By AMY HARMON
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Published: May 19, 2003
The Internet is riveted by a video of Ghyslain, a 15-year-old boy in Quebec who filmed himself wielding a double-bladed light saber in the manner of Darth Maul, the bad guy from ''Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace.''
In the video, Ghyslain brandishes a golf ball retriever in a series of maneuvers that are both painfully awkward and unmistakably joyful. Wearing khakis and a button-down shirt, Ghyslain, who is heavy-set, plays his character with great intensity, glaring into the camera and making sounds to accompany his moves.
Since it was released on the Web late last month as a prank by fellow high school students who discovered the clip, the video has been downloaded more than a million times. Also in circulation are several ''remixes,'' adding special effects to make the stick glow like a light saber and setting the action to music.
Short videos of embarrassing, funny or illicit moments are common Internet fare. But this one, known as the Star Wars Kid, has traveled farther, faster and commanded more attention than any in recent memory. It seems to be serving as a Rorschach test for geek self-perception.
Many of the comments on Web sites that showcased the video are simply nasty, making fun of Ghyslain, who is not identified in the video, for being overweight or, as one comment put it, ''dweeby.'' But others applaud the un-self-conscious display of physical enthusiasm by someone who is not captain of the football team.
Wrote one fan: ''Kid, who ever you are -- YOU ROCK!!!''
''I personally feel that he is like me and all of my friends,'' said Andy Baio, 26, a Web developer in Los Angeles. ''This spread around the world partly because he's funny and awkward to watch, but also because there's a big part of him in a lot of us.''
After Mr. Baio made the clip and one of the remixes available on his Web site, http://www.waxy.org, there was so much interest in the video that he posted a request for more information about its origins. Three high school students came forward to say that they had released the tape, originally recorded in a school studio last November, Mr. Baio said.
Using the information provided by the students, a French-speaking friend of Mr. Baio's, Jish Mukerji, contacted the boy, and posted a transcript of his conversation on his Web log, http://www.jish.nu. Last week, Mr. Baio suggested that the Internet audience try to compensate Ghyslain for having been subjected to such global scrutiny. So far, more than 135 people have donated a total of $1,085 to buy him an iPod music player and perhaps an Amazon.com gift certificate.
Reached by telephone at his home on Saturday, Ghyslain, whose mother asked that his last name and location be withheld, said the video was part of a school project that he had directed. One night, he had been acting out some of the moves he had in mind for the actors.
As nice as it might be to get an iPod, he said, he would have preferred that the video, which he had not intended anyone to see, had remained private.
''People were laughing at me,'' he wrote in a follow-up e-mail message. ''And it was not funny at all.'' AMY HARMON