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Apple feels the Force with Star Wars

The new trailer for The Phantom Menace is available only in Apple's QuickTime format on the Web.

The Phantom Menace swept across the Net today, clogging Web servers and filling PC speakers with the familiar strains of the Star Wars theme.

The occasion was Lucasfilm's release of the second trailer for the much-anticipated Star Wars prequel movie. In keeping with its policy of steadily managing fans' growing excitement, the studio has made this trailer longer than the original "teaser trailer," including more detail of the film's full story.

But this time around, the Force is also playing favorites. The trailer is available only in Apple's QuickTime format on the Web.

Lucas representatives said they had formatted the trailer solely for Apple's video software largely as a reaction to the response following the first Web release.

"George Lucas has very high standards for the way any of his products are displayed," said Jim Ward, Lucasfilm's director of marketing. Ward said that fans of the movie wrote in after the release of the teaser trailer last year saying that the QuickTime format had been the best.

Ward would not comment on whether Apple had paid Lucasfilm for the privilege, other than to say the two companies have closely collaborated in developing the infrastructure for the release.

It's not the first time that Apple has successfully paired up with sci-fi cinema. Movie buffs were astonished to see that Jeff Goldblum's Macintosh laptop was able to tap into an alien warship's computer system, infect it with a custom virus, and save Earth in the 1996 movie Independence Day.

That's just the kind of hyperbole that makes Apple interim CEO Steve Job's month. The Star Wars trailer probably won't have this kind of earthshaking effect, however, but it does provide a huge endorsement for Job's QuickTime Web video technology over competing streaming technology, which often gets more media attention.

"Where can you view the new Star Wars trailer? Not on RealNetworks' Real Player. Not on Microsoft's Media Player," Jobs said in a statement accompanying the version of the trailer posted on Apple's Web site.

But some Windows users weren't as happy as Jobs. If users didn't already have Quicktime on their desktop, they were faced with a 6 Megabyte download before they could watch the movie scenes.

Even those with the software weren't always able to make it run effectively. Some users reported that even after installing the software, they weren't able to make the movie run without re-downloading and re-installing the program.

Nevertheless, the response clogged the Star Wars web site, making it occasionally unavailable to users during the day. By the close of business hours, Apple was projecting that the two official sites would see 1 million downloads of the trailer in 24 hours.

Linux users also encountered a few hurdles. Apple only provides QuickTime players for the Macintosh and Windows OS, leaving the open-source advocates without an initial viewing platform. Several sites around the Web later posted the trailers in reformated versions such as MPEG, however, expanding the potential audience.

Outside sites that mirrored the video also were overwhelmed by the response.

The theater version of the trailer will be released tomorrow. This will be the final trailer released before the movie itself comes out May 19, according to Luscasfilm.