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EP3: Breaking Down the Official Site Membership

Like it or loathe it, the Official Site for Star Wars is about to become the first movie-based website to charge for content. American Idol and video game sites like IGN and Gamespot have been doing it for several years, all with great success so it was inevitable that we would see it landing on shores close to home soon. If you give them content, they will come - even at a price.

OK, so we haven't been the most public supporters of the Official Site's pay to play program. And while we stand by the comments made previously, there's little choice as you simply are going to have to buy it to get the latest info from Lucasfilm. The only real way to send a message to Lucasfilm about what you think about this type of marketing policy is to not purchase it - but even we're smart enough to know that you can't resist it, even if you do pool in with a few friends to share a password as a semi-protest. So without further ado lets run our breakdown of at least the first wave of goodies for subscribers:

“Droid Control Ship” – Episode II deleted sequence
Nice feature, hopefully the first of many deleted scenes to be included in the membership. However I've got to ask why they couldn't have included this on the DVD when it came out several months ago? Bit rate and space budget issues aside, holding out on the most demanded deleted scene was an odd play. And it isn't finished unfortunately, which for some will be cool to see the filmmaking process, but may also show that perhaps they aren't confident enough in the money end of Hyperspace to spend the big bucks to finish the scene. But all in all, it will be a pretty cool 3 minutes that we'll definitely love to see.
Final thought: Great to have, though we'll miss DVD-quality from the original release.
Grade: A

Daily Episode III Set Diary
Here's the highlight of the program - though everyone gets so excited about a few paragraphs from an embedded reporter they forget that principle shooting will last at the most just 3 months. I can't wait for this as well, I'm excited to see what Pablo will come up with for the fans. He's a pretty big fan himself, so we should have some fun. Of course, expect everything of his to be run through the higherups filter, so it isn't clear how much we'll really get. Still though, a great include and the greatest selling point for this year's membership.
Final thought: Pablo, all eyes are on you. Come through for the fans, baby.
Grade: A+

Episode III Sydney webcam
Again, most people think of this and get pumped - forgetting that by the time students go back to school this fall the webcam will be unplugged. And our experience from other franchises has been very mixed, so a "bagel cam" only really holds potential that has yet to be realized. For those hoping for sound don't expect it, that would be way too much to give away. I hope they get really creative, and close every once in a while just to mix up the normalcy of a movie set.
Final thought: Make this interesting, and get us in close so we really can see something
Grade: B

Exclusive Images and Bantha Tracks Reprints
This should be fun as we expect rare, exclusive mages from Lucasfilm vault from all five films. We've seen so much of this it is hard to suggest how popular of a feature it would be - judge yourself by the amount of days you pass by the Official Site just because all you see is an Image Attack and a Classic Moment. The inclusion of the old Bantha Tracks should be a fun trip down memory lane. For those of you that didn't catch the rare fan magazine of the 80s this could be a fun afternoon read.
Final thought:Good to have some old school stuff. Long live the classics!
Grade: B-

Clone War Cartoon
Hyperspace will offer the first online availability of Clone Wars cartoons - which should place them up for download immediately after TV airing. In addition they will feature exclusive value-added DVD-like material just for members. I like this one, though again it is simply an advance look at content that non-paying members will also be getting shortly. The exclusive period we expect to be days or a couple of weeks at the very most, since this is marketing in essence and needs to be in the hands of the masses. We don't honestly know what to expect from the cartoon yet, so hopefully this is something they can hype from the start.
Final thought: We all want to know more about this cartoon. Give us an exclusive preview as well!
Grade: B-

Episode III “George Lucas Select” and Episode III web documentaries
Again this is simply a time-sensitive bonus, all of this content will be made available for free after a brief exclusive period. This is going to be some great content, and the urge to have it in front of your eyes first may just drive you to pay the $20 and move on.
Final thought: Hopefully this year's Selects will show more and Hyperspace members can download this content to the hard drive.
Grade: B

Ad Removal
Surfing without ads is good, though like most web regulars I've trained my eyes to note them and move on. They aren't that distracting, some occasionally have something good to say, and they pay for the site. Losing them isn't the greatest benefit in the world, but if you surf on sw.com that much you'll know they've got some terrible pop-ups and java script stuff that appears right over the body of the article. Farewell, annoying ads.
Final thought: Nice benefit, but not the strongest selling point.
Grade: B-

Celebrity Talks
There are going to be several planned live online talks with the cast and crew of Episode III from Sydney and the U.S., plus on-going with authors, artists, editors, licensees, etc. And while we know zero specifics and they have nothing concrete yet, you can see this is going to be great. Again, anything Episode III is going to sell me. So, come through on this and I'll love you forever.
Final thought: Many. Often. All about Episode III.
Grade: A-

Everything Else
Contests, the twice weekly broad Star Wars happening round-up "Delta Source” newsletter, a Star Wars email address and enhanced features on the message board message I'm not interested in one bit. The avatar should be standard and I'm surprised the Official Site's software isn't powerful enough to handle personal profile pages as well previously. The Cargo Bay enhanced features also fail to appeal to me, since I'm not the biggest collector in the world.
Final thought: Nice, but insignificant for me.
Grade: C

The Bottom Line
So are you willing to choose to make the jump to Hyperspace? They've put plenty of cards on the table for you to make up your mind, and after reading a few Episode III set diaries you may just be Forced to swipe the credit card. I do wish that StarWars.com wasn't the first movie franchise to start this trend, it only causes an uproar in the hearts of many beleaguered fans of the franchise. However, there are really going to be some great things, and as a few JCers have stated, it is only a buck fifty a month when you pay by the year. Is that a big deal? In principle perhaps, but in the end I don't think this is a fight you're going to win.
Final thought: Weigh the pros and cons in your mind, then make a statement with your money either way.
Overall Grade: B

So that's it for round one of the content! There's undoubtedly more in the works and we'll get to see everything first hand during the preview this week. Feel free to post your reaction in TFN's Jedicouncil messageboards and email us with reaction and counterpoint as well.

Joshua Griffin
TheForce.net
June 3rd, 2003

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