In November of 2002, Ghyslain Raza a student that went to le Seminaire St-Joseph de Trois-Rivieres, Quebec, Canada decided to take advantage of his school’s recording studio. Imitating the Darth Maul character from Star Wars he jumped, danced and twirled around the studio using a tennis ball retriever in place of Darth Maul’s double-edged lightsaber. Chubby Ghyslain and his less than graceful moves were recorded and apparently forgotten for months. Then in April 2003, students at Ghyslain’s school (Michaël Caron, Jérôme Laflamme and Jean-Michel Rheault) found the recording and quickly began sharing it with their friends with the file name, ‘Jackass_starwars_funny.wmv’. It ended up on the p2p program Kazaa and weblogs started to host the video. Not long after, millions around the world were downloading and watching the video online. In Nov 2006 the Viral marketing company, The Viral Factory, collated page impression figures from websites such as YouTube and Google Videos. They determined that this video as of Nov 2006 had been viewed 900 million times the highest total at that time.
Students put the video online
In the Court transcripts from a lawsuit the Raza family filed, it revealed Jérôme Laflamme had discovered the tape when we took the equipment to film a varsity football game. Laflamme showed the tape to Jean-Michel Rheault who then copied it. “All I did was take the cassette, digitize it on the studio computer to pull a joke on Ghyslain. After that, I had nothing to do with it,” Rheault would later say. The third defendant who claims not to know the other two somehow came across a copy of the video and created a website to post the video online. All three in the run-up to the lawsuit denied that they were responsible with Rheault claiming, “It’s no fun what happened here, but that’s the problem with the Internet. Things travel fast.”
The video first appeared on the Internet on the evening of April 14, 2003, but quickly spread the globe. The video was so popular and so widely circulated that sites hosting the video where recording millions of downloads. One website solely dedicated to the Star Wars Kid video recorded 76 million hits by October 2004. The video itself might have died away but soon people were adding effects and editing the video to make new versions. Some special effects people like Bryan Dube, an employee from Raven Software added Star War’s effects, music and opening sequences. Several versions were made with various themes but the most well-liked involved Star War effects, although a matrix version was heavily downloaded. The Star Wars Kid fame soon split over into merchandising and T-shirts, mugs and other paraphernalia that are still are available online.
While the video travelled through the Internet with people laughing at Raza, many others identified with him as they remembered their own awkward high school years. As the clip’s popularity increased, web bloggers, waxy.org and jish.nu, were able to track down Ghyslain. Jish Mukerji from jish.nu was able to get this short interview in 2003 (translated from French):
What I saw was mean. It was violent. People were telling me to commit suicide
-Ghyslain Raza in a 2013 Macleans interview
My name’s Jish and I am calling you from San Francisco, California and I’d like to interview you. Do you speak English too?
Only a little bit.
Well, I’ll try to speak in French, but I’ll apologize in advance since my French isn’t perfect.
Oh, that’s ok.
The interview is concerning your martial arts video.
Did you know that over 500,000 people have viewed your video?
Yes, I know.
When you made the video, did you think this many people would be viewing it?
No, I really never anticipated that.
How did the video end up on the web?
Actually, it was a mistake. The cassette was left in the studio and someone put it on the Internet.
Then, I guess it wasn’t a friend who did this, more of an enemy?
More or less. It was someone I knew.
I only have a few more questions… There was something yellow on the floor in your video, what was that?
It was probably something left behind in the studio from a previous session. I really don’t remember what it was.
Some people have taken your video and have added some Star Wars special effects, have you seen these?
Yes, I have seen some.
What’s your opinion of these videos?
From what I saw, they look very well-made. It’s surprising to see what people have done with a video that wasn’t meant to be seen. It’s interesting.
Do you have a website?
What are your favorite sites?
I’m really into computers/computing, so my favourite sites are the ones from the different companies involved… Nothing that I visit regularly.
Do you also read weblogs?
We know that you have a laptop, cell phone, Palm and other gadgets like that. Do you have any other favorite gadgets that you would like to buy, perhaps something like an iPod?
For the moment, I don’t have plans to buy any gadgets, but sometime soon I’d like to get an iPod.
Do you use a Mac or a PC?
At home, I use a PC, but I really like the world of Macintosh. It’s what I use at school.
If you bought an iPod, would you get the PC or Mac version?
Probably, I’d get the PC version.
Well, thank you very much and good night.
They also started an online campaign to raise money to get him an iPod. Thousands donated money and eventually, a 30GB iPod was in the mail to the Raza household along with $3600 in gift certificates for the Canadian electronic superstore, Future Shop. While Ghyslain said it was nice that something did come out of his experience he would have preferred that millions had not seen the video, which he had meant to be private. “People were laughing at me, … it was not funny at all.”
Psyc Hospital stay
In fact, Ghyslain was tormented at school and became so despondent over the whole episode that he dropped out and got a private tutor even spending some time at the Pavillon Arc-en-ciel child psychiatry ward at the Trois-Rivières Regional Hospital Centre. He would later recall how other students would jump onto tables and make fun of him. “There was about 100 people in those halls. It was total chaos . . . Any opportunity was good enough to shout ‘Star Wars!’ ”
We are deeply saddened by the current situation …
The Raza family filed a lawsuit against four students who had encoded and spread the video (Charges were dropped against François Labarre because of lack of evidence). The lawsuit was finally scheduled to go to courts in April 2006 with the Raza family seeking $351,000 in damages. In 2006, days before the case was due to go in front of the judge, an out of court settlement was reached for an undisclosed amount, although some online sites quote the $US 250,000 figure.
Star Wars Part
The negative effects of the video’s popularity is cited as one of the reasons George Lucas, the Star Wars creator resisted a huge online petition to give Raza a bit part in the third and final installment of Star Wars. An online petition to do just that collected almost 150,000 signatures, which attracted the attention of mainstream media. In a BBC interview, Lucasfilm was quoted as saying “Obviously there has been a tremendous show of support for Ghyslain with tens of thousands of fans rallying around him … However, we are deeply saddened by the current situation and any difficulties this unwanted publicity might be causing him and his family.” Needless to say, he didn’t get the part.
Ghyslain later went to McGill University in Montreal, Quebec and in 2010 became the president of the Patrimoine Trois-Rivières, a society devoted to the conservation of the cultural heritage of his hometown of Trois-Rivières. In 2013 he released an interview with a Canadian magazine talking about his ordeal. Inspired to break his silence after a spate of online bullying Ghyslain says, “You’ll survive. You’ll get through it,” he said. “And you’re not alone. You are surrounded by people who love you.”