Lucasfilm Honors UNC Hero Riley Howell As A Jedi

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Riley Howell is seen in a graduation photo and as a child playing with a toy light saber. Howell was killed when he confronted a gunman at UNC Charlotte in April. He was a Star Wars fan and his name was re-imagined by Lucasfilm as a character in the Star Wars universe in a visual guide that accompanies the latest movie.
Credit Howell family via Matthew Westmoreland
Riley Howell is seen in a graduation photo and as a child playing with a toy lightsaber. Howell was killed when he confronted a gunman at UNC Charlotte in April. He was a Star Wars fan and his name was re-imagined as a character in the visual guide that accompanies the latest movie.
Credit: Howell family via Matthew Westmoreland

On April 30th, 2019, a gunman opened fire in a UNC classroom, wounding four and killing two. Among the dead was UNC student Reid Parlier, and 21-year-old Riley Howell, a ROTC cadet and life-long Star Wars fan. Authorities credit his actions that day with effectively stopping the shooter and saving many lives, though he lost his own.

“He took the fight to the assailant, and he unfortunately had to give his life doing so but he saved lives. What he did was he took the assailant off his feet and the heroes we have here were able to apprehend from there.”

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney

Another fan noted, while reading online about Howell’s actions, that he was a huge Star Wars fan and reached out to Lucasfilm about it. Less than a month after the shooting, the Lucasfilm Story Group reached out to the Howell family with a unique tribute.

Lucasfilm Story Group provides a fitting tribute

Lucasfilm sent this letter to the family of Riley Howell, who died confronting a gunman at UNC Charlotte. Howell was a big Star Wars fan and his name has been reworked into the Star Wars universe as a Jedi master.
Credit Matthew Westmoreland
Lucasfilm sent this letter to the family of Riley Howell, who died confronting a gunman at UNC Charlotte. Howell was a big Star Wars fan and his name has been reworked into the Star Wars universe as a Jedi master. Credit: Matthew Westmoreland

“To the Howell Family,

In wake of your recent tragedy, everyone here at Lucasfilm wishes to express our deepest condolences. Riley’s courage and selflessness brings out the Jedi in all of us. We hope 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 re-imagining of Riley’s name as a character in the Star Wars galaxy. We can’t reveal the specific details at this time, but the character’s name will appear in a forthcoming book publication later this year. Please keep this confidential until the book is released, at which time we will share it with you.

Again, all of us here extend our deepest condolences. The Force will always be with Riley, and all of you, always…

Lucas O. Seastrom, Lucasfilm Fan Relations Team

Ri-Lee Howell, Jedi Master and Historian

Riley grew up in the town of Waynesville, North Carolina and received posthumous military honors for his actions. Over 1,500 people attended his funeral. Then on December 20th, like most other Star Wars fans, he went to see the movie. The Howell family took his ashes to see Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker. On the same day, an old teacher of Riley and his girlfriend Lauren texted: they found Riley’s name in the Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker visual guide.

Ri-Lee Howell appears as a character in the visual guide to "Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker." Howell, who was killed confronting a gunman at UNC Charlotte, was a Star Wars fan.
Credit Courtesy Matthew Westmoreland
Riley Howell will be known as Jedi Master and Historian Ri-Lee Howell forever in the Star Wars universe.

Matthew Westmoreland, Howell’s best friend, said that it couldn’t have been more fitting a title.

“That’s so perfect, because he had an encyclopedic knowledge of Star Wars. He could tell you anything about anything if you asked him. The fact that he’s a historian in the Star Wars universe is just spot on. Whoever did their research did a really good job on that.”

Matthew Westmoreland to WFAE 90.7 Charlotte

The Legacy of a Jedi

What is so striking, and terrifying, about this story is that it could have been any one of us. Riley’s sacrifice is a solemn reminder that we can be united and stronger than any force in the galaxy. I can only imagine how I might react in the same situation, but I would hope to be the selfless example he was, and just as a Jedi would be.

Force ghosts, courtesy of Lucasfilm
The Force is strong with this one…

We are grateful to the Lucasfilm Story Group for this fitting memorial. Thank you. On behalf of That Hashtag Show, and all the Star Wars fans we represent, our deepest condolences go out to the Howell and Parlier families for their loss. May the Force be with us all.

“Nuture your minds with great thoughts. To believe in the heroic makes heroes.”

Benjamin Disreali, British Statesman and Novelist

Sourse: WFAE 90.7 Charlotte

For more on Star Wars, Rise of Skywalker, or any other general pop culture, make sure to check back to That Hashtag Show.

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