Real-life heroes, like Jedi Knights, are a rare breed. But when they do come along, they act exactly as Riley Howell did when he was suddenly confronted by a school shooter who had charged into Riley’s classroom and already begun firing at his fellow students. In that moment, Riley decided to charge the gunman, and subsequently sacrifice his life to save those of others. Now, to honor that extraordinary act of courage, Lucasfilm Ltd. has officially made Riley—who was a passionate Star Wars fan—a Jedi Master and keeper of the Aionomica.
Riley Howell, a huge Star Wars fan and the man who tackled a shooter at UNCC (saving all but one life and his own) joined the Star Wars universe under the name Ri-Lee Howell featured in an upcoming book as a Jedi master and historian pic.twitter.com/dJOhRjDoM5
— Kayla (@kaylacockrel) December 23, 2019
The story of how Riley earned the posthumous ranking and title, as described in The Charlotte Observer (via GeekTyrant), began sometime after the tragedy occurred in April 2019, with a letter to Lucasfilm from a Florida man. The Floridian, James Wes Carrens, had learned from various news reports that Riley was an avid Star Wars fan, and took it upon himself to write to Lucasfilm to find out if the company behind the sci-fi world would afford Riley a “fitting tribute” and make him “even a very minor character in a single comic book, animated episode, or other medium….”
Later that month, the Howell family received a letter from Lucasfilm, which noted that the company’s Story Group had incorporated “a re-imagining of Riley’s name as a character in the Star Wars galaxy,” as a way to honor the fact that “Riley’s courage and selflessness brings out the Jedi in us all.” The letter didn’t state what type of character that would be, but did say that its name would “appear in a forthcoming book publication later this year.”
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RILEY BABY YOURE A JEDI MASTER!!!!!!!!!! It’s official!!!!!!! So so SO much excitement to have my sweet Ri immortalized forever in the Star Wars universe that he loves so much. MERRY CHRISTMAS AND HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU MY LOVE!!!! ?????????? (to explain, Lucasfilm sent us a letter a while ago about making him into a character in a Star Wars book in the future just didn’t realize it would be so soon AND so WONDERFUL!!!!! all bc of his story and his love of Star Wars!!!!)
Cut to some time in late December, when Howell’s girlfriend, Lauren Westmoreland, received word from a teacher at the high school she’d once attended that he had bought, and read through, The Rise of Skywalker — The Visual Dictionary. In the 200-page definitive tome, authored by Lucasfilm Creative Executive Pablo Hidalgo, Westmoreland’s former teacher said that he had spotted the name “Ri-Lee Howell,” and had, at first, thought he was only imagining the connection.
In the book, underneath a subheading that reads The Aionomica—which is the a collection of sacred Jedi texts—Riley takes his place in the official Star Wars canon. The full paragraph reads:
“Jedi Master and historian Ri-Lee Howell collected many of the earliest accounts of explorations and codifications of the Force in the Aionomica: a two-volume combination of codex, correspondence, and scrapbook. Though much of its contents would later be stored in holocrons (which have since been lost), the physical books have passages written in the hands of the original sages, carefully preserved by Howell.”
When Westmoreland found out that this is what the original letter from Lucasfilm had hinted at, she told The Observer that she thought it was “just the coolest thing in the world,” and that it would’ve sent Riley “over the Moon.” It seems that everybody from Riley’s life would’ve agreed: His little brother had told the media long prior to the release of the book that Riley had amassed “a legion of Jedi action figures,” and his mother had said that when Riley received a personalized Star Wars book from his uncle as a young child, the gift was “a big hit.”
SHOUT OUT to RILEY HOWELL whose courage & selflessness confronting senseless gun-violence is inspirational to us all-This real-life hero has become Jedi Master RI-LEE HOWELL in the official #StarWars canon. May his memory live on from here to eternity! https://t.co/3bkgXaKOpx
— Mark Hamill (@HamillHimself) December 24, 2019
“Riley was a massive Star Wars fan, and in the five-plus years I knew him he repeatedly surprised me with his encyclopedic knowledge of the Star Wars universe,” Matthew Westmoreland, Lauren’s brother, wrote in a reddit post showcasing pictures of Riley, his character’s reference in The Visual Dictionary, and the letter from Lucasfilm. Matthew added that “The fact that his character is a historian who put together an incredibly important text for the Jedi religion… is beyond cool.”
Riley Howell, the UNC Charlotte student who tackled the campus shooter, was a massive Star Wars fan. In the Rise of Skywalker Visual Dictionary he’s been added to canon as a Jedi Master and historian. pic.twitter.com/wJvlSFKhnQ
— LεεL (@MechaZain) December 23, 2019
On opening night, Riley’s mother and the rest of the family went to see The Rise of Skywalker. They took along Riley’s ashes so he could be there with them. And in the galaxy far far away, where a handful of Jedi continue to make their stand, there’s undoubtedly a Force ghost for Ri-Lee, a real-life Jedi who wouldn’t back down.
What do you think about Riley Howell being turned into an official Jedi Master? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.
Feature image: Buncombe County Schools via The Charlotte Observer