I am not going to waste precious space in this blog writing about Solo: A Star Wars Story. The movie blew bigger chunks than you would find in an asteroid field. If I wouldn’t have been bored last Sunday, I would’ve saved my money.
However, there was one point I need to address. I am frankly sick of the idea propagated in science fiction that androids possess sentience.
In Solo, a young Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) has an android co-pilot named L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge.) It doesn’t take five seconds after we meet L3-37 to learn that she is an android who is on a quest; the great and universal trek for equal rights. It is not atypical for modern Star Wars to insert concepts favorable to social justice in their scripts, but even by modern standards, the character is written in a very heavy-handed fashion. She is, in effect, the Dobby of the script without the charm.
Even though Lando seems to resist the idea that droids are worthy of equal rights, we discover that he implicitly validates the idea of her sentience when we see that he is (“gasp!”) attracted to her. The ironic parallel is obvious and ham-handed; the black character attracted to a machine he views as property, just as, a long time ahead in a galaxy far, far away, white slave owners were attracted to and bedded down people whom they did not, in fact, view as people at all.
How could any reasonable viewer of Solo come to any other conclusion but that droids are, of course, sentient and therefore, do deserve equal rights. L3-37’s cause is just, which makes her death all the more poignant when it inevitably comes.
The writers had fertile ground in which to plant this particular seed. After all, the viewers on whom they tried (and largely failed) to conduct financial extractions mostly haled from a generation that grew up with C-3PO and R2-D2, two humanistic droids who, more than once, saved the Star Wars universe. 3PO was a droid who never met a neurosis he didn’t like. R2-D2 didn’t communicate in spoken language, but his series of beeps and chirps and his diminutive cuteness, made him function more as a hyper intelligent animal, if not a human.
Then, 32 years later came R2-D2 2.0, aka BB-8, courtesy of The Force Awakens. One year after that, we met K-2SO in Rogue One. Now there was a droid who really brought the tude. He might have been the poster droid for the quest for equal rights if he were not already fighting in another rebellion with some actual teeth.
Of course, one might argue that the writers don’t actually think that droids are sentient, but rather, they are using L3-37 as a metaphor for real humans here on Earth. Duh! That trope has been played by sci-fi writers for generations. Nothing pioneering in that.
Ah, but if you want a franchise that takes the concept of android sentience more seriously, you need look no further than Star Trek: The Next Generation, embodied in the character of Lieutenant Commander Data.
Any fan of TNG should know where I’m headed before I get there. Season two, episode nine. Title, “The Measure of a Man.”
Picard and company are docked at an outlying starbase that houses a newly-installed JAG officer. About eight minutes into the episode, a guy named Bruce Maddox shows up and orders Data to report to Starfleet so that he can be taken apart and studied for further cybernetic research and experimentation. Data refuses. Maddox hands him transfer orders backing him up. Data resigns. Maddox says, “You can’t resign. You are a machine. Therefore, you are the property of Starfleet Command and thus, you have no rights.” Picard, of course, legally challenges Maddox, leading to a climactic courtroom battle that would make Perry Mason bow in awe.
But wait! There’s a twist! The JAG orders Number One to be the prosecutor, even though he is a close friend of Data’s and doesn’t believe that Data is not sentient. “Tough titty, said the android kitty,” says the judge, and we’re off to court.
Commander Riker presents his case first and calls only one witness, Data himself. He orders Data to take off his hand, which Data does. Then, Riker deactivates him by flipping his off switch.
At that moment, Riker has won the argument. The judge rules in Maddox’s favor, Data gets carted off to some dusty lab at Starfleet Command and Lore takes over as the second officer on the Enterprise. His first action… To disembowel Worf.
That was in the Kelvin timeline. In the prime timeline, Picard is unnerved by Riker’s compelling case. Then, Whoopi Goldberg shows up for her one token scene in the episode. They get to talking about how history is rife with cultures who have written off other cultures as less than human, thereby making them… Disposable people.
This, my friends, is the emotional money shot of the episode. Maddox is the villain, and he’s a villain because he wants to replicate Data, thereby creating an entire race of Datas who will serve man. But Data is sentient, so that would mean that Starfleet Command is creating slaves and, just like Lando Calrissian, they are sanctioning slavery.
Picard runs with it! Now, we’re back in court. Picard cross examines Data, and we are reminded that the android fulfilled a fantasy that many teenage boys could only dream about. He bagged Tasha Yar.
Then, Picard calls Maddox. He asks Maddox to define sentience. Maddox clumsily answers that sentience contains three components; intelligence, self-awareness and consciousness. Picard quickly dismantles the first argument, and no pimply-faced fan with his or her hand deep in the Cheeto bag would disagree. Data is way beyond intelligent.
Picard then turns to argument number two, asking Data to recite his current predicament in order to illustrate his self-awareness. Data complies. This is a little flimsy, but we’ll let it go.
And then… And then… Maddox starts to become unsure. Picard pounces. “Data meets two of your criteria. What if he meets the third? I don’t know what he is. Do you? Do you!?”
Finally, the judge rules in Data’s favor, even though she admits that no one really proved their case. Her final verdict is, “I don’t know, but we’re going to defer in Data’s favor just in case he happens to be alive. Besides, we need to keep Brent Spiner around until he wins an Emmy.”
The story is over, except that Picard goes off to get nekkid with the judge, which is a task that usually falls to Riker, except that Picard has a bad history with this lady and the tension has been building all episode. Besides, Picard hasn’t been laid since… Never. And Riker is too busy hanging his head in shame even to take Deanna Troi for a loser’s lap. Data comes in and lets him off the emotional hook. “You were a splendid example of self-sacrifice, sir,” is basically what he says. Then he follows it up with, “I do not resent you, Commander. After all, resentment is a human feeling. As the audience no doubt knows, I cannot feel, because feeling connotes sentience, and I am not sentient.”
He doesn’t actually say that last part, but once these pimply-faced fans go wipe off the Twinkie crumbs and spend about 30 more years in the real world, they figure out that the writers deliberately stacked the deck against Riker. Yes, Riker won the legal battle, but in the 24th century, just as in the 21st, emotion trumps logic.
But who cares, right? Data, after all, is played by Brent Spiner, a very talented actor who is a human being, just as Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker and Alan Tudyk are all human beings. Just as Disney likes to anthropomorphize animals in order that kids grow up to adopt an anti-hunting, pro-environmentalist sentiment by thinking of Bambi as a human being, sci-fi writers want a new legion of budding social justice warriors to think of the brave L3-37, or Data, every time a kid questions whether he is a boy or a girl, or a parent wants to take their son into the girl’s bathroom, or someone at work demands to be called Rachel instead of Tony.
Just as Picard stops short of pushing forward with his argument because he likely could not demonstrate that Data does not, in fact, possess consciousness, the new woke Star Wars crowd should not bother to ask certain critical questions. Your honor, isn’t it true that computers can only do what their programmers tell them? Your honor, if you flip off Data’s switch, couldn’t you flip it back on again in 20 years, just as Data did with his brother Lore? But why can’t you do that with Bernie Sanders? Your honor, if I see a penis on a boy, but he says he’s a girl, wouldn’t a little healthy skepticism be in order?
And the answer comes back like a hyper echo. “Fuck off, bigot!!!”
Ok, friends. I can’t resist. Real quick, here are five reasons why Solo blew big asteroid field chunks.
5. As previously stated, L3-37.
4. The movie should have been a buddy adventure featuring Han and Lando, rather than a romantic adventure featuring Han and Q’ira. Yeah… I know. Strong female movie characters, yada yada yada.
3. It was doomed from the start. No actor could possibly succeed Harrison Ford. That aside, Han was the ultimate alfa male. Alden Ehrenreich’s Han Solo seemed like a wiseass college kid who acts oppressed, but secretly gets a pedicure three times a week.
2. Darth Maul appears in the movie. Ok, think about that for a second, then think about the timeline of the prequels. Does Star Wars have a Kelvin timeline, too?
1. The writers eviscerated the spirit of the Han Solo character. Han’s backstory was boring. The Han Solo we met in the original Star Wars was a self-centered, greedy, cynical, cheeky anti-hero who was ultimately redeemed. This guy was a straight-up hero whom the writers contorted to fit a mold. In other words, modern Han would not have shot Greedo first… Unless Greedo was a Trump supporter, of course.
Now that I got all of that off my chest, I’m gonna go watch Star Trek TNG, Season three, episode 16, “The Offspring.” Damn! I still get a lump in my throat every time Data’s daughter dies.