grams” because they “don’t have to do this.” Though Lan­do and the crew behave like her duress is fool­ish and unim­por­tant — pulling her away to the Fal­con — she is allowed anoth­er oppor­tu­ni­ty to free droids very soon, but not before Solo’s sin­gle short pri­vate con­ver­sa­tion between two female char­ac­ters.

On the way to Kessel, Qi-ra stops by the cock­pit and con­vers­es with L3. Until recent­ly, I was unaware of what’s large­ly regard­ed as the worst habit of male writ­ers with female char­ac­ters: if and when they have a one-on-one con­ver­sa­tion between anoth­er female char­ac­ter, it’s only about oth­er male char­ac­ters. Sure enough, L3 begins by insist­ing to Qi-ra that Han is in love with her, insist­ing by the objec­tive find­ings of her sen­sors — which Qi-ra unchar­ac­ter­is­ti­cal­ly denies like a bash­ful lit­tle girl before L3 con­tiues on about Lando’s long­time love for her, and why it must remain unre­quit­ed, which we are encour­aged to laugh at by the doubt Qi-ra voic­es with­out much hes­i­ta­tion regard­ing the hypo­thet­i­cal union’s sex­u­al mechan­ics because it’s so pre­pos­ter­ous.(I’ll get back to that in a moment.)

When the team arrives on Kessel and infil­trates the mine, L3 cre­ates a “dis­trac­tion” when she begins remov­ing the restrain­ing bolts from droids in the con­trol room, call­ing the prac­tice sav­age, or unciv­i­lized, or maybe bar­bar­ian — I don’t quite remem­ber. As she frees them with­out any notice­able detrac­tion from her duties as Seth Green of the heist — hack­ing con­trols, remote­ly open­ing doors, and all that — the droids begin to help free oth­ers in an expo­nen­tial­ly mul­ti­ply­ing cir­cle of lib­er­a­tion until they become a row­dy mob who’s cute acts of rebel­lion are spaced through­out a few min­utes of screen­time in short jump­cuts off the oth­er crew as they fight deep­er into the mine. With the most sig­nif­i­cant empha­sis ever placed upon Chew­bac­ca in Star Wars his­to­ry, he halts when he spies slave Wook­iees strug­gling to find off enforcers and informs Han that he’s going to break off and assist them. Since Chewie’s only allowed to speak to the audi­ence through Han’s retorts and nev­er direct­ly, it’s impos­si­ble to know how he phrased it, exact­ly, but from my per­spec­tive, his appeared to be the expres­sion of a wish to do what Han had to agree to release him to do, as would a mas­ter, not a “part­ner.” Of course, Solo does agree, albeit hes­i­tant­ly, because he’s The Good Guy, while quite incon­sid­er­ate­ly express­ing his desire to see Chewie again soon instead of wish­ing him suc­cess. How­ev­er, releas­ing him to free his peo­ple (as per his pri­ma­ry life goal, expressed before,) means that Han has to load twelve of the super heavy unre­fined Ura­ni­um tubes onto the cart all by him­self and push it ful­ly loaded at least 50 whole yards with­out the assis­tance of his big strong slave. Boy, what a pain in the ass! He’s spared his labor­ing, though, when Chew­bac­ca returns after no time at all with the enslaved Wook­iees he’s just hero­ical­ly res­cued, who he then imme­di­ate­ly asks to assist his mas­ter in push­ing the cart — per­form­ing the same labor they were forced to do under the enslave­ment they were sup­pos­ed­ly lib­er­at­ed from, sec­onds before.

The heist has inad­ver­tent­ly (nice, huge empha­sis on inad­ver­tent­ly) ignit­ed a slave rebel­lion through­out the mine, which serves the crew only as a dis­trac­tion for the guards. The chaos is inter­rupt­ed a half dozen times or so by those jump­cuts back to the con­trol room of adorable lit­tle droids enact­ing their piti­ful­ly amus­ing revenge on the equip­ment — slap­ping a key­board with a cook­ie sheet-like pan, stomp­ing on a con­trol pan­el, etc. — while L3 shouts par­o­d­i­cal qua­si-Marx­ist bat­tle­cries, which… yes… include refer­ring to the freed droids as “com­rades.” She even radios Lan­do at one point and tri­umphant­ly pro­claims that she’s “found her true call­ing.”

If and when a female char­ac­ter has a one-on-one con­ver­sa­tion with anoth­er female char­ac­ter, it’s only about oth­er male char­ac­ters.

By the time the Ura­ni­um cart is with­in its last few yards of the await­ing Fal­con, the riot has reached the land­ing bay and the guards around its perime­ter have read­just­ed their pri­or­i­ties to dis­abling the ship’s land­ing gear. This inter­rupts Lan­do in the cock­pit, who has cho­sen this time to work on dic­tat­ing his auto­bi­og­ra­phy because he’s a man who both­ers to dress­es him­self well and is there­fore oh so mani­a­cal­ly, com­i­cal­ly, and unrea­son­ably vain! How berserk! Still look­ing good as hell, he emerges and stands on the ramp to cov­er the rest of the crew’s return and load­ing of the dan­ger­ous Ura­ni­um with blaster fire, shout­ing the oblig­a­tory inter­mit­tent “come on, hur­ry up,” until L3appears, also fir­ing a blaster and shout­ing until she arrives in front of Lan­do, before notic­ing some com­mo­tion(?) with droids behind her and turn­ing around, again fer­vent­ly shout­ing more lib­er­a­tion cries. Lan­do doesn’t budge from the Fal­con’s side, but yells after her, until he watch­es as she is shot repeat­ed­ly and falls, prompt­ing him to run to her side. Filmed unnec­es­sar­i­ly grue­some­ly, her head and shoul­ders sep­a­rate from what’s left of her low­er body when he first tries to hoist her up. Of course, his reck­less­ness gets him shot in the arm, so Chewie returns to car­ry them both to the safe­ty of the ship, where the injured Lan­do holds her head lov­ing­ly in his arms for her last moments, repeat­ing “I can fix you, I can fix you.”

Now, I under­stand that Star Wars movies (or their reviews, for that mat­ter) are not the sort of enter­tain­ment one seeks out in order to exam­ine the dynam­ics of pow­er struc­tures or elab­o­rate cul­tur­al sym­bol­ism, but they all con­tain a sig­nif­i­cant amount of both. The ster­ile, cold, and bureau­crat­ic Galac­tic Empire is the British Empire, the Rebel­lion and the Repub­lic are the Unit­ed States or its colo­nial pre­cur­sors, the Jedi are vague­ly Native Amer­i­can, and the Death Star is the Boston Tea Par­ty. You’ve rec­og­nized this, I’m sure because it’s shoved in your ears most explic­it­ly by their accents, and less so in your face by aes­thet­ic influ­ences, tac­ti­cal philoso­phies, com­mand eti­quette, and pos­ture, even. Solo’s main char­ac­ter is soak­ing in Amer­i­can Old West­ness, which may or may not have led to its lib­er­al sat­u­ra­tion with the themes of indi­vid­ual rights, slav­ery, and lib­er­a­tion. Regard­less, they’re cer­tain­ly present, and most of them dis­turbing­ly for comedic effect.

As a silent char­ac­ter to the audi­ence, it’s under­stand­able that Chew­bac­ca had too many lim­i­ta­tions to occu­py a strong sec­ond to Han Solo’s lead in the narrative’s eye, and per­haps the rela­tion­ship between the two as por­trayed in the pre­vi­ous films reeked so strong­ly of servi­tude that it was an inevitable ele­ment when the time came to write them their very own movie. In direct con­trast to the firm place of all droids in the social hier­ar­chy of the last 9 movies — address­ing humans as “Mas­ter,” unapolo­get­i­cal­ly spo­ken of as prop­er­ty, and trad­ed and/or gift­ed as such by both pro­tag­o­nists and antag­o­nists, etc. — what we see of Lan­do and L3 togeth­er is a gen­uine­ly and com­plex­ly affec­tion­ate part­ner­ship between equals, which Solo makes an effort to empha­size, if only to laugh at.

In response to the forced vio­lence between two drones for spec­ta­tor sport, L3 is com­plete­ly enraged, and she cries (among oth­er things) “we are sen­tient!,” but her dis­tress is triv­i­al­ized as hys­ter­i­cal dis­trac­tion (see: Djan­go Unchained.) When she sug­gests to Qi-ra that Lan­do (who is already ille­git­imized as a cheat­ing nar­cis­sist, and there­fore effem­i­nate) is attract­ed to her, it’s a joke (which­many in my audi­ence laughed at) at the expense of her triv­i­al­ized sex­u­al­i­ty. After she tri­umphs and declares the lib­er­a­tion of her kind to be her true cause, she is imme­di­ate­ly destroyed fight­ing for its sake, yet her ide­ol­o­gy is not once acknowl­edged by her fleshy com­pan­ions, and her body is quick­ly gut­ted for the data on her “cen­tral pro­cess­ing unit” as it’s inter­faced with the Fal­con. Grant­ed, Lan­do does thought­ful­ly muse “she’s part of the ship now” short­ly after­ward, which would be nice, if you’d for­got­ten his last words were an out­right lie. Last­ly, it’s worth not­ing how apa­thet­ic the main char­ac­ters them­selves are toward the Kessel min­ers, espe­cial­ly as they are pack­ing up to leave, when the cam­era pans over the chaot­ic strug­gle between the lib­er­at­ed and their guards in very close prox­im­i­ty to the await­ing Fal­con, yet there was not a sug­ges­tion that they would even con­sid­erlet­ting them take refuge from the vio­lence in their very spa­cious freighter. Aside from Han’s or Qi-ra’s, Solo treats lib­er­a­tion as charm­ing or amus­ing, noth­ing more.

Any­way, the crown jew­el of Solo for many fans will prob­a­bly be the scene of the infa­mous Kessel Run, when Han Solo and Chew­bac­ca first take the helm(?) of the Mil­len­ni­um Fal­con with Lan­do injured and L3 dis­sect­ed, using her “nav­i­ga­tion­al data­base” to plot a very risky short­cut around the scary space cloud by the scary space squid and the scary space hole in order to make it to the site of the refin­ery before the volatile Ura­ni­um explodes. Once there, darn old flakey Lan­do fucks the hell of in the Fal­con right as the Cloud Rid­ers roll up, but whoa! their leader is actu­al­ly a very young woman with freck­les! She describes the atroc­i­ties of Crim­son Dawn and sug­gests that Han (who’snow the estab­lished deci­sion­mak­er for what­ev­er rea­son) give them the Ura­ni­um in order to estab­lish “the begin­ning of a rebel­lion,” which we can safe­ly assume is The Rebel­lion, which does beg one to won­der why Solo nev­er once bragged among the lat­er rebel­lion about hav­ing start­ed the whole thing in the oth­er films, con­sid­er­ing that — whad­dya know — he says yes!

Woody, how­ev­er, says he’s going to retire upon the news of this deci­sion before imme­di­ate­ly reap­pear­ing again on Scarred Jarvis’ yacht after he’s revealed to have betrayed the Ura­ni­um ruse to him. Qi-ra ends up killing Scarred Jarvis, sav­ing Han, but after promis­ing to fol­low him and escape, she rings up the late Scarred Jarvis’ boss — a Sith Zabrak who, I would argue, is not nec­es­sar­i­ly Darth Maul, though he prob­a­bly is — and informs him that her boss is dead and she’s assumed his post. As Han and Woody meet again in an Old West stand­off (com­plete with sand,) the lat­ter insists one more time that Qi-ra is not who Han thinks she is (as Jarvis and Qi-ra her­self have also said repeat­ed­ly,) describ­ing her as “a sur­vivor,” before Han kills him in self-defense.

Final­ly, after see­ing the Cloud Rid­ers off with the Ura­ni­um, Han finds Lan­do once again in a card game — this time tak­ing care to dis­able his sleight-of-hand device before­hand so that he wins the Mil­len­ni­um Fal­con, “fair and square,” and we cut to Solo (who seems remark­ably upbeat con­sid­er­ing the recent betray­al of the lover he’d longed years to reunite with) and Chewie in her cock­pit as they tie in that one last knot by declar­ing their des­ti­na­tion, Tatooine, before roar­ing off into hyper­space, leav­ing the cred­it roll in their wake.

Solo treats lib­er­a­tion as charm­ing or amus­ing, noth­ing more.

Over two years ago, I con­clud­ed my first work for Extra­tone about The Force Awak­ens by argu­ing that Star Wars on the big screen should be allowed to die in favor of invest­ing the time, ener­gy, and fund­ing they require in the pur­suit of some­thing new, but the indus­try still appears to believe that nos­tal­gia is a sur­er bet where prof­its are con­cerned, at least, even after two whole decades of mind-numb­ing rean­i­mat­ed prop­er­ties. I didn’t catch The Last Jedi until recent­ly, which was remark­ably well-done mea­sured against the oth­ers as a Star Wars movie, but cer­tain­ly didn’t aim to achieve much more. Clear­ly, there must be some truth in Hollywood’s cow­ardice about orig­i­nal prop­er­ties- espe­cial­ly when it comes to the sort of fan­ta­sy armed with potent but unguid­ed emo­tion­al bombs that define the Star Wars uni­verse, so it wouldn’t make much sense to revive my old dia­tribe, here. (Though I can assure you that I will be relent­less if this horse­shit con­tin­ues for much longer.) The Force Awak­ens and The Last Jedi, though, were episod­ic titles for the fam­i­ly, and these spin­offs that began with Rogue One are sup­posed to be for… well, I’m not entire­ly sure. In real­i­ty, they’ve only moved the prover­bial bar up a very wee bit to the fam­i­ly who occa­sion­al­ly says “shit,” because they’re not intel­lec­tu­al­ly stim­u­lat­ing enough to jus­ti­fy them­selves as Big Boy-only pro­duc­tions. Or, they wouldn’t be, were they not part of this fran­chise.

The truth is, the fans have grown up, and they… I… will still buy a tick­et for the small­est crumb of hope that a prod­uct of this huge machine will be capa­ble of mak­ing us feel even a frac­tion of what we felt as chil­dren watch­ing the orig­i­nal films. For me, The Force Awak­ens actu­al­ly did, once, in that blast of horns before the open­ing crawl, but it hasn’t hap­pened since, and I should cer­tain­ly stop expect­ing or want­i­ng to expect that it will. For oth­ers, it’s still work­ing. Though there was a frac­tion of who I expect­ed to be in atten­dance with me, they did laugh at a hand­ful of (most­ly fas­cist) moments, and whooped, hollered, and even clapped for a few sec­onds at the end. I’m sur­prised open­ing night wasn’t packed because Port­land is the sin­gle most nos­tal­gia-addict­ed cul­ture I’ve ever seen any­where in the Unit­ed States. Then again, there are a bil­lion the­aters here, so per­haps the sam­ple is just lousy. We’ll see how tomor­row and Sun­day go, but I’d be sur­prised if any box­of­fice records were bro­ken.

In the past, when film enthu­si­asts and­fans have described Han Solo as “the best char­ac­ter in Star Wars,” they’ve actu­al­ly been prais­ing his poten­tial as a char­ac­ter, not his mate­r­i­al itself, and Solo’s most effec­tive func­tion as a fran­chise film was to shut that praise down. Han was not at all denied his movie — this is his movie — and it pro­vid­ed him the screen­time to show us who he tru­ly is and why we real­ly like him so much: he doesn’t fuck­ing change. The secret to Han Solo’s moral and emo­tion­al resilien­cy is noth­ing more than halt­ed devel­op­ment. The same old inner con­flict between the tough, ruth­less­ly self-inter­est­ed per­sona he does his best to project for every­one around him and the con­sis­tent real­i­ty of his soft insides was pre­sent­ed in his first scene way back in 1977, and we’re now sure that he was unable to make any progress toward its res­o­lu­tion despite open­ly and obvi­ous­ly brood­ing over it for an entire life­time: from at least as ear­ly as his young adult­hood in this film until his death at the hands of his lit­tle Sith son. There is 0 vari­a­tion. He always comes back for the cause at the cru­cial moment after declar­ing him­self through with it. With­out fail, he’ll sac­ri­fice the entire­ty of any self-mak­ing enter­prise for just about any under­dog with a prob­lem who cross­es his path. (Which prob­a­bly explains his con­stant­ly-fleet­ing suc­cess as a smug­gler well into gray hair and jowls.) Solo is abun­dant­ly clear about Han’s true nature and very will­ing to expose how unin­ter­est­ing it is. When he first pro­claims to Qi-ra that he’s become “an out­law,” she shuts him down with the film’s ulti­mate quote, insist­ing that she “knows who [he] real­ly is: the good guy.

If the video game-despis­ing fans will bear with me for a moment, it’s worth not­ing that Bioware’s Star Wars: The Old Repub­lic MMORPG is the most inter­est­ing and exten­sive source of nuanced nar­ra­tive in the IP (it holds the world record for the largest voiceover project ever pro­duced,) and most of it can now be expe­ri­enced with­out actu­al­ly play­ing the game. Like Solo, it’s set pre-saga, but con­sid­er­ably before — a few cen­turies, if I remem­ber cor­rect­ly, which gave the writ­ers a gigan­tic oppor­tu­ni­ty to both expand and pre­des­tine the uni­verse. There are eight dif­fer­ent class sto­ries with around 50 cumu­la­tive hours of dia­log, each. A few are rel­a­tive­ly unimag­i­na­tive, but the major­i­ty are com­plex, excit­ing, emo­tion­al­ly-involved tales that cre­ate very rich char­ac­ters, and all of them can be streamed in their entire­ty on YouTube. If you are will­ing to see the poten­tial of a Han Solo-like char­ac­ter ful­filled in a dif­fer­ent medi­um, the Smug­gler class sto­ry is a pret­ty damned engag­ing explo­ration of the kind out­law with con­flict­ed iden­ti­ty issues angle.

From my per­spec­tive, Solo’s fre­quent less-than-sub­tle mal­treat­ment of some very bru­tal and sen­si­tive pow­er rela­tion­ships makes it the most tox­ic of the Star Wars films yet, and I assume it end­ed up that way, unnec­es­sar­i­ly because Ron Howard is an all-Amer­i­can son of a bitch. If these titles are going to con­tin­ue to be passed around between big­whig direc­tors, future unpleas­antries are inevitable. Notably, I’ve yet to see any men­tion of these dis­turb­ing themes from the respectable author­i­ties of the film crit­i­cism estab­lish­ment, who’ve been over­whelm­ing­ly charmed by Solo’s nos­tal­gia. Take from that what­ev­er you will.

If we con­tin­ue to love the char­ac­ter Han Solo, it’ll be in the same way we love our earnest, fool­ish, emo­tion­al­ly-stunt­ed man­child fathers who’s devel­op­men­tal inad­e­qua­cies are often embar­rass­ing, some­times abu­sive, and thor­ough­ly piti­ful. Solo leaves no more room for an ide­al­ized, ele­gant per­cep­tion of this char­ac­ter — he’s no more than a pret­ty good guy with a life­long addic­tion to thrill-seek­ing and a shit­load of luck.

To declare unequiv­o­cal­ly whether or not Solo: A Star Wars Sto­ry is worth a trip the cin­e­ma with your date, your chil­dren, or just your own damned con­science would require me to dis­re­gard a whole host of com­pli­cat­ing fac­tors, but if you’ve stuck it this far with me, you’d have a lot to dis­re­gard your­self to jump in. I’d advise that par­ents watch it them­selves before decid­ing whether or not it’s some­thing worth adding to your child’s life. Of those of you like me who’ll tow the line despite what you know and watch a Star Wars film alone on open­ing night in delir­i­um hop­ing for just a drop from the Foun­tain of Youth, I would ask: how long are we real­ly going to keep kid­ding our­selves?