When a gunman entered a University of North Carolina classroom on the last day of spring semester this year, student Riley Howell didn’t hesitate. He sprung into action, tackling the shooter and giving his life in the process. Many people have called Howell a hero since then. Thanks to Lucasfilm, though, and the new Rise of Skywalker dictionary, the lifelong Star Wars fan will also be remembered in a galaxy far, far away.
What Riley Howell Did at UNC
On April 30, 2019, a 22-year-old entered the “Science, Technology, and Society” class in UNC’s Kennedy Building. It was 5:40 PM and the students in the class were giving their final presentations for the semester. Just after walking in, the 22-year-old smiled and began shooting. The 60-some students in the room quickly scattered, as the gunman shot randomly.
21-year-old Riley Howell, on the other hand, didn’t leave. Instead, he ran toward the shooter, taking him to the ground. Even though the gunman shot him 3 times, culminating in a point-blank gunshot to the jaw that would kill him, Howell kept coming. The gunman was then out of ammunition, and police took him into custody less than 10 minutes after the shooting began. Howell and another student, 19-year-old Ellis Reed Parlier, were dead. 4 other students sustained injuries, but the rest of the students (and their instructor) survived. Police credited Howell’s quick action for preventing more bloodshed.
The Release of the Rise of Skywalker Visual Dictionary Reveals Lucasfilm Tribute
Howell had been a fan of the Star Wars franchise since he was a boy. In May, Florida man James Carrens, who noticed that a CNN article listed the franchise as Howell’s main interest, wrote to Lucasfilm. He asked that the company name a character, even just a minor one, for Howell. Later that month, Lucasfilm sent a letter to the Howell family.
The letter said, “…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.” Howell’s girlfriend of 6 years, Lauren Westmoreland, said in a Tiktok video that the letter “seemed too good to be true.” Then Stars Wars: The Rise of Skywalker: The Visual Dictionary came out on Friday, December 20th.
According to the dictionary, Ri-Lee Howell was a Jedi Master and historian. Through his diligent work, the two-volume Aionomica–important Jedi texts–exists. Howell, the Star Wars fan, is now enshrined in its canon forever.
image via DK publishing, photo via the Westmoreland family
The Howell family attended a showing of The Rise of Skywalker on Thursday, with Riley’s ashes in tow. Riley’s mother, Natalie Henry-Howell, spoke to the Charlotte Observer about the film and the book. She said, “And I like the way they actually left his last name. 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.” Us, too. (Editor’s Note: Can confirm.) And as Lucasfilm told his family, the force will be with him. Always.
What do you think about Lucasfilm’s tribute? Let us know in the comments below or on social media. (And for more on Howell himself, don’t miss The New York Times‘s lovely May article.)
featured image via DK
Salomé Gonstad is a freelance writer who grew up in the swampy wilds of south Alabama. She now splits her time between the Appalachian wilds (of Alabama) and the considerably more refined streets of New York City. When she's not yelling about pop culture on the internet, she's working on a supernatural thriller about her hometown. Also, we're pretty sure she's a werewolf. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.