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'Star Wars' Dubs Riley Howell, UNC Hero, Jedi Master

Updated on December 27, 2019
Christina St-Jean profile image

I am a mom of two awesome children who teach me more than I ever thought possible. I love writing, exercise, movies, and LGBT advocacy.

UNC Hero


How One UNC Student Went From Hero To Jedi Master

On April 30, 2019, the lives of Riley Howell's family and friends changed irretrievably. Howell, now forever 21, was trapped in a classroom with his classmates and a gunman. He realized he had nowhere to run, and decided that it was better to bring the fight to the assailant rather than cower and wait to see if he made it. He attacked the gunman, buying valuable time for his fellow classmates, and ended up losing his life in the process of trying to stop the gunman.

Now, the Force will forever be with Howell, thanks to the Star Wars powers that be.

According to Howell's girlfriend of six years, Lauren Westmoreland, he was a huge fan of the four-decade-long movie series. Lucasfilm must have heard about Howell's bravery and dedication to the Star Wars fandom. The film company actually reached out to Howell's family to express their condolences and to honor Howell's bravery.

"Riley's courage and selflessness brings out the Jedi in all of us," wrote fan relations team member Lucas Seastrom, according to ABC13. "We hope that you may rejoice in his memory, and we join you in honoring his life and example."

As a result, there will now be an entry in the Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker Visual Dictionary by DK about Ri-Lee Howell, Jedi Master and historian. The entry is all of 66 words, but now, Riley Howell, hero of the UNC shooting on April 30, 2019, is immortalized as part of the Star Wars universe.

To me, this is the very definition of what Star Wars is about. There is a unique understanding across all fans that everybody has each other's back, and no one is excluded. The Star Wars universe has always been so broad and so diverse that there's never been any question about whether someone belongs, and if someone's demonstrated heroism, that's all the more reason they should become a permanent part of the Star Wars canon.

Honoring Riley Howell's young legacy by making him a part of the worlds that meant so much to him is a classy move by those at Lucasfilm, and by DK as well. Lucasfilm notified the Howell family of the decision to honor their son and sibling back in May, and when the book was released to coincide with the release of The Rise Of Skywalker, the Howell family noted that they had listed Riley Howell with both his first and last name, leaving no doubt in their minds that it was their boy Lucasfilm was honoring.

It was a move that did not go unnoticed by Riley Howell's mother, Natalie Henry-Howell, according to Lethbridge News Now.

“I like the way they actually left his last name,” Henry-Howell says. “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 honour him … and that really made me cry when I heard about it.”

The fact of his mother being so moved by Lucasfilm's decision to use both Riley's first and last name in the book should come as no shock. As a mother myself, I would have been stunned that a film company as large as Lucasfilm would have even cared about my child. To make the decision to ultimately honor the young man's devotion to the classic science fiction series is nothing short of remarkable and incredibly moving as well.

But that's why Star Wars has always been so moving. Sure, there's a whole lot of cheesy dialogue and high action, but from an emotional context, the films - and their fans - are always about relationships. No one associated with Star Wars would have even known about Riley Howell, yet when they heard about his heroism, they wanted to honor his memory in a manner befitting a Jedi, and how can you not be moved by that?

It's something that I think Riley Howell - and his Jedi counterpart Ri-Lee Howell - would have probably been thrilled by, and most certainly honored.

May his legacy of bravery shine brightly for decades to come.


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