Friday, May 13, 2005

Each month the Browser takes a look at a few pop-culture Web sites offering the coolest in free, interactive sounds and action.

A Web site far, far away

Anyone notice that a new “Star Wars” movie hits theaters next week? “Episode III, Revenge of the Sith,” the sixth and final film of the series, will blow away fans of George Lucas’ long-running saga of the Skywalker clan.

Padawans (Jedis in training) seeking further immersion into the “Star Wars” mythology need only visit the movie’s official site (www.starwars .com) for pathways to both the light and dark sides of the Force.

Clever surfers navigating the myriad of marketing and merchandising messages pounding their peepers will still find enough free content to fill 10 percent of a Jawa Sandcrawler.

My favorite multimedia moments from the gratis portion of the site include a five-minute Quicktime musical montage of the downfall of Anakin Skywalker titled “A Hero’s Fall,” which combines clips from the films set to the familiar stirring score by Oscar-winning composer John Williams. (There are also fee-based sections.)

Among the site’s other highlights:

• All 25 episodes from Cartoon Network’s animated coverage of the Clone Wars (viewed via Quicktime 6 Player) are available, as well as segments from an ongoing documentary series on the making of “Revenge of the Sith” — which highlights the creation of a Wookiee army, weaponry and the villain General Grievous.

• Anyone looking for an encyclopedic resource for their “Star Wars” fix can investigate the databank. You can read about and see the characters, creatures, locations, species and starships featured in all six of the films and the extended universe in video games, comic books, novels and role-playing challenges.

Also, an awesome Star Wars Kids micro-site can be accessed through any of the pages. It leads to games, a multimedia timeline and a host of activities such as building a Mustafar Volcano (the site of the fateful battle between Anakin and Obi-Wan Kenobi). This works perfectly with Hasbro’s 3 3/4-inch action figure collection. You have to hand it to Mr. Lucas. He never misses a beat when it comes to licensed product tie-ins.

Driving on the Net

Car enthusiasts will appreciate Forza Motorsport, Microsoft Game Studios’ recently released video game for Xbox systems. It offers more than 230 cars from more than 40 of the top car manufacturers for owners to customize, upgrade and race.

The game’s official cyber stop (www.forzamotor goes beyond the call of duty in giving visitors a feel for the action, while also adding some content to pump them up for one of the best driving simulations on the market.

Using a gearshift to navigate the site, visitors are able to virtually trick out six sports compacts in the categories of aerodynamics, engine and drivetrain. At the same time, they’ll also see, hear and read about the results.

Similarly, music lovers can also enjoy selections from the game’s exhilarating soundtrack, composed by DJ Junkie XL. They’re available through a jukebox loaded with nine choices of original music along with classic-rock hits.

The site’s designers have also compiled a series of five documentary-style short films dubbed the “Xcelerators” that quickly explore the wide range of car cultures represented by the game. Images of cars from American Muscle, Tuner Drift, Super Unlimited, Exotic Modified and European Motors are brought to life in friendly five-minute clips (via Windows Media Player) that highlight real-life car lovers.

Digital mass memories, launched in 2002 by Adam Seifer, Scott Heiferman and someone who prefers only to be known as “Spike,” enables Internet users to experience the digital age of photography online.

More than 1 million Fotologgers worldwide have now posted more than 41 million images for visitors to enjoy every day. Users simply set up an account and upload images up to 2,000 K (which are downsized to a JPEG to fit a 500-by-500-pixel area). Those new to the system can begin by posting what’s near and dear to their hearts within a massive blog of images for all to see.

Visitors will find an eclectic variety of material (none pornographic) ranging from family memories to vacation montages, what a person eats or an exploration of minimalism.

D.C. shutterbugs whose efforts are on view include user “jtmoney1121,” who presents a tribute to her dad (, and user “washdc” with some shots from the nation’s capital (

• Have a cool site for the online multimedia masses? Write to Joseph Szadkowski at the Browser, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send an e-mail message (jszadkowski

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