UNC Charlotte student Riley Howell, 21, who died during a shooting on UNCC’s campus on April 30th, has been officially enshrined as a hero by his favorite franchise: Star Wars.
As the gunman opened fire, Howell charged at him, and police said his actions “absolutely” helped stopped the attacker from killing more people, and from the incident being classified as a mass shooting. “He took the fight to the assailant. Unfortunately he had to give his life to do so, but he saved lives,” Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney told reporters the following day.
Nineteen-year-old Ellis “Reed” Parlier was also killed, and four others were injured.
Media reports and obituary tributes after Howell’s death noted his love of Star Wars, such as ABC affiliate WLOS’s story that included his younger brother Teddy saying, “He’s the only 21-year-old, who would willingly fight his lightsaber with me.”
News of Howell’s fandom later reached Lucasfilm, the production company behind Star Wars. And Howell is now mentioned in the book Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker – The Visual Dictionary, which was released on Friday to accompany the premiere of the movie Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.
The book includes a brief passage on “Jedi Master and historian Ri-Lee Howell,” explaining that he “collected many of the earliest accounts of explorations and codifications of the Force” in the book the Aionomica. (The Aionomica appears in the 2017 film Star Wars: The Last Jedi.)
The Jedi are the protagonists of the Star Wars franchise, an order of heroes dedicated to the light side of the Force. Only the most powerful are called a “Master.”
Lucasfilm did not immediately respond to TIME’s request for comment.
The Charlotte Observer reports that a Florida man with no connection to Howell wrote to Lucasfilms in May to tell them about Howell’s love of Star Wars and his act of bravery.
“I cannot think of a person more deserving to be canonized somewhere in the Star Wars universe. I know that we can’t name a major character after him, but even a very minor character in a single comic book, animated episode, or other medium would be a fitting tribute,” The Observer reports James Wes Carrens wrote.
Lucasfilms reportedly reached out later that month to Howell’s family in a letter.
“Riley’s courage and selflessness brings out the Jedi in us all,” wrote Lucas Seastrom of the Lucasfilm Fan Relations Team, according to the Asheville Citizen Times. “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.”
“[H]e would absolutely be over the moon that he is now a Jedi forever,” Westmoreland tells TIME in a text message. “And especially one that is a historian that preserves Jedi texts! That’s how he was with Star Wars, he was very detail oriented and could tell me every little thing[.]”
“[H]e loved to draw the clone trooper helmets all the time, sometimes even on my birthday cards because I always liked to draw him things for his birthday,” Westmoreland continues. “He has little Star Wars figurines all over his room that he’s had since he was very little, and when I hiked on the [Pacific Coast Trail] for a month with [Outward Bound] after he was killed, I took his [Obi-Wan] figurine with me and took pictures of him in all the different places we stayed[.]”
She adds that they were supposed to see the new Star Wars movie for their anniversary, and that “even though I didn’t get to see it with him, this happened for him instead and it has been truly truly incredible.”
Westmoreland also posted about his inclusion in the book on Instagram and on TikTok on Monday.
“Thank you for giving my love the best Christmas gift ever, and making him part of the Star Wars universe forever,” she wrote in the post.
The Observer reports that the Howell family went to see The Rise of Skywalker last Thursday, saving an open seat in the theater for Howell. They also brought his ashes. “I think… he would have liked the way it ended,” his mother Natalie Henry-Howell told the newspaper.
In the letter of Howell’s family, Seastrom wrote, “All of us here share our deepest condolences. The Force will be with Riley, and all of you, always…”
As Westmoreland put it in her TikTok: “Long Live Ri-Lee.”
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