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The amazing story of ?Star Wars? kid

For the last two months or so, cyberspace has been abuzz with a French-Canadian teenager's antics.

india Updated: Oct 18, 2003 12:01 IST

For the last two months or so, cyberspace has been abuzz with a French-Canadian teenager's antics. Ghyslain Raza, an overweight 15-year-old kid from Quebec had recorded a two-minute video of himself fighting a mock battle with a golf ball retriever shaped light sabre.

In the video, the teenager is shown twirling the light sabre furiously, as if he's fighting an invisible enemy. To that he had added his own sound effects. The video clearly was for private consumption. Unfortunately for the portly kid, his classmates found the tape, digitised it and uploaded it on the big bad world of the Internet.

Thanks to the kazaa file-sharing network, the video has been downloaded over a million times and Raza became an obvious target of mockery. Those of you who are familiar with Napster, a peer-to-peer technology for file sharing and which had been much in news for music copyright infringement, must visit the similar www.kazaa.com and www.morpheus.com. Kazaa, incidentally, has emerged as the world's most downloaded peer-to-peer software application. And it's absolutely free!

While Raza achieved fame as the "Star Wars Kid", it also dented his psychology and caused him to drop out of school and finish the semester at a children's psychiatric ward. In a statement of claim filed in their hometown of Trois-Rivières, the Razas say that Ghyslain was so widely mocked at his private high school that he dropped out.

"The stigma of mental illness can generate social prejudices having severe consequences on the young man, including making it more difficult for him to enroll in the school of his choice or get a job, or even forcing him to change his name," the document said.

Now, here comes an interesting twist in the tale. Moved by Raza's plight and with an objective to somehow compensate him for his ordeal, a pair of bloggers decided to issue a worldwide appeal to make amends to Raza.

The idea was to buy the teenager an Apple iPod, and in the spirit of geeky bonhomie, assuage the wounds caused by fellow geeks. Andy Baio of www.waxy.org and Jish Mukerji of www.jish.nu raised over 4,000 dollars from separate donations and presented Raza with an iPod he so badly desired. Not only that, a petition was organised to get Raza a part in the next Star Wars movie. And, lo and behold, more than 16,000 people have already signed it.

I visited the Weblogs of Andy and Jish and was impressed. Both the weblogs are perfect examples of how to construct a blog and the information architecture that they have developed is comprehensive, intuitive and sleek. Jish's blog is in classic black and white and looks like the work of someone who spends hours on it. By the way, Jish is a 32-year-old Molecular Biologist working in the Bioinformatics industry in the San Francisco Bay Area. And yes, he is single and looking!

What is remarkable is that Raza's original recording has become a base video for a lot of enterprising netizens who have added bells and whistles to it. Websites have been dedicated to the youth. And several techies have created their own "clone" versions of the video, adding sound and visual effects or placing his image in any number of backdrops -- from The Hulk to The Matrix. What's more, one can buy "Star Wars Kid" t-shirts, mugs, stuffed toys and even thongs at www.jedimaster.net

What started as a light hearted exercise in self-indulgence created a unique phenomenon on the web-- a kaleidoscopic mix of amusement, intrigue, innovation, creativity and heartbreak.

Carry on surfing!

First Published: Oct 18, 2003 12:01 IST