May 07, 1999 at 04:00 AM EDT

Yoda said, ”Size matters not.” He’s obviously never visited cyberspace, where maneuvering through the thousands of Star Wars websites for Phantom Menace news is harder than driving the Millennium Falcon through an asteroid belt. Serious prequel watchers realized this eons ago and teamed with other Jedi specialists — a news watcher, a toy collector, a game reviewer — to form the most authoritative sites in the fanboy galaxy. Now there are three competing Star Wars networks — aside from the official site — that gather all the latest information: the Jedi Network, the Force.net, and Countingdown.com. It’s all for fun, but they still try to scoop each other on everything from snippets of dialogue to marketing tie-ins.

Granted, an upcoming Pepsi promotion is more than the average fan cares to know about, but the sites also have bios and pics of every Phantom character, pointers to the latest news articles, plot summaries, photos of soon-to-be-released toys, and, of course, the preview trailers. They’ve also passed on bogus rumors (C-3PO’s a female droid, Charlton Heston voices Yoda, 40 percent of the film is out of focus) and published such confidential info (the Force.net posted a sound clip of Jar Jar weeks before the second trailer came out) that Lucasfilm has been forced to intervene. Overall, though, the lawyers have been amazingly lenient with the fan sites because rumors and leaks are ”all part of the fun,” according to Marc Hedlund, head of Lucasfilm’s Internet Division. And the mega-sites are voluntarily protecting their readers from some of the juiciest tidbits until after the movie is released.

That wait is almost over. But these sites will remain the top spots for fans who want to know everything about Episode I and the two prequels to follow. And those who are already fed up with the Phantom blitzkrieg — well, you can go straight to Hoth.com.

The Official Star Wars Website (http://www.starwars.com): If you don’t want to know anything about Episode I that isn’t sanctioned by Lucasfilm, stick with this official site, whose centerpiece is ”Lynne’s Diary,” a behind-the-scenes documentary (by Lucasfilm director of communications Lynne Hale) that would normally be saved until after the movie is released. Hedlund says Lucasfilm wanted to ”appease the appetite” of fans without spoiling the main feature — but they’re still hungry, at least judging from the success of the preview trailers, which have been accessed approximately 20 million times since Nov. 17. Start downloading the massive 25-megabyte file today, and you might get to see it by the time Episode II is released. B+

The Force.net (http://www.theforce.net): This site wins the ”Luke, I am your father” award for best spoiler material, thanks to 24-year-old Baptist youth pastor Joshua Griffin, one of 13 regular contributors to the site, who scored a draft of the Phantom script four months ago. But the pages haven’t been published here because, according to Force.net cofounder Scott Chitwood, ”not only would Lucasfilm shut us down in a heartbeat, but you don’t want to give away who lives and dies.” This hasn’t stopped Chitwood from posting dialogue excerpts and plot summaries — the latter always preceded by a warning — as well as pictures of the characters (41 of Darth Maul alone), and details on all those toys, books, and games that you’ll be sick of by August. A

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