Dataviz as Maps: Star Wars, In One Chart (with apologies to Charles Minard)


One of the most famous maps incorporating time was created in 1861 by Charles Minard, a French Engineer.  The map and chart, entitled, “Carte figurative des pertes successives en hommes de l’Armée Française dans la campagne de Russie 1812-1813″, brilliantly illustrated the march to and from the Polish-Russian border to Moscow by Napoleon’s army and was profiled in the article, Spatial Unmapped on GIS Lounge.

422,000 soldiers began the journey in June of 1812 towards Moscow and only 10,000 made it back to the border after the failed invasion.  Minard’s map has been acclaimed by many for its clear use of geography and time to show how devastating the invasion of Russia by France was on the troops.

Noted statistician and Yale professor, Edward Tufte, declared in his 1983 book The Visual Display of Quantitative Information that the Minard graph “may well be the best statistical graphic ever drawn.

Star Wars – The Minard Way

The Galactic Civil War, as has been told through Episodes 4-7 of the seven Star Wars movies and its offshoot, Rogue One, pitted the Imperial Navy, one of the most sophisticated fighting forces in history, against the ragtag Rebel Alliance. The rebels resoundingly defeated the advances of the better-supplied fleet in a stunning six-year guerrilla war. How did this happen?

FiveThirtyEight did some analysis of the expeditionary force that saw the bulk of the fighting in the main theater of the rebellion — that is, from Scarif (Rouge One) to Yavin (A New Hope) to Hoth (The Empire Strikes Back) and finally Endor (Return of the Jedi) — found that the consolidation of Imperial forces in immense capital ships and battlestations led to catastrophic losses.

Walt Hickey and Ella Koeze, of FiveThirty Eight, have cleverly depicted these battles using a flow map similar to the one Charles Minard created to map Napoleon’s devastating loss in the Battle of 1812 (The Russian Campaign).

So, with apologies to Charles Joseph Minard and his visualization of Napoleon’s invasion of Russia, here is why you never invade Hoth in winter:


Per Hickey and Koeze’s analysis,

The Empire’s fatal strategy was particularly obvious at Yavin, when the first Death Star was destroyed — causing the deaths of approximately 2.4 million personnel, or the equivalent of 50 Star Destroyer crews — and at Endor, where the destruction of the second Death Star, a large portion of the Star Destroyer fleet and the Super Star Destroyer Executor led to the demise [of Emperor Palpatine (and Darth Vader/Anakin Skywalker)].  The historical documents are silent on the fate of any troops who might have been taken prisoner, but it may have been grisly. of an estimated 78 Star Destroyers worth of Imperial personnel (3.6 million personnel).

Troops and material weren’t the only deciding factor in the conflict. There was also the Force, and the events of Endor shifted the balance of that power toward the Jedi for the first time in the war’s history.

[FiveThirtyEight’s] chart focuses solely on the military forces shown in the documentaries “Rogue One,” “Star Wars: A New Hope,” “The Empire Strike Back” and “The Return of the Jedi.” General estimates for the number of capital ships come courtesy of Lucasfilm historians, with gaps in the official record filled. Casualties among the Star Destroyer fleet at Endor are estimates based on the canonical survival rates of known, named Star Destroyers at the battle, which yields a roughly 50 percent survival rate for this class of ship. through estimation after research on Wookieepedia and through careful examination of the films themselves. Imperial forces not seen on-screen are not counted as part of the expeditionary counter-Rebellion force.

I have included an annotate version of FiveThirtyEight’s flow map below to better show the balance of power through these four documentaries (films).


Source: Walt Hickey and Ella Koeze, Star Wars, In One Chart,, December 16, 2016,


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