In the Shadow of the Star Wars Kid
March 31, 2022 10:32 AM   Subscribe

In 2002, a 15-year-old Quebec boy named Ghyslain Raza filmed himself swinging a golf ball retriever in imitation of Darth Maul's double-bladed light saber from The Phantom Menace. The private video leaked onto the internet and became perhaps the biggest viral video of the pre-Youtube era under the name "The Star Wars Kid." Traumatized by the ensuing ridicule and bullying, Raza has spoken about the video only once before, and the man who initially helped popularize it, Andy Baio (MetaFilter's own), has declined to be interviewed about it. They talk together for the first time about this formative moment in unwelcome internet fame in a new documentary Star Wars Kid: The Rise of the Digital Shadows/Dans l’ombre du Star Wars Kid streaming free from the National Film Board of Canada.
posted by Horace Rumpole (14 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
Thanks for bringing this film to our attention. I’m only 10 minutes in, but it’s a good watch so far. Interesting to read Andy’s take on (and regret over) it, too.
posted by fruitslinger at 11:06 AM on March 31

This wasn't the first time that I'd seen the internet become a lens that focused ridicule and cruelty - I came up on Usenet - but it was definitely the first time I'd seen it at something you'd call scale, but it was definitely a harbinger of things to come.
posted by mhoye at 1:12 PM on March 31 [3 favorites]

Previously Nineteen years ago on Metafilter: Star Wars Kid - Star War Kid suing - Put the Star Wars Kid in Episode III. Sixteen years ago on Metafilter: Ghyslain off the Chizain. Content Warning: comments.
posted by elgilito at 1:13 PM on March 31 [4 favorites]

That's a great documentary. It's interesting how much Ghyslain Raza was never part of early internet culture and that he seemed surprised to realise that his very online peers like Andy Baio and Amanda Brennan were a lot like him (and presumably a lot less like the children at his school who uploaded the video in the first place).

One of the things I was most struck by was the view of the younger of the lawyers involved that she probably wouldn't have recommended suing if it happened now. It's clear that what the family were really hoping/needing to get wasn't going to be achieved in a court. In fact, it probably made things worse by fuelling the publicity, which Ghyslain wanted to stop.

And then, the response of his school seems to just have been indefensible.

Like the children he spoke with, I agree that his ability to build the life he wanted for himself anyway is inspirational. Aimons la vie.
posted by plonkee at 1:48 PM on March 31

I think that Lucasfilm should have named a minor character (some Rebel lieutenant or cool alien gangster or something) after him. To be fair, “Ghyslain Raza” sounds as plausibly Star Wars-y as a name as “Wedge Antilles” or “Mon Mothma” or whatever.
posted by acb at 2:41 PM on March 31 [9 favorites]

I’d like to think that they would have been reluctant to that without being really, really sure it wasn’t rubbing salt in a wound.
posted by mhoye at 4:55 PM on March 31 [6 favorites]

Boy oh boy, the Star Wars Kid suing link sure does remind you that Metafilter was a very different and much nastier place in 2003.
posted by tavella at 6:24 PM on March 31 [6 favorites]

I never saw the original video, but I knew the “joke” through cultural references in Arrested Development. Thanks for sharing.
posted by samthemander at 12:55 AM on April 1

Boy oh boy, the Star Wars Kid suing link sure does remind you that Metafilter was a very different and much nastier place in 2003.

Clicks on link, CTRL+F for screen results...breathes sigh of relief.
posted by Optamystic at 1:56 AM on April 1 [1 favorite]

Heartbreaking section from 17:30 to 19:00 where Ghyslain says "the school administration did nothing to help...It quickly became clear that, to the administration, I was the problem. I became the problem. I was the one tarnishing the school's reputation."

I'm 30min in and already finding a lot of things I didn't know - for instance, that Ghyslain wasn't even much of a Star Wars fan, and was just riffing on the film he'd been asked to help with, which included a Star Wars parody. And the press coverage at the time - wow, so deeply embarrassing. Looking forward later to the parts where Andy and Ghyslain meet up, but the first 30 min arre really smartly done.
posted by mediareport at 8:23 AM on April 1 [2 favorites]

Just watched this film. Really excellent. Gentle and thoughtful. I was also struck by the fact that Ghyslain wasn't a Star Wars fan and that the video had not been made for the reasons I assumed.
posted by Zumbador at 12:21 PM on April 1

Well, that was a nice documentary. I'm glad I watched that. Thanks very much for posting.
posted by hippybear at 9:26 AM on April 3

Watched this last night and shared it with a couple of family members who also found it unexpectedly moving. Thanks for the post!
posted by mubba at 1:09 PM on April 4

Clicks on link, CTRL+F for screen results...breathes sigh of relief.

Remembers that link is far enough back for previous screen name, repeats process, cringes
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 1:26 PM on April 4 [1 favorite]

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