The third installment of the "Star Wars" epic was rereleased this weekend, with minor tweakings; in the new version, for example, Darth Vader does not make a deathbed apology for his evil, but merely says, "Mistakes were made, Luke." Otherwise, it's the same glorious story, and it will make billions. Many theatergoers are looking for a movie where they can be certain they will not see Howard Stern's buttocks, and a "Star Wars" movie is a safe bet.

So a whole new generation is discovering the story. That's the problem.

"Star Wars" fans are idiots, except for you, of course. All right, you and your friends. Otherwise the "Star Wars" fan is a cheese-fleshed dweeb in a dim room aswirl with nacho dust and surging hormones. He is huddled over the keyboard of his computer. Occasionally he gathers up his righteous ire, logs on to the Internet and sends a blistering missive to . . .

Well, to me. I recently wrote a column for America Online about the less impressive aspects of the "Star Wars" movies, and brought the whole shrieking wrath of the socially stunted online community on my head. Two hundred thirty-seven vituperative e-mails, mostly from adolescent males unified by their devotion to fantasy and their inability to form a coherent sentence that did not involve misspelled profanity.

What did I do to earn the assault? Well, nothing. I speculated that it might have been more shocking if Darth Vader had been revealed to be Luke's mother. I hammered away at the Ewoks, a tribe of Shalala-shaped teddy bears who defeat a battalion of armored soldiers. The third movie was infested with them; it was the Muppet Babies vs. the Red Army. Etc.

Mild complaints, really, and born of love. I've seen the movies so many times I know exactly when the little white oval appears in the upper-right-hand corner to signal the reel changes. For all the clumsy dialogue and scenery-gnawing acting, it's fun. I'll never forget how glad I was in 1977 to see a movie where the heroes didn't die at the hands of The Man. But it's just a movie. I didn't think it was a religion.

Apparently I was mistaken. I've learned two things:

1. The nation's future rests in the hands of people who actually think "Star Wars" was a documentary. To nitpick is gauche, like criticizing the cinematography of the films the Army took when it liberated Buchenwald.

2. Giving youngsters e-mail accounts is like giving them telephones and a list of convenience stores whose clerks don't know if the store carries Prince Albert in the can.

I spent an entire week parrying harassing chat-messages from guys with names like HanSolo1977. It was an interesting look into the red palpitating id of the American youth, someone who spends his entire life before a keyboard yet can neither spell nor express himself. They're all piano tuners who are stumped by "Chopsticks." Call their lingo keybonics. A verbatim sample:

your piece SUX and I hope U die U dont know what your talking about . . . . . Geroge Lukas is a geenus!!!! and your just a small jelous. where do u get off critizing Star wars it is the gratest movie of our time!!!!!

Most of the e-mails suggested that I could perform a particular action on myself -- which, coming from an audience composed entirely of angry virgins, at least indicates some degree of you-first altruism. As I read on, however, another theme emerged: Anyone who picks on "Star Wars" is a "Star Trek" fan. (This is an insult.)

Sample e-mail:

Your probly a trekkie who cant handle it that Captin picard is gay and Star Trek SUX and Star Wars RULEZ!

Picard's gay, eh? I asked one correspondent a question I never thought I would pose to anyone: Do you think I am criticizing the heavy use of teddy bears because I fear in my heart that Captain Picard is gay?

Back came the answer: Duh, yeah.

It would seem churlish to point out that C3PO has the prissy manner of a stereotypical insulting movie gay; when the action gets rough, he minces with snooty horror like a hairdresser in a leather club. For that matter, R2D2, with all his burbles and shrieks, resembles Truman Capote reincarnated as a trash can. But to say these things would invite more all-caps invective, and feed the need of "Star Wars" geeks to find enemies everywhere.

I don't know a single "Star Trek" fan who doesn't enjoy "Star Wars." "Star Trek" fans are Unitarians; George Lucas's movies are juicy chapters of the Apocrypha. "Star Wars" partisans, however, believe that "Star Trek" is a false faith, a swerving from the True Shining Path. If they'd had their way, Gene Roddenberry would have been killed in Mexico with an ice pick.

Some did not admit the existence of another faith, and simply cast me out for not knowing my catechism. They usually delivered taunts meant to wound me deeply, such as this one from GrandMoff212:

Id say you should get yor butt kicked by Bobba Fett and Zorba the Hutt. Oh yeh- you dont know who they are do you?

Presumably, I'm supposed to sit back abashed. I'm so stoopid I don't know the identity of those who shall soon kicketh my butt. Except that I do: Bobba Fett is the mercenary who's chasing Harrison Ford. An entire cult has grown up around this character, even though he has perhaps 1.5 lines of dialogue over three movies and never takes off his helmet. As for Zorba the Hutt, I'm stumped; I know that Jabba the Hutt is an immense jello-bellied crime boss lizard. Perhaps Zorba is his brother -- the fun-loving, carpe diem Greek crime boss lizard who dances on tables.

Part of the charm of childhood is secret knowledge, your own little cosmology of stories and myths. I had comic books, Spiderman et al. There was a certain satisfaction in knowing that Spiderman's roommate's dad was the Green Goblin. The roommate didn't know it. My parents didn't know it. I knew it. That was enough. If I had ever encountered a newspaper article that suggested Spiderman was deficient in some aspect, I would not have written the author a letter suggesting he strain his spine attempting autoerotism. I wouldn't have been angry that everyone else didn't share my secrets.

Why the fury? These kids have computers that permit them to range the world, soak up vast amounts of information, sample every point of view, and they end up as stupid and intolerant as a medieval serf who never traveled five miles from the thatched hut where he was whelped. Perhaps the problem isn't insufficient exposure to opposite views, but too much of it: When you realize that everyone else believes strongly in something you can't understand, you cling desperately to what you know.

More important: Why can't they spel? Simple. On the keyboard, the letters are divorced from their real purpose. On the keyboard, Q is not part of that venerable Don Quixote-Sancho Panza team of Q and U. No, Q is for quit. The only place Q is not accompanied by U is on the keyboard, where it sits next to W, like two grumpy old widowers. The primary purpose of the letters is not to be strung together to express thought, but to trigger preset actions. S is for save, C is for copy, J is for jump if you're in a game. Stringing the letters together to express ideas comes second. In fact, you don't need ideas at all. You just need the keyboard commands to bring up someone else's ideas on your screen.

I'm probably reading too much into this. But it is instructive. In the small arid world of devoted fans, a movie about good vs. evil brings out the evil in everyone who thinks it's good.

Everyone, of course, except for you. My e-mail address is Go ahead. Prove my point.