"Star Wars Kid" was one of the first breakthrough Internet memes. But whatever became of the kid parodied by millions as he clumsily swung his imaginary lightsaber with reckless abandon? He recently spoke out publicly for the first time, sharing his thoughts on being arguably the first large-scale victim of cyberbullying.
“What I saw was mean. It was violent. People were telling me to commit suicide,” the now-25-year-old Ghyslain Raza said in an interview with MacLean’s.
Back in 2003, Internet memes were few and far between. For context, YouTube did not launch until February 2005. Those were the days when a viral video had the online stage to itself for months at a time, as word of its existence spread through word-of-mouth chatter at the office or classroom.
Unlike most viral videos today, Raza did not post his own video online. The then 14-year-old high-school student had innocently made the video of himself on November 3, 2002, in anonymity as part of a school video club. Some of his classmates secretly posted the video online in April 2003, sparking a torrent of views.
By the end of 2006, an independent estimate said the video had been clicked more than 900 million times. The video has more than 27 million views on YouTube alone and more than 100,000 viewer comments.
The video was parodied across mass media, including popular shows such as "Family Guy," "South Park" and "The Colbert Report." "Star Wars" creator George Lucas himself appeared on Colbert as part of a contest to see who could make the best version of a "Star Wars Kid" knockoff video starring host Stephen Colbert.
Curiously, none of the shows or numerous news outlets that covered the video ever tracked down the kid behind the phenomenon.
That’s because Raza did not seek out the attention. Instead, he found himself the victim of taunts and bullying at his school. The bullying became so bad that Raza was diagnosed with depression and ended up dropping out of school and being sent to a children's psychiatric ward.
“In the common room, students climbed onto tabletops to insult me,” he told Trudel. “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’s family initiated a lawsuit against the families of the four students responsible for posting the video online. The family eventually dropped one of the cases and settled out-of-court for an undisclosed amount with the other three families.
Since then, Raza has attempted to move on with his life. He is now a law-school graduate who said he is speaking out to provide encouragement for other kids who are experiencing cyberbulling.
“You’ll survive. You’ll get through it,” he said. “And you’re not alone. You are surrounded by people who love you.”