Like many of the worlds in the Star Wars universe, the Internet might be considered hostile terrain for some. But for Lucasfilm Ltd., it proved to be the perfect place to let fans know about the first episode in the Star Wars saga, "The Phantom Menace."
Through its Web site at starwars.com, Lucasfilm gave fans enticing glimpses into the production process, whether it was through profiles of crew members or a Real Video documentary series Making Episode I: Lynne's Diary. The site was also the place to get the official word on items like the movie's title, images of the theatrical posters, changing the release date from May 21 to May 19, and what font would be used for subtitles (it's ITC Franklin Gothic Demi Bold, 69 point with -30 tracking).
"It's a great way to communicate with the press, to put the word out," said Lucasfilm spokeswoman Jeannie Cole. "(But) we didn't want to ruin the surprise (with fans). We wanted to keep it fresh and exciting."
But the Web site couldn't prepare for the excitement of having the second two-minute and thirty-second trailer for "The Phantom Menace" available for download on March 11. In fact, the site went down for a few hours because of the massive traffic. Apple Computers, whose QuickTime movie format was used to present the trailer, helped alleviate traffic by offering the trailer on its Web site, apple.com.
Over a five-day period, Apple and Lucasfilm accumulated over 3.5 million downloads, which set an Internet record at that time.
Fans' appetites were first whetted in November 1998 with the teaser trailer. When it was first previewed in front of select movies before the official Nov. 20 release, fans paid for the full movie admission, watched the trailer, then left. Lucasfilm eventually made the trailer available for download on the Web.
Writer/Director George Lucas was surprised at the fans' response. "It has been so gratifying to hear that people have enjoyed the trailer," he said in a news item from the Web site. "I was glad that we could do the sneak preview for the fans, and really overwhelmed at the response we got from so many different people through the week...you never really know what kind of reaction you're going to get."
For those fans who wanted more than what Lucasfilm was revealing, fan-run sites like TheForce.Net, T'Bone's Star Wars Universe and JediNet satisfied their hungers. However, Cole said that Lucasfilm wouldn't confirm or deny rumors until the movie's release on May 19 (or May 3, when the screenplay and novel were available for purchase). If something appeared on the official Star Wars Web site, then it was considered fact.
One of the funniest rumors that Lucasfilm heard during the casting of Episode I was that Charlton Heston would be the voice of Yoda.
But if there was a time that rivaled Episode I's excitement, it happened in 1997 when the original Star Wars trilogy hit theaters with new footage and enhanced special effects.
"We thought it was going to be a quiet release," Cole said. "(Like "A New Hope") we didn't anticipate the success. We were glad everyone were having fun."