- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 30, 2001

A man and his imagination created a fantasy world in 1977 that has become one of the greatest popular culture forces in the world. George Lucas and his cinematic "Star Wars" universe has appealed to young and old through wondrous lands, swashbuckling adventure and unforgettable characters.

A Web site developed by his company will grab the attention of young padawans Jedi knights in training mixing fun with the story of the Skywalkers.

Star Wars Kids

Site address: www.starwarskids.com


Lucasfilm Ltd., established in 1971 and based in Marin County, Calif., established Star Wars Kids in April 2000.

Creator quotable:

"We created the site to provide kids age 8 to 12 an interactive opportunity to get more involved in the 'Star Wars' saga," says Marni Taradash, content manager.

"The content is designed as an on-ramp to the rich 'Star Wars' universe, highlighting characters, droids, vehicles, planets and story line. The site especially aims to draw connections between the original trilogy and the new films, while also educating kids about how George Lucas and his team create movie magic."

Word from the Webwise:

The site offers generations affected by the four movies a chance to immerse their offspring in the fantasy.

Star Wars Kids uses attractions based on the series of movies: "Episode 1: The Phantom Menace," "Episode 4: A New Hope," "Episode 5: The Empire Strikes Back," "Episode 6: Return of the Jedi" and the upcoming "Episode 2: Attack of the Clones."

A quick-loading front page presents four sections "Enter the Saga," "The Arena," "Behind the Saga" and "Star Wars Fun Features" and a search engine restricted to the site all residing next to a lightsabre-wielding Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Each of the four sections contains a number of features highlighted with images from the films and sounds of droids whirring with animated menu screens.

The casual visitor should begin with "Enter the Saga" to find a wealth of information. Within this section, visitors can concentrate on "The Skywalker Family Album" for an overview of the generations that defined a galaxy, and "Star Wars Reference Gallery" for details on characters, scenes, droids and technology indigenous to the epic.

The gallery uses informative captions and full-color images that change when clicked to reveal nuggets such as design elements of Queen Amidala's Royal Starship (from "The Phantom Menace") or a look at Jabba the Hutt's entertainer Sy Snootles (from "Return of the Jedi").

Although I would not consider the site an oasis of educational opportunities overall, plenty of challenges exist to hone memory, decision-making and logic skills while expanding creativity.

For example, under "The Arena" visitors can choose from five games, such as "Word Puzzle," which requests players to fill in the blanks of words or phrases with the missing letters. One must know a bit about "Star Wars" as well as how to spell to reveal a secret message.

Or, one of my favorites, the "Garbage Masher" game under "Enter the Saga." Players choose one image that does not belong among the four shown. For example, picking the photo of Watto the junk salesman from among photos of the podracer drivers Anakin Skywalker, Mawhonic and Sebulba.

One must get at least four correct answers (with 15 seconds to answer each question) to progress, or watch Han Solo, Princess Leia Organa, Luke Skywalker and Chewbacca get slightly crunched in the Death Star trash compactor.

Amateur filmmakers will love "Behind the Saga," which carefully unravels the "Star Wars" magic through the eyes and mouths of the craftsmen involved. From the evolution of the Darth Maul character to making the Millennium Falcon fly to the use of digital cameras, each area is enlightening.

Finally, children who register with the site can receive the e-mail newsletter the Padawan Post, join bulletin boards and watch the "Making of Episode II" video series.

Ease of use:

The site makes extensive use of the Shockwave Flash plug-in and occasionally QuickTime. A nice touch, besides the search engine, tells visitors how long it will take games to load (with an option for slower speed connections).

Don't miss:

I loved everything on the site, but the "Earth Day Report Card" found in the "Fun Features" section showed the extent of how intricate the "Star Wars" universe can be.

Writers put together an efficiency dossier on the "Star Wars" galaxy in the areas of energy, refuse and environment. Items such as power cells used in lightsabres and TIE Fighters built with solar panels gave the Galaxy an "A+" for energy. But, even though Jawas recycle extensively, the galaxy only earns a "B+" in the refuse area because the Galactic Empire shoots garbage into space.

Family activity:

Star Wars Kids conveniently provides a "Phantom Menace Fun Guide," found under "Enter the Saga" to act as a companion while viewing the film. Visitors can either see an enhanced version online or print a copy to know when to look for certain items, such as the "ET"-like delegates taking part in the Galactic Senate.

Cybersitter synopsis:

Star Wars Kids demonstrates a marketer's dream by pounding youngsters over the head with being part of the "Star Wars" saga. Some areas alert children to products that can be bought away from the site (no online store is available), ranging from computer games to trading cards and books.

Although LucasFilm says the themes of leadership, courage and family are demonstrated throughout, parents should weigh the value of teaching this Jedi moral code against junior costing them some big bucks in "Star Wars" memorabilia.

Overall grade: B

Remember: The information on the Internet is constantly changing. Please verify the advice on the sites before you act to be sure it's accurate and updated. Health sites, for example, should be discussed with your own physician.

Have a cool site for the family? Write to Joseph Szadkowski at Webwise, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send an e-mail message (jszadkowski@washingtontimes.com).

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