In April, a gunman opened fire on the University of North Carolina at Charlotte campus. The shooting was stifled when Howell sacrificed his own life tackling the shooter, “absolutely” preventing what authorities said could have been a more deadly massacre.
“He took the fight to the assailant. Unfortunately he had to give his life to do so, but he saved lives doing so,” Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney told reporters after the incident, according to Time.
The violent act resulted in the death of one other person, as well as several who were injured.
Now, Howell — a noted superfan of all things Star Wars — is being immortalized within the fictional franchise he adored. Lucasfilm, the studio that creates the sci-fi world in all its facets, created a new character in its storied mythology: Ri-Lee Howell.
Featured in a companion book set to coincide with the new movie titled Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker: The Visual Dictionary, the new character is described as a Jedi Master and historian of the Jedi Order.
In a TikTok video that has since been reposted and gone viral, Howell’s girlfriend, Lauren, described what it meant to see her lost loved one honored by the franchise he was so passionate about. “Thank you for giving my love the best christmas gift this year,” she wrote in the video.
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In a letter from Lucasfilm, a representative from the company informed the family back in May that they were working on a top-secret way of honoring Howell.
“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,” read the letter. “…All of us here extend our deepest condolences. The Force will be with Riley, and all of you, always.”
Matthew Westmoreland, a friend of Howell, told WFAE that Howell’s family was overjoyed by the gesture, and that they even brought his ashes to see The Rise of Skywalker in theaters on opening weekend.
“It’s a book that’s actually in the movie that he was the custodian of and this Jedi master who kept these records,” Westmoreland said. “That’s so perfect, because he had an encyclopedic knowledge of Star Wars. He could tell you anything about anything if you asked him.
He added: “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.”