December 11, 2015
The Force is quantifiable with this one. (Screen shot, Bloomberg Business)

The Force is quantifiable with this one. (Screen shot, Bloomberg Business)

The Force is probably the most recognizable thing from the “Star Wars” universe, but it’s also pretty vague, said Mark Glassman, a writer and data journalist for Bloomberg Businessweek. “But if you do look at it and you start to categorize it, there are aspects to it that are quantifiable, that can tell you meaningful things.”

You can find those meaningful things today in Bloomberg Business’ interactive “Star Wars: The Force Accounted,” which illustrates good Force vs. evil Force screen time, when the Force is mentioned, when it comes up in each of the six films and more.

Glassman said the team he worked with knew it would be silly to just count things in the series.

“We wanted to narrow the focus,” he said, and they wanted to make it relateable to the latest film, “The Force Awakens,” which comes out Dec. 18.

“We knew that the new movie is going to involve the Force in some way, waking up apparently, and so we asked what was the state of the Force when it went to sleep?”

This isn’t the first time Bloomberg Business has taken on a film franchise. In November, they published “The (James) Bond Index,” identifying the traits that make a Bond a Bond and seeing how each Bond measures against the others.

So Pierce Brosnan was the funny Bond. (Screen shot, Bloomberg Business)

Pierce Brosnan was the funny Bond. (Screen shot, Bloomberg Business)

And they took a similar approach with the “Fast & Furious” franchise in April with “Proof That ‘Furious 7’ Is the Fastest and Most Furious Movie Yet.” After those two projects, they had a sense of how to approach “Star Wars.”

Glassman worked with Jeremy Scott Diamond in Bloomberg Graphics, Businessweek designer Chandra Illick, Bloomberg visual journalist Chloe Whiteaker, markets news editor Dashiell Bennett and Bloomberg Digital project manager Tait Foster. The team downloaded digital copies of each movie and had three coders watching each one of them. Glassman and Illick watched all six.

“For ‘Star Wars,’ we knew that there was going to be a higher level of scrutiny on the data, so it was important for us to be as accurate as possible,” Glassman said.

The group operated out of a spreadsheet, he said, and “it was a lot of pausing, a lot of checking things, a lot of going back, using the arrow keys to navigate manually…”

After they gathered their data, they got together with the others who watched the same movie and hashed out discrepancies. “When differences could not be reconciled, the novelizations and screenplays of the films were used as references,” the project explains at the end under methodology.

Glassman isn’t a huge “Star Wars” fan, by the way.

“I’m probably more of a Star Trek guy,” he said.

And not everyone involved with the project is a die-hard. But they were all excited about the project and passionate about being accurate, consistent and true to the movies and data, Glassman said.

And after three or four weeks in search of quantifying the elusive Force, they did find it. Sort of.

“I think the most surprising thing to us was how little time in the overall franchise is actually dedicated to clear and observable uses of the Force,” Glassman said. “It’s the heart of the franchise, and yet we don’t really see it wielded in a kind of tangible way as often as I might have expected going in.”


Previously: The L.A. Times has the ‘Star Wars’ style guide you’ve been wishing for

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Kristen Hare teaches local journalists the critical skills they need to serve and cover their communities as Poynter's local news faculty member. Before joining faculty…
Kristen Hare

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