A college student hailed by police as a hero for preventing more injuries and deaths after a gunman opened fire in a classroom has been immortalized as a Jedi by the production company behind the Star Wars franchise.
News outlets report the family of Riley Howell, the University of North Carolina at Charlotte student who is described as a huge Star Wars fan, was tipped off by Lucasfilm in May that it planned to honor him in a forthcoming book, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker - The Visual Dictionary.
The book was released by publisher DK to coincide with the release of the new film Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.
In May, the fan relations team for Lucasfilm wrote a letter to Howell’s family expressing condolences.
“Riley’s courage and selflessness brings out the Jedi in all of us,” wrote fan relations team member Lucas Seastrom. “We hope that you may rejoice in his memory, and we join you in honoring his life and example.
“As a small tribute, our Story Group has incorporated a reimagining of Riley’s name as a character in the Star Wars galaxy.”
The entry in the book credits Jedi master and historian “Ri-Lee Howell” with collecting “many of the earliest accounts of exploration and codifications of The Force”.
Riley Howell’s mother, Natalie Henry-Howell, told the Charlotte Observer that her son would have loved the idea.
“I like the way they actually left his last name,” Henry-Howell said. “I think he would really be appreciative of that. Because, you know, they could have just said Ri-Lee – Jedi Ri-Lee – and we’d be guessing the whole time about whether or not that was really [him], but they put his last name in there just to really honor him ... and that really made me cry when I heard about it.”
The family went to see the new movie on opening night. They brought his ashes and left a seat open for him.
“I think he would have liked the way it ended,” Henry-Howell said.
Howell, 21, and a classmate died on 30 April when a gunman opened fire in a classroom in the Kennedy building on UNCC’s campus. Four other students were injured, but police say Howell’s actions prevented more injuries or loss of life.
“You’re either going to run, hide and shield, or you’re going to take the fight to the assailant,” Charlotte-Mecklenburg police department Chief Kerr Putney said. “Having no place to run and hide, he did the last.”
Lauren Westmoreland, Howell’s longtime girlfriend, said in an email that Jedis were close to his heart.
“Though he wasn’t an artist, he loved to draw the clone trooper helmets all the time, sometimes even on my birthday cards,” Westmoreland said.
Lauren’s father, Kevin Westmoreland, said Howell studied the Star Wars universe for most of his life.
“He had a very strong sense of good and evil, and how to live life as someone who looked out for others,” Westmoreland said. “Seeing him listed as both a Jedi and a historian in Star Wars lore is a perfect way to connect him to this story and the characters he loved.”