In the fifth chapter of Chris Taylor’s Lucasfilm chronicle, How Star Wars Conquered the Universe, the author devotes roughly two pages to the story of Ghyslain Raza. More commonly known to fans around the world as “Star Wars Kid,” Raza is the unwitting star of a viral video he filmed in 2002, which was later uploaded to the Internet in ’03—before YouTube existed—via the file-sharing service Kazaa. Several of his classmates had gotten ahold of the original VHS tape, transferred it to digital format without his consent, and decided to share it online for a laugh. Taylor estimates that the clip of fourteen-year-old Star Wars Kid, practicing his saber technique for the camera at his school’s AV club, has probably been seen about a billion times.
Taylor goes on to discuss the dark aftermath of the video, which led to years of cyberbullying, a legal battle against Raza’s peers that ended in utter defeat, and the teen being forced to leave school for more than a year for the sake of his emotional and mental well-being.
“What I saw was mean. It was violent. People were telling me to commit suicide,” Raza told Maclean’s magazine in a 2013 interview. “No matter how hard I tried to ignore [them], I couldn’t help but feel worthless, like my life wasn’t worth living.”
Most of us have at one time or another been on the receiving end of a bully’s abuse, or at the very least witnessed its destructive nature, but there’s no denying the uplifting aspects of Raza’s story as well as the bad. While no one should have to deal with the kind of emotional fallout that Raza experienced when his private tape unexpectedly hit the Web, I believe there is great cultural value to be found in his example—not only in his speaking out about the issue of bullying but also in the video itself, not to mention the countless others like it.
Since this is the first edition of my new weekly column here at Far, Far Away Radio, I thought I’d share, by way of introduction, a few examples of how I’ve paid tribute to the Star Wars universe myself over the years. Most of my fan art and fan films have been lost to some combination of time and carelessness, but my memory of them survives.
I suppose I’m fortunate, in some sense, that my Star Wars creations never made their way online—they were at least as embarrassing as anything in the “Star Wars Kid” video. But I want to honor Ghyslain Raza with a focus on the positives: the sheer joy he displayed as a fan, the unselfconscious nature of the clip, and the passion we share for this faraway galaxy we all seem to inhabit whenever our imaginations are given the chance.
Archived in several drawers back at my parents’ place, in my old childhood bedroom, I’ve got at least a hundred pen and colored-pencil drawings, most of them dated “2002” beneath my garish signature—a lifetime’s worth of love letters, essentially, to the Skywalker family and their Jedi mentors. But my most noteworthy Star Wars Kid moments involve more contemporary media such as film and videogames.
I’ll start with the funny one: a South Park–inspired animation clip I made using MS Paint, an early version of Windows Movie Maker, and a child’s uncritical eye. Part of me wants nothing more than to recover this gem, atrocious as it is, though I fear the hard drive it calls home has long since been put to rest at the local landfill. It’s a recreation of the famous “Duel of the Fates” sequence from The Phantom Menace, done in South Park’s signature style, in which characters are given oversized heads and undersized bodies with a flat, yet bug-eyed, aesthetic.
The animation is so rudimentary, it’s better to describe it as a series of images with music and a voiceover track. And, really, the fact that I used John Williams’s score—taken directly from my copy of the Phantom Menace soundtrack—is a bit of an insult to anyone who’s ever made a real fan film. I performed the voiceovers for Darth Maul, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Qui-Gon Jinn myself, however, doing my best to ham it up while still being faithful enough to the characters for them to be at least recognizable.
Darth Maul: “So, you think you’re cool, Jedi? I will have my revenge. I will kill you both.”
Obi-Wan: “Let’s get ’im, Master. I feel a sudden urge to kill!”
Qui-Gon: “Be weary [sic], Obi-Wan. Such feelings lead to the Dark Side.”
This had to be from 2001, as Attack of the Clones hadn’t yet left its mark, and I clearly remember that the “revenge” line came from the one brief scene in which Maul speaks to his master. Awful stuff, to be sure, but it had all my friends and family laughing back then. Cringeworthy writing aside (if you can call it “writing”), the voices made it hilarious—and I’ve often wondered whether that video might’ve birthed my interest in VO work, which is an art I admire deeply and would love to do someday.
The next lost contribution to my personal Expanded Universe came in ’03, when I found an unexpected hobby in the popular game-making software RPG Maker 2000, which allows users with little or no experience in game design to make two-dimensional role-playing games.
Featuring a Jedi Knight of my own creation—Dax Starlighter, who later fell to the Dark Side and became Darth Gavon—Trials of the Jedi was an unfinished game in the vein of The Legend of Zelda, though it was probably inspired to a greater extent by the untold hours I spent playing BioWare’s Knights of the Old Republic that year. Despite adding in fan characters, the RPG was really a loose retelling of the first act of A New Hope in which the player alternately took on the roles of both Luke Skywalker and Leia Organa, either disobeying Uncle Owen and delving into Jedi history or evading Darth Vader’s search party aboard the Tantive IV.
Again, my efforts at crafting a tale of the Star Wars universe came up short of my impossible standards, and the game was ultimately left unfinished. But my memory of the creative process, and the meticulously painted pixel art I made for the various “sprites” (i.e., player objects and NPCs) and environments, speaks to the intense love I’ve always felt for the saga. There’s no intellectual property in existence that fosters such artistic devotion in its fan base.
In The People vs. George Lucas, director Joe Nussbaum describes this phenomenon best: “There’s a lot of things I enjoy, but it doesn’t make me wanna do it. You know? I love Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, but I never entertained the idea of becoming . . . a candy maker.”
You just know somebody’s out there, right now, making chocolate Wookiees.
My final, perhaps most shameful, contribution to the realm of Star Wars–inspired juvenilia was probably made less than a year after the Trials of the Jedi “demo.” Shot on Hi-8 with an old Sony Handycam, my one and only live-action fan film was a failure in virtually every way. My friend Rob and I had just gone to Walmart to buy a couple of toy lightsabers at twenty bucks a pop, and like any Star Wars fans worth our salt, we wanted to make a movie. The problem was, we both lived in town, where any neighbors within earshot of our little production were sure to take notice and, as we used to say in those days, “point and laugh.”
So we waited until nightfall for the first and final shoot of our untitled project, which consisted of a single scene, no natural lighting other than the illuminated blades of our sabers (mine was Luke’s from Return of the Jedi; Rob’s, I believe, was Count Dooku’s), and a clear ignorance of the most basic principles of photography.
The result is too bad to even be considered funny. With no lighting, no shooting script, and no camera movement—my idea of cinematography was having the camcorder on a tripod, with nobody to operate it—the footage resembles something shot on a poor-quality phone camera in a dark room, and the audio is no better. If it yet survives, I hope no one ever sees it, but Rob and I had a blast playing with our new toys in my fenced-in backyard, and that’s what matters most. (Like Raza, the Star Wars Kid, we were both fourteen at the time.)
A central part of Lucasfilm’s legacy, from the films to the fan art community that coexists in its considerable shadow, is that there’s a place for everyone. I suspect anyone who listens to Far Far Away Radio or reads our blog understands what I mean when I say: we’re all Ghyslain Raza, and we should be able to laugh with one another about it.
Whatever controversy might crop up, whatever anonymous bigots on the Internet have to say about a member of the New Republic being homosexual (gasp!), we should all take a step back once in a while and remember that the love came first. The jadedness—so much of the People vs. George Lucas rhetoric—isn’t terribly important. Not when the franchise has such a bright future just beyond the horizon. Better that we should remember who we were when we first took notice of the world Lucas built for us. Because we’re all Star Wars Kid.