NEW YORK -- Before heading to class, University of Washington history student Jacob Kenagy sets his VCR to record commercials - yes, commercials - in hopes of finding a new ad for "Star Wars."
He transfers any that he finds to computer video files, which he posts online for other fans to see.
He's one of a galaxy of "Star Wars" aficionados who circulate, discuss and dissect any tidbits they can glean on "Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones," which opens next Thursday.
The Internet has truly changed the moviegoing experience, making it much harder for filmmakers to surprise moviegoers the way "Star Wars" creator George Lucas did back when Darth Vader revealed he was Luke Skywalker's father in "The Empire Strikes Back."
Spoiler sites have become the norm for science fiction and fantasy films with passionate fans, among them "The Lord of the Rings" and "Spider-Man."
But for studios, the Internet's promotional value can also be priceless.
Online buzz helped propel "The Blair Witch Project" into a surprise success; it also boosted television's "Survivor."
Lucas has selected photos each week from his upcoming movie to post on the Internet.
"There's a big party on the message boards," Kenagy said. "People would just log on and analyze each picture."
Lucasfilm Ltd. has created HoloNetNews.com, a fake news site reporting from the perspective of a galaxy far, far away. The movies' main site, StarWars.com, was launched in 1996 and has theatrical trailers, short documentaries, collectibles, and details on spaceships and characters.
Deciding what to reveal is a delicate question, said Jim Ward, vice president of marketing at Lucasfilm.
"We have a certain number of fans who want to know everything and a certain number who don't," Ward said. "We dole out information very sparingly to give them just enough to keep them interested but not enough to ruin the experience."
Unofficial fan sites are a different matter. Snippets of dialogue from "Attack of the Clones" have already leaked, and fans assembled them like a jigsaw puzzle into a working script. Harry Knowles at the "Ain't It Cool" site posted a review of what he claims is an early cut of the movie. Songs from the soundtrack have circulated.
Fans also got early conceptual drawings and photos from spies on the set and at manufacturers of "Star Wars" merchandise, said Gary Demirdjian, 32, an aspiring filmmaker who frequently posts as "Lord Mauly Mall" at TheForce.net.
Some Web sites coordinated the fans who lined up for weeks before tickets went on sale last Friday. At one site, visitors who find Jar Jar Binks annoying can electronically punch the character.
Unofficial sites are already appearing for "Episode III," due out in 2005.
Some fans still insist on watching movies the old-fashioned way - in theaters - and avoid Internet leaks.
"It's really been tough," said James Tiffany, 32, a database administrator in Los Angeles. "It seems like there are links everywhere. I want to be surprised when I see the movie."
Having Demirdjian sit 20 feet away at work doesn't help. Nor do friends who send him updates via e-mail, which he deletes without reading.
Sevaan Franks, 21, an anthropology student at York University in Toronto, vows to stay spoiler-free for the latest movie, refusing even to read a site he started in 1998, Episode-X.
"There's that camaraderie in going, 'I know this. You know this. Let's discuss the ramifications,"' Franks said. "I feel a little left out, but I can manage."
But many fans aren't bothered about knowing too much. Nate Goodrich, 15, an Omaha, Neb., high school freshman, knew Jedi master Qui-Gon Jinn would die in the final minutes of "Episode I - The Phantom Menace."
"I was watching it wondering when and how it would happen," he said. "You have the chance to see the film in a completely different way."
Characters large and small have back stories - more details than could possibly fit in a two-hour movie. The Internet offers depth to those who want it.
Lucasfilm sometimes objects when sites reveal copyrighted footage, try to make money or mix R2-D2 with pornography.
But Lucasfilm and the webmasters agree they have grown more comfortable with each other since "The Phantom Menace."
"We love our fans to have fun, to speculate," Ward said.
Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones opens nationwide on Thursday, May 16.
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