Return of the Jedi

A long time ago (20 years, to be exact) in a galaxy (or more likely a cineplex) far, far away (so far that your mom probably had to drive you there)...

1997 is a big year for Star Wars fans. To mark the original film's 20th anniversary, Star Wars director and creator George Lucas, using the latest technologies, has retooled the original film and the two sequels, adding some cut scenes, enhancing the special effects and reworking the soundtrack .

In fact, as you read this, the new version of the first film is playing on some 1,800 screens nationwide (compared to the paltry 32 screens of the original's debut). Star Wars fanatics won't have to wait three years this time for a sequel; a re-tooled version of The Empire Strikes Back hits theaters on Feb. 21, with a refurbished print of Return of the Jedi following on March 7.

Tweaking a masterpiece is a risky proposition. The results can be stunning, as was the case with the extensive cleaning of Michelangelo's frescoes in the Sistine Chapel or the director's cut of Blade Runner. But more often, the new rendition resembles something like Frampton Comes Alive II or the colorized version of Casablanca.

Nowhere has the debate over the new version been more fiercely deliberated than on the Net, where purists and revisionists have been trading salvos on the Star Wars newsgroups for months. If nothing else, the new films have given Star Wars aficionados bigger issues to discuss than whether Boba Fett is a woman or if Princess Leia could beat up Star Trek: The Next Generation's Counselor Troi.

So why mess with a classic? The answer seems to be twofold. George Lucas is notoriously press-shy, but he provides the following explanation at the Star Wars: Special Edition Web site ( "There were various things, especially in the original film, that I wasn't satisfied with--special effects shots that never were really finished, scenes that I'd wanted to include that couldn't be included for some reason, mostly money and time. I really wanted to fix the films and have them be complete."

While Lucas may claim that his main purpose in retooling the films was to perfect them, clearly the special editions are being used to prime the pump of skywalker fever in anticipation of the release of the first film of a new Star Wars trilogy in 1999. The new trio of films are actually a prequel to the original trilogy and will focus on young Anakin Skywalker (Darth Vader before he went bad) and his relationship with Luke's and Leia's mom.

On the Net, the Star Wars franchise ranks right up there in popularity with Star Trek and The X-Files in the holy geek trinity. For instance, the name Luke Skywalker returns a staggering 5,230 hits in the Hotbot search engine-- placing the young Jedi nearly neck-and-neck with Capt. Kirk (5,295) but well behind Fox Mulder (7,580) in this highly unscientific means of measuring Net popularity.

Better evidence of the film's online devotion can be found at the Internet Movie Database ( There, Star Wars reigns as king at the top of a user poll of the 250 greatest movies of all time (Empire is 27th and Jedi is 64th). In addition, on a weekly basis, Star Wars is consistently among the top 10 visited pages among the site's 87,000-plus entries.

Col Needham, the IMDB's managing director, speculates that the film is so highly regarded by netizens because "(A) It is a good movie and (B) if you think about the average age of the bulk of Net users, most were kids when Star Wars was either in its first run or one of the re-releases, so it's a natural favorite--maybe it was the first big movie they got to see at a theater."

Glen Duchacek, Creator of Glen's Star Wars Archives (see review in sidebar), says that the Star Wars craze is not entirely a recent development. "I have been connected for almost two years and Star Wars was still really popular then. As the last two years have progressed, I have seen an increase in the Star Wars support on the Net."

Fandom permeates the entire Internet. There are hundreds of unofficial Star Wars Web sites (981 at press time, if you believe Yahoo!), not to mention five newsgroups, a mailing list and an IRC channel. "all of the kids (myself included) that were into Star Wars when it was first released are now earning money and have access to computers and the Internet. Which means they can purchase the new range of figures and can communicate to other fans via the Internet about various Star Wars topics," Duchacek says.

So, what makes a good Star Wars site? Jason Ruspini, creator of the Star Wars Home Page at UPENN (see review in below), which is often cited as one of the best fan sites, says there are three key elements: news of upcoming films, multimedia files, and obscure and irreverent files (trivia, bloopers, humor, behind-the-scenes stories, etc.). Beyond that, Ruspini says a good site should have "(an) excellent but not necessarily complicated graphical design and be as interactive as possible.

"I think that if a site has most of these core elements and chooses a unique focus, it is a good Star Wars site. Of course, you can do what I tried to do and build a totally comprehensive one. I think sites like that for any subject are important because they help to set standards for the depth of information content on the web."

And while Fox and Viacom have made recent overtures toward shutting down unofficial X-Files and Star Trek sites, it appears the creators of Star Wars fan sites can breathe easy, at least for now. Last April, Ruspini received a phone call from a Lucasfilm representative. Ruspini was told in no uncertain terms that his site violated copyrights and he'd have to shut it down. As soon as this news hit the Net, Star Wars fanatics quickly mobilized, forming the Star of Alderaan (named for the highest honor awarded to heroes of the Rebel Alliance) to protest the crackdown. Lucasfilm retreated, sending Ruspini a letter, which is currently posted at his site, that said they were by no means trying to shut down his site. "Lucasfilm appreciates Star Wars fans' support...Since the Internet is growing so fast, we are in the process of developing guidelines for how we can enhance the ability of Star Wars fans to communicate with each other without infringing on Star Wars copyrights and trademarks."

Lucasfilm has yet to furnish those guidelines to Ruspini or the Net community. Perhaps they realized that rather than chase down college students who copied and pasted a picture of Chewbacca to their sites, they should concentrate their efforts on making their own official site vibrant and indispensable. A look at the official site reveals that the decision paid off (see review below).

The Boba Fett Home Page
Everything you really wanted to know about the reticent bounty hunter, but were afraid to ask. Some of the questions probed here: Are Han and Boba brothers? Is Boba a third Skywalker? What's so cool about Boba Fett, anyway? At one point, it was hip in certain circles to claim that your favorite character was Boba Fett, but in recent years Fett-fetishism has gone way mainstream, as witnessed here by the links page that lists a staggering number of other Fett pages.

Cool Star Wars Site of the Week
Perhaps the ultimate badge of honor in the galaxy of Star Wars Web sites is the CSWSOW icon, a sign that your site has risen above the morass of the Dagobah swamp of ordinary pages and is now shining with the intensity of 100 lightsabers.

Evan Strikes Back
A great comprehensive site with a sense of humor. Check out the particularly good "Cut Scenes" page and don't miss the report from Evan's dinner with David Prowse (the actor in the Darth Vader costume).

Glen's Star Wars Archive
A great place to bone up on your Star Wars acumen. Glen, a college student from the U.K., has many buried treasures at his site including George Lucas' alternate draft of the original film in which, among other things, Luke Starkiller (not Skywalker) lives at home with his twin sister Leia, and C3PO has a beefed- up role which includes flying an X-Fighter side-by-side with Luke in the final scenes. Not a lot of bells and whistles, but packed with arcane information.

Yet another massive repository of Star Wars trivialities and treatises. Highlights include: Star Wars philosophy (one would-be Marge Schott has the audacity to say that the Empire was basically good), Obi-Wan's weekly trivia contest and monthly polls on subjects such as which of the three Star Wars films is the best (surprisingly, Jedi won).

Jeff's Guide to the Star Wars Drinking Game
You know the drill. Get a case of Schlitz, invite some of your buddies over, pop Star Wars in the VCR and drink on cue. The Star Wars game is actually a lot more complicated than the original "Hi Bob" drinking game in which would-be drunkards only had to take a sip when someone on the Bob Newhart Show uttered the requisite greeting. Among the occasions to drink when watching the trilogy: when anybody insults the Millennium Falcon (twice, if it's Leia), when a Stormtrooper's armor proves useless and when Yoda uses bad grammar.

Star Wars Action Figure Web
Your first stop if you're an action figure aficionado. Here, you'll find photos of virtually every action figure ever produced (and some that were never produced). Wait until you see the JPEGs of the Mexican Obi-Wan figure, the Polish Boba Fett figure and the Turkish Darth Vader figure.

Star Wars Collector Circle
This site is a "scalper-free zone," meaning there's nothing being bought or sold; rather, this is the place for Star Wars enthusiasts to trade toys and memorabilia. Before entering the trade areas, check out the monthly newsletter or swap rumors in the "Imperial Whispers" area.

Star Wars Encyclopedia
From Alderaan to Zuckuss, this encyclopedia is a great place for young Jedis and Jedi masters alike to get the lowdown on every character, setting and ship in the Trilogy galaxy. The encyclopedia, the work of a Dutch fan, is completely illustrated and cross-referenced with hyperlinks. Don't miss the "Fact or Fiction" section for some particularly amusing and enlightening trivia bits.

Star Wars Home Page at UPENN
Without question, the unofficial Star Wars site. This massive archive has news, pictures, sound files and more. Among the requisite trilogy minutiae found here were these nuggets: news that composer John Williams is stepping down from the Boston Pops, sexually explicit Star Wars fiction and the lyrics to Weird Al's "Yoda" (a parody of the Kinks' "Lola").

The Star Wars Role-playing club
Have you dreamt of flying the Millennium Falcon, firing up a lightsaber or trying to blow up the Death Star? You're not alone. Why not join the hundreds of other fanatics who are using the Net to play Star Wars role-playing games? In the same vein as Dungeons and Dragons, the Club invites you to create a character that will inhabit a text-based version of the Star Wars galaxy. Follow the directions laid out at this site, and you'll be up and flying your own X- Fighter in no time.

Star Wars Trilogy: The Official Web Site
Cut to the chase and get your info on the Star Wars films from the official source. This relatively new site is nicely done, but considering the subject area, the amount of content is a little on the light side (to their credit, a notice at the site states that they are "starting out modestly, just as George Lucas did 20 years ago"). Highlights at this site include the "What Has Changed" section that details the improvements made to the special-edition versions and an essay from Lucas himself on why he made the changes. Kudos to the design team for using a map of the Star Wars galaxy to organize the site into sections like Hoth, the Death Star and Bespin.

Star Wars Web Ring
The goal of this site is to have all the Star Wars sites on the Web linked in a giant ring. What purpose this serves is questionable.

Trek vs. Wars
Which is better, Star Trek or Star Wars? This site, really just an essay, attempts to answer this eternal question. But rather than comparing the competing sci-fi franchises' plotlines, acting or character development, this Webmaster focuses on which universe has bigger guns and cooler ships. While we wait for someone to objectively compare the considerable histrionics of Mark Hamill and William Shatner, we'll have to make due with biased commentary like this: "Star Wars focuses on making the people enjoy the movies while Star Trek don't care as long as they satisfy their fellow nerds by presenting logical scientific explanations for everything that happens."

The Wedge Antilles Worship Page
Amazingly, this is just one of eight pages we found dedicated to Wedge, the only rebel pilot besides Luke to survive all three films. Here, you'll find an interview with the actor who played Wedge, an explanation for this obscure character's popularity and best of all, a collection of famous Wedge quotes like "Going in!" and "Look at the size of that thing!"

You Know You're A Star Wars Geek When...
Putting a new twist on the tiresome Jeff Foxworthy comedic schtick, this site will help you determine if you are merely a fan or if you should seek psychiatric help. Among the signs of Star Wars geekdom: "You know more about the history of Dagobah than you do about Earth" and "You're wondering, 'Why the hell am I reading this crap? I could be watching Star Wars right now!"

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