Back in 2002 Ghyslain Raza, a 15-year-old Canadian high school student, privately filmed himself imitating Darth Maul's acrobatic lightsaber moves, using a golf ball retriever in place of the double-edged Jedi weapon. Little did he know, he'd just made internet history.
Left in his school's basement, the tape was found by a fellow student who uploaded it to the internet. Though Raza never meant for another soul to see it, that video has since racked up just shy of a BILLION views, and was one of the first ever videos to go viral. Unless you've been living under a secluded, 3G-less rock for the past decade I'm going to assume you've already seen it, but here it is just in case:
Dubbed 'Star Wars Kid', Raza became an overnight phenomenon, with countless parodies, edits and imitations created in the original video's wake, including this piece of internet gold:
Unfortunately, Raza's transition to becoming a world-renowned internet meme had dire consequences for the 15-year-old, the video changing his life in an instant.
"People were telling me to commit suicide."
As a result of the video Raza was subjected to severe bullying, both in real life and online. In a 2013 interview, Raza said:
What I saw was mean. It was violent. People were telling me to commit suicide.
He was relentlessly tormented by kids at school and remembers how:
In the common room, students climbed onto tabletops to insult me.
The bullying got so bad that Raza was forced to leave campus in favor of private tuition.
Taking the bullies to court
Keen to fight back, his parents filed a $250,000 lawsuit against the families of the schoolmates who had harassed him, arguing that he:
had to endure, and still endures today, harassment and derision from his high-school mates and the public at large and will be under psychiatric care for an indefinite amount of time.
However, the case never went to trial, the parents agreeing on an out-of-court settlement with the defendants.
Raza refused to be beaten by his tormentors
Despite temporarily dropping out of school, Raza returned to complete his final senior year and even went on to graduate in law, refusing to let the viral video define his life.
Until 2013 he had tried as much as possible to distance himself from 'Star Wars Kid', refusing invitations from late night talk shows that wanted only "to turn me into a circus act".
However, Raza has since embraced his identity as the lightsaber-wielding star, and has vowed to help others who have also struggled with bullying. Equipt with his own arduous personal experiences, Raza has been able to assist children who've also met challenges associated with the advent of social media.
“You’ll survive. You’ll get through it.”
He admits that it was “a very dark period” in his life:
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.
However, Raza is determined to do as much as possible to help others battle cyberbullying and has urged any victims of online abuse to “overcome their shame” and seek out help from others.
You’ll survive. You’ll get through it... you’re not alone. You are surrounded by people who love you.
Ghyslain Raza's admirable bravery, resolute determination and compassion towards other is something we could all learn from. It's a shame that most have only seen his kick-ass lightsaber skills.