May the Flow Be With You: My Love for Sankeys and Star Wars
“Too strong the Flow with this one is… Mmmmh…” Had Master Yoda plotted a Sankey diagram of the main characters in Star Wars based on their screen times, he would have most likely said that.
Star Wars is one of the most impactful popular culture franchises of the 20th and 21st centuries, deeply embedded in the coming-of-age narrative format of transmission of values and identity de/re/construction and negotiation. I grew up with the original trilogy — I remember watching Episode VI in one of my hometown’s well-known cinemas. Sitting on my dad’s coat so that I could see past the person sitting in front of me, I was 4 years old and amazed. A few decades later, I came across the list of Star Wars characters’ screen times on IMDB, I couldn’t help myself but to collect the data and plot a flow chart to finally have a general overview of all nine films and finally figure out who wins the ultimate prize of screen monopoly. Of course, I already had an inkling and could’ve simply summed up the figures, but plotting a Sankey is SO much more satisfying! It was an excuse, but it was a fun one!
Sankey diagrams are, in my opinion, one of the most elegant ways to represent data — each chart to its own, but I would choose a Sankey over a pie, e-v-e-r-y single time. Python and Plotly were my language and library of choice as the latter allows html export and interactivity. The characters are on the left and the films on the right — the flow only moves in one direction, from the character to the film. Let’s enter the intricate spaghetti of Star Wars Sankey World!
#1: The Generational Intricacy
The home view presents the films in the narrative’s chronological order, i.e. from The Phantom Menace to The Rise of Skywalker. Therefore, the distribution of the characters are finely balanced between order of appearance and recurrence. The spaghetti thickness represents screen time in minutes. Just like any coming-of-age narrative that spans decades, each trilogy is a story of a generation of characters (and viewers!). We can already see the prominence of the Skywalkers, which is only confirmed by the hierarchical aggregation of all flows per most screen time: Anakin, Luke, Rey — a story of transmission, filiation and adoption.
#2: The Father Figure
Anakin / Vader wins screen monopoly, even though he appears in only six films out of nine. I originally split Anakin and Vader into two flows, but finally decided against it, as ontologically the character is one and the name change only comes to express what is already there. Their duplicity is intrinsic and therefore reflected within their names and appearance. It is interesting that the whole narrative is really about the tormented father figure, even though the last trilogy puts female characters to the fore, trying to restore the balance.
#3: The Guardians
The only characters that are tying all nine films together are the comic-relief duo: the droids C-3PO and R2D2. If we stick to the logic of storytelling in the Star Wars saga, i.e. consider that the first chapter is Episode IV, the droids are the plot initiators when they deliver the message to Obi-Wan Kenobi in Episode IV, setting the whole narrative into motion. I find it quite enjoyable to read them as the guardians, the only characters to have the most complete (or the least fragmented) version of the narrative because they witnessed it, lived through it and preserved the history of events deep within their circuits so the story can be told. Long live the droids!
Access to the interactive sankey diagram: Character screentimes (jelenaristic.info)
Thank you for reading, have fun exploring and may the flow be with you!
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