Dave and Loren Phillips share their "Star Wars"
interest with son Kyle, 7. (Free Press photo by Susan
April 15, 1999
BY DAVID LYMAN
Something's wrong here. This doesn't look like the command center of the Force.
There are no light sabers piled in the corner, no Wookies scurrying in the shadows, no 4-D galactic maps.
But don't let the modest surroundings mislead you. Dave and Loren Phillips' unassuming tract house in Troy is home to one of the most prolific and most highly respected "Star Wars" sites on the World Wide Web.
The site -- it's called Echo Station -- receives more than 2.2 million hits a day from nearly 31,000 visitors. Its pages -- there are hundreds -- are filled with an array of "Star Wars" related activities, from crossword puzzles and art galleries to chat rooms and a sprawling archive of essays.
The on-line onslaught had grown so enormous and so expensive to operate that a year ago the Phillipses launched a profit-making Web-hosting company that provides on-line space for other companies just to underwrite Echo Station's activities.
Outwardly, there's almost no hint of what's taking place here. There are his-and-hers computers sitting around the corner from one another and a limited edition "Star Wars" print hanging over Dave's living room desk. But the rest -- the wedding picture on the wall, the washer and dryer in the next room, the entertainment center with the smoky glass doors that dominates the living room -- is all so terribly ordinary.
In the virtual world of the Internet, though, it's easy for this to be the front line of the "Star Wars" invasion. Despite appearances, the Empire does live here.
ECHO STATION, at www.echostation.com, came to life in the mid-1990s -- no one's sure precisely -- as a forum for "Star Wars" fans who were members of CompuServe. Loren Dayak was 30 when she discovered it in June 1995. She'd spent four years in relative isolation at home with her young son, Kyle, as her primary source of conversation.
"When I got on the computer that first week, my life changed," she says. She found herself conversing -- on-line -- with people from all over the globe. There was a woman from Europe and others from Louisiana and Alaska. They talked about "Star Wars," of course. But they also talked about children, about politics, about relationships.
"People were interested to hear what I had to say. It brought me back to life when I thought I couldn't offer anything to anyone."
Soon, the friends grew brave. They wanted even more people to hear what they had to say. So they put out the cyberspace version of a neighborhood newsletter: an on-line magazine. It was so small it didn't have a name.
Call it Echo Base, wrote one reader, suggesting they adopt the name of a rebel encampment in "The Empire Strikes Back." It had a nice ring to it, thought Loren. But not wanting to infringe on moviemaker George Lucas' copyrights, she gave it a twist: Echo Station.
One of those who soon joined the forum was Dave Phillips, then working in a business trade association in Washington, D.C. He became a prolific contributor and grew so fascinated with Echo Station -- and Loren -- that he moved to metro Detroit six months later. Within a year, the two were married.
WITH THE OPENING of "Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace" less than five weeks away on May 19, the Internet has grown bloated with Web sites hawking "Star Wars" paraphernalia. There are posters, action figures, key chains, software and every conceivable article of clothing.
Not at Echo Station. Following the philosophy that has guided it since its inception, Echo Station has taken the high road. There is almost none of the blathering of star-crazed fans that proliferates on other sites, no "spoilers" -- tidbits about the movie that sneak out before its release -- and none of those typical Internet ads that scream "buy me, buy me."
"Opening the door to ads like that would be like spending four years making a painting and then have someone come along and say your painting would be worth a lot more money if you put a Nike swoosh in the middle of it," says Dave, 27. "We just can't do that."
That purist philosophy has kept Echo Station from being the monstrous moneymaker it could be. They agreed to provide potentially income-generating links to "Star Wars" books at Amazon.com, the on-line bookseller. But they turned down VISA. It was a relationship that would only have been about the money, he says.
That purism is the site's primary drawing card for serious "Star Wars" aficionados who want to avoid the hoopla that has come to define the movie's impending release. (A few weeks back, there was a tongue-in-cheek essay posted on Echo Station titled "George Lucas Is a Money-Grubbing Bastard.")
"When all the 'Phantom' hype is over, we're still going to be here," says Gini McDonagh, a 40-year-old single mother in Anchorage, Alaska. She has been a regular contributor to Echo Station for nearly five years and, like everyone else connected with the site -- including the Phillipses -- receives no money for her work.
"For me, the appeal has always been the philosophical side of 'Star Wars.' So much science fiction is so grim. But with George Lucas, you have the science fiction, but you also have knights and the princess and the swordplay -- it's got a sense of chivalry."
Perhaps that's what sets Echo Station apart. It may be high-tech -- Dave insists on all the "coolest software" -- but it is more about friendship than business. The couple still believe in the tenet that guided the pioneers of the Internet; in cyberspace, community is more important than commerce.
"It's like an on-line version of a quilting circle," says Loren.
David Lyman can be reached at 1-313-222-6823 or via E-mail at email@example.com
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