On The Force Awakens, not spoiler free

How do I describe the genius of this film? With a buttload of spoilers. If you haven’t seen the Force Awakens, two things: 1. What?!?!?! 2. Don’t read this if you don’t want to know.

Part of me wants to react to the criticisms I have read/heard. The other part of me wants to just focus on the facts and speculate on what they mean. Dammit, let’s do both!

This movie is NOT A New Hope made over. That seems to be the loudest criticism and it’s off base. Yes, it starts on a desert planet. Yes it includes a droid carrying a secret. Yes, Kylo Ren looks like a hipster Darth Vader (more on that in a minute). Yep, the bad guys have built a weapon of ultra mega super mass destruction. Sure, it includes a stormtrooper defecting from a group that is the equivalent of a Neo Nazi version of the Empire. Yes, the female hero of the story spends the entire movie complaining about getting back to her boring existence on a backwater world. Yes, the new heroes are guided by a grizzled old vet of a massive war from decades before who didn’t even believe the Force existed most of his life. Yep, there is a Force sensitive small creature that runs a pub for vagrants in a centuries old castle on a world of lakes and greenery… Oh wait, most of that is nothing like A New Hope.

There is much more that is different. Like, that time when our heroes were surrounded by stormtroopers and a squadron of X Wings came blazing across a lake and tear it up! A Force vision brought on by touching an important relic. A “sibling” rivalry at the highest level of the First Order.

The second most frequent criticism I have heard/read is some version of “Rey is a Mary Sue.” How did she know how to do a mind trick? How could she use the Force to grab a saber when a clearly more Forced trained badass is trying to do the same? How does she fight back from a Force user’s mind probe? How does she then kick his ass in one of the best lightsaber fights in all of the films?

This criticism is dumb, even when presented by smart people. These questions are entirely the point of the film… To set us all up for two more movies that answer the questions. I mean, how did Luke Skywalker use the Force to guide proton torpedoes after about 27 minutes of training with Obi Wan? Because his dad was the most Force sensitive being in the history of the Universe. Something we didn’t know explicitly in a film until 1999 (the Force sensitive part, we knew the father part in 1980).

Is Rey Luke’s daughter? Seems like it, which means probably not. Is Rey a Kenobi? Completely unlikely, so maybe so. Is Rey a Solo? Seems like a guy who knows he will likely be killed by his son but tries to redeem him anyway might tell his daughter that, well… she is his daughter. Or that her mother, after losing her husband at the hands of their son, might tell her shortly thereafter. None of that happened, so probably?

In other words, we have no clue what’s coming next. If I were to guess, I’d expect that the Kung Fu: The Legend Continues style ending is visual storytelling where folks expected verbal recognition. Rey is the child of Luke Skywalker. And really, visual storytelling is happening in many more places in this film. For instance, I think we know who Rey’s mother is. Rey was wearing her helmet. Her name is Dosmit Raeh. She was a pilot in the Rebellion. This info comes from The Force Awakens: Visual Dictionary. How did she and Luke get together? Do they have other little badasses roaming on backwater worlds in hiding? Did Luke’s New Jedi Order not frown on attachment or did he pull an Anakin? No idea, and I love it.

I could be completely wrong on both counts about Rey’s parentage. But… We don’t know and I love it!

As for Starkiller Base and it’s alleged similarities to the Death Star… That’s entirely the point, just as Kylo Ren’s hipster Darth Vader is entirely the point (a fact my friend Nathan can tell you I guessed way back when we saw the first trailer, Kylo Ren as Vader fanboi, I mean. Not as Vader Grandson, though that makes a lot of sense in the narrative). Imagine post WWII Nazis regrouping in South America. Now, those guys decide that the fatal flaw in their plan to bring order to the world was that Hitler didn’t push hard enough. Translate that to Star Wars… You have the First Order, dedicated to succeeding where their heroes failed.

Quick segue, another criticism I have read and heard is the “Darth Vader’s Grandson?!?!? SO LAME!” Star Wars, the Saga, is the SKYWALKER SAGA. That’s why. It’s not the Solo Saga. It’s not the Kenobi Saga. It’s not the Yoda Saga… those characters all play hugely important parts in the overarching story, but the Saga is about the Skywalker family. It will continue to be about the Skywalker clan. 

This brings us to Kylo Ren and Snoke, Supreme Leader of the First Order.

Kylo Ren is the most complex villain the Star Wars franchise has ever had. He is conflicted. He is emotional. He is unpredictable. He is a new piece of a triangular die that I thought was a coin before this movie. He is not a retread of Anakin Skywalker, he is a bizzaro verison of Luke Skywalker… Remember ESB and RotJ were all about Luke fighting a tug towards the Darkside. He faced countless situations that resembled what we later saw his father face. Where Anakin stumbled, seemingly unaware to the dark path, Luke chose the light. Now we have the next generation of Skywalker and he isn’t stumbling toward the dark path… He is choosing it! He is both Vader and Luke and something completely different. And he is choosing to follow the dark teacher, unlike his Grandpa, who was manipulated into following a dark teacher. It’s a huge difference and not really that subtle. The fact that he is Vader’s Grandson gives his character more weight than some random fanboi in a costume. A lot more weight.

Who the Hell is Snoke? No idea, but I expect that he is from beyond the Outer Rim. In the books Aftermath and Lost Stars, it is explained that a year after Return of the Jedi a final, desperate battle was waged over Jakku (thus the crashed Star Destroyer and Super Star Destroyer amongst various TIE Fighters and X Wings) in which the Rebellion defeated the last vestiges of the Empire, decisively. Some portion of those Imperials stayed in the known universe and signed on to the Galactic Concordance while others fled to the “Unknown Regions.” It’s also explained that the Unknown Regions had been partially explored by Palpatine, exclusively to find the source of Darkside power he felt came from that part of the Galaxy.

Now, why is this all in books and not in films? Because… Prequels. Treaties, politics, etc. They suck in the Star Wars Universe, at least as more than peripheral plot points in films.

Anyway, it’s my belief that Snoke, the Unknown Region, and that Darkside power are all related. Add the Imperial remnants and you get the genesis of the First Order. Those remnants don’t really think the Empire ever ended, not in their heart of hearts. They see Snoke as the new Emperor. They don’t follow him for the reasons Kylo Ren does. They are not religious zealots drawn to a dark cult and I have a feeling that this split will be the undoing of the First Order… Think of it like the pro business, libertarian type that aligns with the ultra religious, anti civil liberty type to win votes. They aren’t really natural allies but they share a common enemy so they agree to be cool with each other.

To wrap this up, where is this new trilogy headed? The short answer is “I don’t know but I think it’s going to be awesome.” The longer answer is “It’s going to answer the big questions but leave enough mystery for Episode 10-12 to answer.”

Big questions? There are many, but here are a few I’d expect to be answered: How did Snoke turn Kylo Ren and can Ben Solo be redeemed? How will the tension between Ren and General Hux, representing the two unnatural allies with a common enemy, unfold and what will the ramifications be? Who is Rey and how does she relate to the Skywalker legacy? Will Luke Skywalker attempt to rebuild the Jedi a second time? What actually happened to his first attempt when Ben Solo turned and was Rey already being trained? What is the state of Galactic Politics now that the First Order has suffered a crushing defeat? What fills the vacuum left by the instantaneous incineration of the Republic Senate (I’m rooting for Chancellor Calrissian)? Can we see some damn space battles, please?

I can’t wait to find out.

On The Force Awakens, spoiler free

Trying to be reasonable about a Star Wars film is, for me, like trying to hold back praise for my children. I spent the evening of May 19th, 1999 in the Chabot Theater on Castro Valley Boulevard and I left that screening of The Phantom Menace elated, for example.

I left the Regal Hacienda Crossings Stadium 20 & IMAX in a similar euphoria on December 17th, 2015 after viewing The Force Awakens. That is where the similarities end. Now that I have seen it four times, I can objectively say, I LOVE this movie. The tl;dr review of The Force Awakens is to simply offer an alternative title: “The Return of Star Wars.”

The test of a Star Wars film has always been “Can it make ridiculous coincidence pass with no acknowledgment of the complete implausibility by the audience?”

Damn that is a long sentence.

For example, in the opening of A New Hope, Darth Vader raids a Consular ship that is carrying his Princess daughter and his former astromech droid AND a protocol droid he built for his mother. Those droids are launched from the ship in an escape attempt only to land on the backwater home of that Princess daughter’s farmboy twin brother. And none of them know any of this.

It’s horribly outlandish. But, we don’t know any of this at the time we see it, either.

Contrast that with The Phantom Menace. The Senator of Naboo is a secret Sith Lord and he has engineered a blockade of his planet in an attempt to create a Galactic crisis that he can use to become Chancellor. In complete dumb luck, the Jedi sent to resolve the conflict survive every assassination attempt and make it to the planet’s surface. They successfully usher the Queen off world but end up stuck on the same backwater planet from A New Hope where they find the most Force sensitive being in all history. The boy will grow up to be Darth Vader and the Queen will be his wife. None of the characters know this, but we do. And it gets boring.

To me, this is what “The Return of Star Wars” means. There are revelations made in The Force Awakens, some shocking. There is also so much left unaddressed. We may just have watched a sister, brother, cousin, uncle love parallelogram, but maybe not. What is the current state of politics? Does Lando Calrissian have something to do with something?  I have no idea, and I love it.

Another essential part of “being Star Wars” is biting, sarcastic camaraderie amongst newfound, yet some how fast friends. From Han to Luke, Leia to Han, everyone to C3PO, etc. There’s plenty of that in this movie and the actors deliver. This kind of witty banter is applicable in any environment and it’s that sense of familiarity that helps to make a futuristic space faring society set in the distant past somehow more than believable.

If I had a quibble, it would be that the design of the First Order’s leader is not one that I expected or found particularly inspiring. Much of the other additions are extremely satisfying. Kylo Ren feels like a Dark Lord of the Templar, more than the Sith. The tension between Adam Driver’s Ren and Domhnall Gleason’s General Hux is unlike any relationship we have explored in the Star Wars universe and I have to believe that this relationship will drive a huge turning point in one of the upcoming Episodes.

One common concern from my fellow nerds is that the plot follows closely A New Hope and Return of the Jedi. While I definitely understand the criticism, there was enough of a divergence for the middle third of the movie that it felt somehow fresh to me. Without going too much into spoiler territory, there is no character like Maz Kanata, expertly played by Lupita Nyong’o, in any Star Wars film. No locale like Takodana, or watering hole quite like the one we visit.

And further, I felt like the story chased a different legend. There was a Mordred, an Arthur, a Merlin, a Lady of the Lake and an excruciatingly satisfying Excalibur moment. You’ll know it when you see it, and if you don’t… The theater erupting into applause will be a hint.

All of this is to say, four viewings in… I can’t imagine growing tired of it. It is truly the Return of Star Wars and I can’t stop smiling thinking about what we don’t know. I’m humming the Force theme and trying to guess which questions Episode VIII will answer.

The Force is finally with us, once again. I couldn’t be more excited.

On How I Prepared for The Force Awakens

“Why do you watch them in that order?”

It’s a question I get, often, when I explain my method for watching The Epic Saga. Over the last year, gearing up for Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, I have had a lot of time to think it through, try various methods, and settle upon the best.

I must first mention that were it not for the Machete Order, I wouldn’t have ever started cutting and pasting… so kudos to you guys for the inspiration. For those that don’t wish to read a bunch of bloviation, here is the Order: Episode I, Episode IV, Episode V, Episode II, optional segue through the Clone Wars, Episode III, and finish with Episode VI. And now, for those who care about the bloviation, here is why:

Like many Star Wars fans of my age, old enough to watch the Original Trilogy and wait decades for the Prequel Trilogy only to be completely let down, I am not a big fan of Episode I-III. This is where my challenge begins, or… “How do I make Episode I relevant?”

In the Machete Order, The Phantom Menace is left out completely. While I understand the sentiment, that it is largely irrelevant to the story of Luke Skywalker, I also felt that there must be a way to make it relevant. It has characters we all know and love, actors who we have loved in other roles, the best light saber duel in any of the six films AND pod racing all set in a visually stunning world that was impossible to create in 1977. It’s worth salvaging, no?

In my first attempt at a preferred order, I placed it at the end of the whole shebang (going in episodic order two through six first). I thought maybe it would serve as a good P.S. to the other five films. I was wrong… It felt horribly out of place, worse than I remembered. It seemed more irrelevant.

When I eventually decided to watch it again, and jumped over the other two prequel films, I felt enlightened. At the end of TPM, things are on the upswing. Anakin is the Chosen One. He is a young boy surrounded by Jedi Knights and apprenticed to Obi Wan Kenobi. The Naboo and Gungans have come together. The Trade Federation is in deep poodu for their invasion. The outlandish plot hardly seems to matter anymore, it feels good. And then you jump 40 years into the future…

But before we go 40 years in the future, let’s just scream over how ridiculously complex the plot of TPM is. AAAARRRRGGGGGHHHHHHH!!! The senator of Naboo has tasked the Trade Federation with blockading Naboo through a “tax dispute” all while being a secret Sith Lord. This was in an attempt to become Chancellor? It was just a happy coincidence that Qui Gon found Anakin as he escorted Padme off world? It’s just a happy coincidence that she made it off world? Now, 40 years in the future…

A New Hope is a complete MIND FRACK as a result. Pretending to have never seen it, I was blown away… Why are we back on Tattooine? Wait… Obi Wan is hiding out? Everyone else is dead? There’s an Empire? Luke Skywalker? That big bad dude dressed all in black killed Anakin?!?!?! How in the Hell did everything go this far off the rails?

I watched the movie rooting the whole time for Anakin’s son to make right what those bastards did to his father, that cute little kid with the pod racing skills. And, KABOOM!!!! Luke does it, boy howdy.

And, just like that, the Galaxy is back on the upswing. Luke has lost everything, yet somehow found his calling. Han has gone from pirate to war hero. Leia is a total bad ass. They are all surrounded by an army of folks ready to get rid of these evil bastards that killed Anakin and took over the Republic/somehow turned it into an Empire.

So we jump ahead a little while, a few years, and find Luke and crew on their new base. That village happens to be like a steam punk Santa’s Village surrounded by vicious bumbles and giant horse kangaroos that reek. Life is good despite being frozen and surrounded by smelly beasts… and then that jackass that killed Anakin shows up with his Port of Oakland cranes that can walk and… scattered again are our devoted heroes.

Also, SPACE SLUG in an asteroid!!!!!!

Also, YODA! I was afraid he was dead. But he’s hiding, too. Are he and Obi Wan all that is left of the Jedi? How and why? That big black dude scares Yoda enough for him to go into hiding? And, that big black dude’s master looks familiar, but I am not sure who he is. I want to say it’s that damn Senator from Naboo, but geez he got super old really fast if it is him.

Slight segue… Lando Calrissian. Whenever I order a coffee, I ask for it “Lando Style.” Smooth and black. I feel like, the only downside to this new viewing order is that it ruins my reason for calling my coffee by this name. I have done this since before there was a Prequel Trilogy. I’d always say, “If you were the only black guy in an entire galaxy, you would have a drink named after you, too.” Dammit, Mace Windu!

Well, obviously… the end of the movie comes and man alive am I tattered. That dude is Anakin? Han Solo is an ice block? What the Hell is Luke going to do? Join his father? Hang with Yoda? But more importantly… How in the Hell did this all come to be? Anakin was the Chosen One! Flashing back, 25 years or so…

Full disclosure, Attack of the Clones is my personal least favorite of all Star Wars films. My dislike is entirely rooted in the story and the dialogue. Many Star Wars snobs bemoan the lack of practical effects, and while that may contribute to the wooden performances of some really talented actors, I honestly think we have a story that is too complex where it should be simple and too simple where it should be complex. For instance, the “whodunnit?” phase of the movie is crazy longer than it should be and conveniently predictable, all while feeling way over wrought. It’s like a Dragnet Episode shot as a film noir written by a High School Drama teacher with Jedi swapped in for Joe Friday and crew. Meanwhile, the Padme Anakin love story goes from “isn’t it cute, he’s still got a crush” to “married in Italian villa” with way too little build up. I’d prefer that the deleted scenes with Padme’s family and Anakin interacting were in the film and some of the “Jedi business” lawman stuff was cut out. Death Sticks?!?!?

All of that said, it’s very interesting to watch AotC shortly after ANH and observe how Luke and Anakin are so similar, yet so different. A key turning point for both comes with the death of the only family they have ever known. Anakin goes ballistic and starts cutting folks up left and right. Luke returns to the hermit wizard and asks him to teach him the ways of the Force. Side note, but I give all the credit to these different approaches to that hard ass Owen Lars. He didn’t let Luke think he was Chosen. He made that little crumb snatcher work for what he had, dammit!

Another interesting thing about this film is how different the ending feels compared to all of the others. You can see the beginning of Anakin’s deceit. In what should feel like an epic happy moment, the wedding of Luke’s parents… there is a sad undercurrent of hiding from the fact that you can’t have it both ways. Anakin tells many lies throughout the Saga. I don’t think any are more disheartening than the lies I found myself assuming he told himself to justify his desire. He is damaged in a way that no other hero is damaged throughout the rest of the Saga.

Now, this next part is optional but I did it. I have a two DVD set of the Clone Wars shorts that originally aired on Cartoon Network in 2003. They are a special kind of awesome. Additionally, there is the Clone Wars television show (also on Cartoon Network, starting in 2008) that had 20 minute episodes and ran for five seasons with an epic sixth half season only available on Netflix.

This will take a long, long time. Make sure, should you decide to explore the Clone Wars, that you get copies of the original series and that you read about the chronological order of the episodes that you can watch on Netflix (they were not released in chronological order). Also note that for a full chronological viewing of the entire Clone Wars series you should start by watching Chapters 1-21 of the 2003 series, then the 2008 series, and wrap it up with Chapters 22-25 of the 2003 series. If you do this you will a) not think Anakin sucks so bad and b) be treated to an awesome effect when the last chapter of the Clone Wars ends in the same dog fight that is the beginning of…

The Revenge of the Sith. This is easily my favorite of the PT. It still suffers from a lot of the convoluted story decisions that the first two PT films suffered from. It’s better parts are still the amazing visuals and, probably the second best light saber duel in all of the films. It had hints of the Star Wars mystique that didn’t exist in the other prequel films.

My personal favorite part is when Padme, dying, after birthing the Skywalker twins (Hey, wait a minute? Luke has a sister named Leia? Is it… Princess Leia? HOLY SHIT it is! Bail Organa, you and your wife did a bang up job with that young lady!) foreshadows Luke’s eventual point of view in Return of the Jedi… “There is still good in him.” Also, I love how the fall of Skywalker/rise of Vader foreshadows a vulnerability that we have yet to see (in this viewing order) in Vader.

Anyway, enough about the prequels… let’s jump to the end!

After viewing the movies in this order… Return of the Jedi is incredibly satisfying. The epic Luke v Vader saber duel is recast as the epic Luke v Palpatine duel for the soul of Anakin Skywalker. The whole Saga has a slight change in hue, it is not about the fall and redemption of Vader, or the Journey of Luke Skywalker… It becomes about a father, his mistakes and how the son he never knew went to insane lengths to account for those mistakes. In other words, there is no Fall and Redemption separate from Luke’s Journey. It is all one in the same.

Damn, Thursday night at 7:15 can’t get here soon enough! May the Force be with you!

On Luke Skywalker

As a noted Star Wars geek, I get asked a lot by friends that are also fans of the films what I think of theories about the new trilogy. One particular hot topic, is, was and has been the fate of Luke Skywalker. It started out insane, with people using early Kylo Ren concept art to speculate that Luke Skywalker would be the villain of the new trilogy, and it’s continued to the point where folks are using his “absence” in the trailers as evidence that this is the case.

Do I think he is evil now? Wouldn’t that be awesome? Have I seen the concept art? Isn’t that Luke with a silver face and cybernetic hand?  Do I follow spoilers? Did I know that JJ Abrams tried to trick everyone about Benedict as Kahn? etc.

Here are my thoughts on Luke Skywalker, what I expect and what I would like to see.

First, Luke is in the trailers, he narrates the second and that’s him with his hand on R2-D2 in what appears to be a cave with something burning just out of view of the shot. Note when Luke says “My father has it” there is a shot of Vader’s mask. “I have it” coincides with the shot I reference above. “My sister has it” with Leia receiving Anakin’s old lightsaber. The same shot appears in the latest trailer.

Second, let’s remember who Luke Skywalker was when we last saw him. After years of fighting with the Rebellion, he was standing in an Ewok village on the Forest Moon of Endor smiling at ghosts of his two mentors and his redeemed father. He was, arguably, the only character in the Original Trilogy to have a clear and dramatic arc. From Farmboy to badass. Neophyte to redeemer.

Just prior to this final victory for the Rebellion, really as a part of it, Luke had defeated his father in an epic lightsaber duel and resisted the temptation of the Dark Side. Despite numerous folks with crackpot theories and revisionist views of that duel, Luke sacrificed himself in the service of his friends and family. His father saved him from a truly evil being and was saved in the process, spurred on by the bravery of his son.

The key part of the duel is also the point at which Luke comes the closest to the precipice of the Dark Side. He is only stopped from leaping over that edge by looking at his father’s wrist, the wires protruding from where his hand had once been. He looks at his own robotic hand and realizes how close he is to the edge. He hears the cackle of the Emperor and recalls that his objective, over the objections of Yoda and Obi Wan, was to kill Darth Vader by restoring Anakin Skywalker.

“You’ve failed your highness. I’m a Jedi, like my father before me.” Can it be put anymore explicitly than that?

And it was here that his objective slowly crept into realization. It was here that his father struggled to gain his feet and watched as his master slowly killed his son. It was here that Vader became Skywalker once more, rejecting the choice he had made two decades earlier when he said, “I pledge myself to your teachings. To the ways of the Sith.”

Luke felt conflict within his father. Luke still felt the good, and said as much. “Search your feelings.” His father rejected the notion outright before delivering his son to his Master. Only to realize, as voltage ran through the boy, that the boy had been right.

“You were right about me, Luke. Tell your sister… you were right.”

Let us not forget that throughout the Prequel Trilogy, Anakin Skywalker faced many of the same choices that Luke faced throughout the course of the Original Trilogy. If there was a single lesson to be gained from the choices that they made, it was that our intent is important.

Luke saved his friends from Jabba the Hutt by destroying Jabba and his cohorts. Anakin destroyed a village of Tusken Raiders in a fit of anger. Luke was offered a position at the side of Palpatine and power beyond belief and refused because he knew that meant becoming his father. Anakin was offered a place at Palpatine’s side and power beyond belief (explicitly the power to save Padme from death) and he took the selfish route, which eventually led to the death of the woman he wished to save. Why we do things is as important as the result of our actions and sometimes more so. It’s what separates light from dark.

If that is where we left Luke, where will we find him? Or, as Kathleen Kennedy put it to JJ Abrams when convincing him to helm the new film, and Abrams then used to hook Lawrence Kasdan to help, “Who is Luke Skywalker?”

My guess is that Luke has suffered on his journey to fulfill his destiny. There are spoilers all over the place that claim to give the specific source of Luke’s suffering, but that isn’t important. The point is that it hasn’t all been butterflies and rainbows since we last saw Luke. But Luke is still Luke.

It’s a fair gamble to bet that Luke is now a recluse, much as Obi Wan was in A New Hope. Is he also watching the next hope from the shadows? It’s also a fair bet that Luke has failed in his attempt to revive the Jedi Order. Is he hiding, patiently waiting for someone to teach, as Yoda was on Dagobah? He hasn’t truly failed until he is no more.

My answer to both of those questions is a resounding, “Yes!”

How did he come to this place? Hiding, patiently waiting. Living the virtues that Yoda expressed doubt he could ever learn. Walking off into the sunset, a warrior monk. Clint Eastwood. Pilate in Bulgakov’s book “The Master and Margarita.” Both Yoda and Obi Wan and something bigger than both as a result. The last true hope for light in the galaxy.

The answer to that question is the stuff that legend is made of. I’m sure we will read all about it in a new series of books set between Jedi and Awakens.

It is my belief that the answer to the question, “Who is Luke Skywalker?” is the same now as it was intended to be in 1983. Luke Skywalker is destined to be the most powerful and important Jedi the galaxy has ever known.

I can’t wait to see how Abrams and Kasdan answer the question. But I am pretty certain, it isn’t “Luke is Anakin all over again.” He’s already proven otherwise.

On the Internet

Recently reported disputes between Internet content companies and Network Service Providers, reports that have focused on the concept of “Net Neutrality,” have created some confusion about what the Internet is, how it operates and what the Government’s role is in all of this.

Merriam-Webster defines the Internet as “an electronic communications network that connects computer networks and organizational computer facilities around the world.” I think of the Internet as a system of cooperation for the benefit of all involved, most especially the customers I have supported at Yahoo, Facebook and Square.

I strongly believe in the principle that the Internet should be as it was designed, an open system for all to enjoy and that Government’s role is to ensure this stays true. But, this broad statement is practically useless without explaining the nuance of what the Internet is, beyond the text book definition and the protocols that allow computers to communicate with one another.

The debates around Net Neutrality have focused on two “ends” of a spectrum. On one hand, there are Content companies, on the other are Network Service Providers. Companies like Google, Facebook and Netflix have very large Data Centers with a whole lot of very large files. For those files to get from those Data Centers, to your home, they most likely have to pass through the physical cabling that connects the Verizon, AT&T or Comcast network to your home.

Every time a customer, of both Verizon and Netflix (for example), watches a movie on the device of their choice a temporary connection between the content and the customer is established. I like to think of this like a virtual and temporary version of washing my hands. There is a pipe in my sink that runs out to the street, where it connects to a bigger pipe, and that pipe runs back through a series of pipes until it reaches the source of the water that I am using to wash my hands. It is this temporary system of “pipes” that allows the Internet to be a utility used by businesses and consumers.

At Square, where we created a way for any reputable business to affordably accept credit cards, this system of temporary pipes allows small and medium sized family businesses to run their retail establishments on a smart phone. This isn’t just about watching videos, though we like that too. The Internet is a path to prosperity for real people in your neighborhood. People that pay their Network Service Provider for access to the Internet in order to use a service like Square.

It is this system of establishing temporary pipes that offers all of us, Network Service Providers, Content companies, and Business Service Providers the opportunity to cooperate with each other in a way that benefits everyone, most especially our mutual customers. Establishing these temporary pipes requires the deployment of physical infrastructure, and on a global scale.

Examples of how this cooperation has benefitted the many global users of the Internet can be found with a quick web search. Both Facebook and Google, for instance, have taken part in separate cable consortiums to help fund the construction, and operation, of sub sea cable systems that are required to move information across the Pacific and around Asia. Their partners in these consortiums are various Network Service Providers that use the same physical infrastructure to carry Internet traffic and phone calls. When we work together, everyone benefits.

Similarly, Facebook partnered with a European telephone company, TeliaSonera, to build a network that connects their Data Center in Lulea, Sweden to the various peering points throughout Europe. “Peering” is another example of cooperation between various networks that comprise the Internet and is a key part of how all of our web traffic makes it from our residence, or place of business, to wherever it is destined and vice versa.

Peering is a system in which Internet companies agree to exchange traffic in a specific building, usually free of charge. Think of it as a giant telephone switch in which multiple companies plug in their line, pay for the jack that their phone is connected to and agree to communicate freely between each other. Some companies will require a single jack, others will require multiple. It makes no difference, the company using the jack pays for it.

These giant phone switches have to live somewhere that all interested parties can also establish a presence. These facilities, often called Carrier Hotels, are usually owned and operated by a neutral third party and operate a lot like any hotel, or apartment building. Each of the interested parties, those that want to pay for the jacks on the giant phone switch, rent space and power within the facility and pay the facility operator to run phone lines from their “apartment” to the giant phone switch.

This model of cooperation has worked to grow the Internet from an idea into an indispensable utility. It behooves all of us to stop any one member of this broad system from becoming the gatekeeper of the temporary pipes. It behooves all of us to keep our customers first and continue to improve on this indispensable utility. This is what the FCC, our Government, is doing by supporting “Net Neutrality.” They are working to preserve a system that has benefitted all of us greatly.

#mhh

It’s no mystery.

I knew, when listening to you was the sound of sand slipping through.

I am confounded… astounded… dumbfounded.

My heart hurts each time the break away begins.

My soul burns, the world turns, and I’m left wanting more.

The storm holds, the sun folds, and I don’t know how to deal.

My heart hurts, my heart hurts. What do I even know anymore?

This fragility consumes.

The righteous, the wicked, the middling are not immune.

It’s astounding… confounding and dumbfounding.

My heart hurts each time the break away begins.

My soul burns, the world turns, and I’m left wanting more.

The storm holds, the sun folds, and I don’t know how to deal.

My heart hurts, my heart hurts. What do I even know anymore?

I know you. I know you. I know you.