e + 1 = 0

April 11, 2002

How mythic is Star Wars?

A recent article at Salon argues that Star Wars was inspired by pulp Sci-Fi, not epic mythology. Over the years, a legend has grown up around the space opera that it derives its amazing popularity from its distillation and retelling of various primal mythological storytelling things. That way, academics can talk about it without having to admit they enjoyed a mere science fiction-y movie.

In actual fact, Star Wars’s dept to old-school science fiction is both large and obvious, as the debt owed by dozens of other movies to Star Wars. I won’t claim that Star Wars is the greatest movie ever made (although I’ve known people who did), but it does manage to be an exciting and fun tale, despite the bad dialogue and inept direction. (Yes, I’m one of the poor souls who like The Empire Strikes Back best of the trilogy.)

My major complaint with Star Wars is not its immaturity but its authoritarian undertones. The Star Wars universe is pretty much divided between Important People (who can be Good or Evil) and random bystanders. Thus, Darth Vader, who is Important, can be redeemed by saving the life of his also-Important son, despite having been a highly-ranked official in a despotic empire that blows up inhabited planets as an interrogation technique.

The thing is, people like stories about Important People. Maybe we like them because we fantasize about being them, or maybe it comes from our origins as a tribal species. By itself, it isn’t enough to make a story good or bad, as is illustrated by relative qualities of the Oz and Narnia books. #

Getting high on Google

Raph Levien (whose name keeps jumping out at me as a typo—unless “Raph” is a typo) explains how Google’s page-rank algorithms can produce unexpected results. Pages are rated by the number and quality of pages that link to them. When Google performs a query, it looks for pages containing the search words (or which have inbound links containing the search words) and ranks them according to several factors. Unfortunately, this can result in a page being highly-placed in the results list even though it only mentions the query terms in passing.

Mr Levien also mentions IBM’s Clever project, which is similar to Google but has a few interesting differences. For example, pages are rated by the quality of the pages which link to them and by the quality of pages they link to. (That is, if nobody links to me, but I link to very good pages, then I’m also good.) Clever is also used to group sites into clusters of related interests, taking advantage of the fact that on-line communities tend to have lots of links to other members of the community. Sadly, Clever is oriented more towards research than general public use. (via Wesley Felter) #