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Star Wars waged on Web

The new Star Wars site is yet another example of the marriage of Silicon Valley technology and Hollywood glitz.

When Star Wars debuted two decades ago, many people watched it from a parked car at the drive-in. Although outdoor theaters have faded, the legendary film is returning with a decidedly '90s twist: a massive Web site.

The Star Wars Trilogy Special Edition site is reaching fans with "accurate news," teasers, and interviews in between the re-releases of Star Wars this weekend, The Empire Strikes Back on February 21, and Return of the Jedi on March 7.

While Lucasfilm's galactic adventures for Luke Skywalker and the gang were pioneering, the company is not even close to being the first to launch a film promotion on the Web.

For several years, Hollywood tycoons have plastered the Web with interactive games, exclusive movie footage, and real-time chats with stars--all in the interest of selling more tickets at the box office. The marriage of Silicon Valley technology with Hollywood has spawned a new industry known as "Siliwood" and the Web plays a major role.

All the major studios have big Web sites including 20th Century Fox , Lucasfilm's distribution partner in Star Wars. Others promotional sites were built by Paramount , Warner Brothers, MGM/UA Artist, Walt Disney Studios, and Sony Pictures.

"Movie banner advertisers and movie Web sites seem to be a growing percentage of Web advertising," said David Carlick, executive vice president of Poppe Tyson, an advertising firm that specializes in Net strategies.

Added Kate Dellhagen, new-media analyst with Forrester Research: "Movie companies interactive programming will grow in 1997. The entertainment and film industry were the first to create ad campaigns under the guise of a Web site."

Dellhagen said users will have high expectations for the Star Wars Web site because the movie was at the cutting edge of special effects. As a result, Lucasfilm must maximize the Web's potential to keep fans interested, perhaps by adding interactive games and online chat to the site.

The long-awaited Star Wars probably doesn't need much help filling seats, but its original audience (some who were still in "footie-pajamas" the first time around) has grown up. A Web site on the Net helps marry both generations.

The site also provides an insider's commentary on the hit movies. For example, director George Lucas strolls down memory lane on the site, and explains why he brought the films back.

"The original inspiration for bringing the films back to the big screen was the twentieth anniversary of the original release of Star Wars," he says.

Lucas also said he wanted to use the latest technology to bring the films to their full potential, "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."

In addition the site lists international release dates, email updates, and games. Star Wars has features for children, too, including a coloring book, and a site by Hasbro that sells toys.

"We wanted people to have accurate and up-to-date information, and to bring people more into the creative process," said Lynn Hale, Lucasfilm director of public relations.

She said the Net was a natural medium as people increasingly go online. (In recent interviews, Lucas has confessed that he's not a Web fanatic, however.)

As always there are imitations. Lucasfilm says there are at least 400 Star Wars trilogy sites on the Web such as: The Corellian Star Wars Archive, The Ultimate Stars Wars Links Page, and Star Wars links to the Galaxy.

Although a Lucasfilm employee asked a college student to remove his site last year, the company concedes it was a mistake and backed off. "Our legal department is still looking into guidelines, but we appreciate the fan's enthusiasm," Hale said.

Next week more The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi features will be added to the site. The Web team is also trying to add more multimedia components to show how the films are really made.