“A long time ago, in an internet far, far away,” there was—”Star Wars Kid!”
The internet was a different place in 2003: There were no smartphones, digital cameras were still crazy expensive, and there was no YouTube (you had to share videos by emailing huge files to one another). However, the internet wasn’t so wildly different from what it has become today.
Ghyslain Raza, a then 15-year-old from Canada, was one of the first to publicly discover just how cruel the internet could be.
Raza wasn’t looking to become an internet celebrity. He set up a camera—a VHS camera with film—at his high school and recorded himself imitating the villain from Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, Sith Lord Darth Maul.
A couple of Raza’s classmates came across this footage, which Raza never intended to release to the public, and made a digital recording of the video.
It didn’t take long for everyone to have a chuckle at the expense of Raza, who the public quickly dubbed the “Star Wars Kid.” Digital artists had fun turning the golf ball retriever used in the video into a double bladed lightsaber, showing Raza deflecting oncoming laser blasts—not to be confused with phaser blasts, as was discovered in the writing of this piece.
With the various remixes, the private video that Raza made in late 2002 has been seen over a billion times.
All of the late night shows wanted Raza to be a guest on their shows and Star Wars Kid fans created a petition to get the Canadian child a cameo in the next installment of the Star Wars franchise, which never happened.
Unfortunately, the kid from Quebec wasn’t particularly interested in being the butt of humanity’s jokes. He was humiliated both at school and online. Eventually, Raza left his high school, telling one reporter, “I want my life back.”
Raza’s family eventually sued the families of the boys who posted the video to help cover the extensive psychiatric treatment and private tutors needed to help the teenager grow into a healthy young man. They eventually settled the case outside of court.
Episode Adult: The Kid Strikes Back
In 2013, Raza spoke with Canadian news magazine, Maclean’s, about his journey from being a bullied kid to an anti-cyberbullying lawyer/activist.
“What I saw was mean,” Raza told journalist Jonathan Trudel of his experience. “It was violent. People were telling me to commit suicide.”
That’s pretty extreme language in any setting but especially to a 15-year-old.
“No matter how hard I tried to ignore people telling me to commit suicide, I couldn’t help but feel worthless, like my life wasn’t worth living,” Raza told the reporter.
Eventually, Raza graduated from law school and took up the mantle of fighting against cyberbullying.
Raza’s Message for Victims of Online Harassment
“You’ll survive. You’ll get through it,” Raza tells people who may be experiencing similar levels of public humiliation. “You’re not alone. You are surrounded by people who love you.”
In a nice twist of fate, May the Fourth, often known as “Star Wars Day,” also happens to be the UN’s official Anti-bullying day.