It was ten years ago today - on July 8th, 1998 - that TheForce.net, considered by many to be the best and most-visited Star Wars fan-operated website on the Internet, was born.
(Okay, if we're going to get technical it was actually spawned in 1996 as the "Star Wars Site At Texas A & M" by roomies Scott Chitwood and Darin Smith. But TheForce.net became its very own "fully armed and operational battle station" ten years ago today.)
I spent more than two years as an active staff member of TheForce.net, from winter of 2000 on through a little after getting married in 2002. That was the time when Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones was in production. And if I tried sharing all the crazy "war stories" that I saw happen in that time, it would become the biggest post in the entire 5-some year history of this blog. To have been part of TheForce.net staff during production of a Star Wars movie was almost like being involved in a very wacky world of political intrigue, deep-cover espionage and the occasional threat of litigation... all regarding a science-fiction film franchise! And most of that stuff I'm still keeping to a vow of secrecy on.
Three things that I'll share here that I remember from my time there. The first was when the reports got out that boy band 'N Sync had filmed a cameo appearance (reputedly as Jedi Knights fighting in the arena battle) for Star Wars Episode II. I was the editor of the TheForce.net's Humor section at the time. In one day, Humor's e-mail address got slammed with more than five hundred 'N Sync-related jokes... to say nothing of all the artwork that came flooding in! I still have it and everything else pertaining to my time on TheForce.net backed up on spare hard drives. Someday I'll show it to the kiddies :-)
The second was, of course, when I used TheForce.net to propose to my wife Lisa (the original picture went missing from the site during an upgrade, but I've still got it).
And the third was what I have come to regard as TheForce.net's finest hour. The day when the staff and readers of the site became more than fans or friends: we became family. It began one Tuesday morning in September, 2001. In the hours and days following the 9/11 attacks, TheForce.net's message board became a rallying point for those with loved ones in New York City and Washington. People used the forum to make sure that others that they knew were okay. I wish I could say that everyone was accounted for... but that wasn't to be. Among TheForce.net's readers were people trapped in the World Trade Center and some of the firefighters and other rescue workers who died trying to save lives that day. Still others relayed eyewitness accounts of what happened: one friend from the site was walking on the street right below the first tower that was hit, and she had to run for cover in a nearby subway entrance to escape the falling debris.
It was one of those moments that either sadly or fortunately are all too few, when you realize that what you do on the Internet really does go out to a larger world. That there are people out there who are trying to be as happy with their lives as you are. That those others that you work with and read your words, they are just as precious in God's eyes as you or anyone else.
Sobering stuff. Who'da thought that a Star Wars website could evoke so much thought? But that's always been a hallmark of TheForce.net.
Looking back, I think that TheForce.net became a very unique and wonderful part of my growth experience. Admittedly not all of it was fun: there were some times that it was a lot of hard work and frustration. There were even times when words were said among some, the kind of which that in retrospect you wish that you could take back. But through it all, there was a love and devotion to a very special mythology that, I like to think anyway, we were all trying to share an appreciation for toward others. And in our own way, this was how we tried to make the world a little better place than we found it. The time I spent with TheForce.net produced some of the best work that I ever did. I'll always be proud of that... and even more proud of the people that I got to work with.
So to Scott, Darin, Josh, Anthony, Dustin, Roderick, Helen, Carter, Jeff, Nicole, Philip, and everyone else who's worked on TheForce.net over the years, and to all the faithful readers... happy anniversary! :-)