In 2003, Facebook and Twitter didn’t exist yet, but like a billion Internet users, I shared the video called star wars kid with my friends. It showed a clumsy teenager passionately wielding a lightsaber-like appearance as he reeled in a small study. I thought it was hilarious and adorable, because all the kids of my generation did the same thing while playing Star Wars.
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But in 2003 we still didn’t know what virality was. What I shared via email wasn’t even the original video, but one of its many mutations, complete with music and special effects. Only later did we learn the name of this boy, who despite himself marked the history of the web: Ghyslain Raza, a 3-year-old studentme high school at the Séminaire de Trois-Rivières. He himself had recorded this one night at school for a school activity. Someone found the tape and some students posted it on the web. The sequel is out of control as it is one of the most viewed viral videos on the planet.
Almost 20 years later, Ghyslain Raza agreed to participate in the documentary In the Shadow of the Star Wars Child which will be presented on March 30 on Télé-Québec. And if he decides to come out of the shadows today, it’s to do useful work, explains director Mathieu Fournier.
Since this 2003 misadventure that could have destroyed him, Ghyslain Raza had given only one interview to journalist Jonathan Trudel, co-writer of the film, for the magazine News about ten years ago. Here was born the project of a documentary in the mind of Mathieu Fournier. “This video was a bit like an oracle predicting what was going to happen to the web,” he explains.
From curiosity about a phenomenon, the project was transformed. Helping Ghyslain recover that history has become that much more important.
Mathieu Fournier, director
Ghyslain Raza never wanted to monetize this sudden and unwanted celebrity, which surprised many. Even if it meant having a hard time, why didn’t he take advantage of it? He could have done festivals, signed autographs, or sold T-shirts; In 2003, there was even a request for him to appear in Star Wars Episode III, Revenge of the Sith – but instead, Ghyslain Raza made himself invisible and avoided the media. His family sued the young people who posted the video on the web without his consent. There was an amicable agreement and we did not hear from him again until his interview in News. And now this documentary, where we discover that he has become a man in the process of finishing his doctorate in law, and very philosophical about what happened to him. He refused to define himself for this episode: a video of less than two minutes that excited the world, a true influencer fantasy today.
Still, imagine going to school the day after a planetary buzz in the early 2000s, when all of that didn’t really exist yet. And without her consent.
We also learn in the movie that he wasn’t even a true Star Wars fan. ! However, for 20 years I was convinced otherwise, and that’s probably why the video was so shared: all Star Wars fans recognized themselves in the passion of this young teenager, even if he is clumsy. In fact, mostly because he was clumsy. “We are all a kind of Star Wars Kids,” says Mathieu Fournier. Finally, we discover in this documentary that our reaction to this video says a lot more about us than it does about Ghyslain Raza, who was basically just “patient zero” of the viral phenomenon in his childhood. One of the first to become an endlessly multiplying meme breaking into popular culture, being picked up all over television, including South Park and arrested development.
All specialists agree on this point: the video of the star wars kid it has laid the groundwork for understanding the behaviors of internet users that are, as we know today, a gold mine for the companies that collect our data.
At the heart of the film is the meeting between Ghyslain Raza and the American blogger Andy Baio, who named the video star wars kid and increased his popularity. We feel that the guy is really sorry and that he had not foreseen such an impact. “He agreed to participate in the documentary only because Ghyslain was part of the project,” says Mathieu Fournier. I understood that the most brilliant demonstration of empathy was to emphasize encounters like the one with Andy Baio. The protagonists of this story, which marked his time, are still alive and able to speak to each other. Ghyslain showed empathy, because he wasn’t there to run into Andy, and Andy showed courage by being there. I thought that was more important than introducing another expert. »
Ghyslain Raza is still an expert, it seems to me, when answering questions from students in a class. They were born with it; one viral video chases another. But what happened to him in 2003 is unusual, a bit as if he had been the first to set foot on an unknown planet, without ever wanting to. It can from a unique point of view speak of the beginnings of this virtual New World that was not only built on the best of the human spirit. Above all, he can tell them that we can survive. “What we wanted to show is the guy he has become, not the teenager who filmed himself one night,” stresses Mathieu Fournier. I think a trigger for him was the fact that his story still resonates today. He wanted to go out into the public square and bring new ideas. So that we think about what happened to him and that he gives something, in the end. »
In the Shadow of the Star Wars Child, Wednesday, March 30 at 8:00 p.m. on Télé-Québec. The documentary will be available starting March 31 on the NFB.ca website.