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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

A Rant Too Long for Facebook: StarWars.com at 20

Two years ago, I was reading the coverage from a tech conference.  This one article was confused as to why Pizza Hut was giving a keynote address at a conference for web developers.  The author eventually discovered that Pizza Hut was there to talk about their website.  When Pizza Hut launched their website in 1994, it was the first website for a major pizza chain that let you place your order online...bleeding edge technology in 1994.  So Pizza Hut was there to talk about the 20th anniversary of that milestone. I walked away from that article thinking, "Have we really reached the point where websites are celebrating 20th anniversaries?  Is the Internet really that old now?  Am I?"

It's a wave that's been washing over me once again as my social media lit up with the celebration that this past Saturday, November 26, was the 20th anniversary of www.starwars.com, the official Star Wars website.  As they share in the extensive oral history they compiled to commemorate this occasion, starwars.com was originally launched to promote the special editions coming in the spring of 1997.  But, with development on the prequels well underway, and dot-com bubble not having popped yet, George Lucas knew he wanted a toehold on this new Internet thing to start spreading the gospel of the prequels.  And here we are now, 20 years later, and it's still the online hub for all things Star Wars.

As I read up on this, I had two fond memories of starwars.com that I felt like sharing.  First up, was the incident that made starwars.com, the release of the first Episode I teaser.  It was on a wintry November night in 1998, much like this one.  I was still in college, living in the dorms at Augustana University College.  That previous summer, the dorms had been wired into the campus computer network, and I tell you, having high speed Internet in the time when a 28.8k modem for your dial-up was considered fast...well, it was the best perk of living on campus.

The trailer went online, and even with the campus Internet, it was slow going to download that trailer.  I had a special download manager on my computer, so I set it to download the trailer at 2AM.  I figured that would be when the campus computer network would be at its least-used.  I woke up the next morning to the trailer, watched it several times, and it was all we were talking about over breakfast in the cafeteria.

A lot of my classmates were studying computer science, and as such, they were in tight with the campus IT folks.  They learned from the IT department that, while so many students downloading  the trailer didn't crash the network, there was a not-insignificant slowdown in service.

The second memory has to do with Hyperspace.  For a while there, starwars.com had a paid subscription service called Hyperspace, a section of the website that granted you exclusive access to all kinds of exclusive exclusives. 

2007 marked the 30th anniversary of the franchise, and to celebrate, Hasbro released some of the most beautiful Star Wars action figures...the McQuarrie concept figures.  These figures went back to the beginning, and were based on Ralph McQuarrie's original concept art. 

And it turned out that one of those Hyperspace exclusives was the McQuarrie concept R2-D2 and C-3P0. 

Now I didn't have a Hyperspace account.  Didn't see the need.  But I had a friend with one.  And I needed the McQuarrie R2-D2 and C-3P0 for my collection.  So I plied him with e-mails asking him to buy it for me and I'd totally pay him back and all that stuff.  He said he'd look into it.

A couple weeks later, I came back from vacation to find a box from the FedEx guy sitting on my desk.

McQuarrie Concept R2-D2 and C-3P0

It even came in that nifty protective plastic bubble.  They used to sell those protective plastic bubbles at starwars.com's online store, and I thought about buying a case or two for my collection, but the shipping and handling out of the States was ridiculous.

Anyway, that's it.  Just some ramblings about the 20th anniversary of starwars.com that was a little too big for a Facebook post.  Looking at the calendar, I see that the next 20th anniversary of a website that's going to make me feel old comes a year from now...November 2017.  Which website is it?

My website, chaosinabox.com

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