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Fallen hero in UNC Charlotte shooting is honoured in new ‘Star Wars’ book


Tucked away among the colourful pages that detail Sith troopers, Resistance supporters and moons in a galaxy far, far away is a short paragraph, not even 100 words long, telling the story of a Jedi Master and historian named Ri-Lee Howell who collected “many of the earliest accounts of exploration and codifications of The Force.”

But read between the lines of that blurb in the new book, “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker: The Visual Dictionary,” and the words whisper the story of Riley Howell, the 21-year-old college student who died in April after tackling a gunman who opened fire on his classroom at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

Howell was hailed as a hero in the aftermath of the shooting, and he received military awards for his brave final moments.

Now, he is memorialized in the “Star Wars” canon.

The Jedi Master title appears to be an appropriate tribute for Howell, whose friends and family described him as a franchise fanatic and scholar.

“So so SO much excitement to have my sweet Ri immortalized forever in the Star Wars universe that he loves so much,” Lauren Westmoreland, Howell’s girlfriend, wrote on Instagram.

The post accompanied a photo of Howell as a child posing with a lightsaber, a picture of the book excerpt featuring him, and a screenshot of his entry in Wookieepedia, the “Star Wars” wiki.

Howell’s mother, Natalie Henry-Howell, told The Charlotte Observer that she liked “the way they actually left his last name.”

“I think he would really be appreciative of that,” she said. “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” it was really her son.

They put his last name in there just to really honour him

“But they put his last name in there just to really honour him,” she said, adding that she cried when she heard the news.

Howell’s father, Thomas Howell, said the family received a letter from Lucasfilm at the end of May telling them that Riley’s name would be reimagined in a book later in the “Star Wars” realm.

The company, unbeknown to the family, had been contacted by someone who heard about Howell’s story and passion for “Star Wars,” asking if anything could be done to honor him, he said.

He said he forgot about it until the book was published and someone pointed out the Ri-Lee Howell entry to Westmoreland.

“Lucasfilms didn’t have to do any of this,” Thomas Howell said. “It’s a huge, wonderful gesture on their part.”

Released on Dec. 20, the new book dovetails the latest franchise film, “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” which hit movie theatres that same day.

Riley Howell’s family went on opening night to see the new movie, The Observer reported. They took Howell’s ashes with them and left an open seat, the newspaper said.

Credited with saving many lives, Howell was shot at least three times as he body-slammed the gunman, giving others time to escape, and ending the deadly rampage.

The April 30 shooting left four students wounded and another student, 19-year-old Ellis Reed Parlier, dead.

In September, the gunman, Trystan Andrew Terrell, pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree murder and other charges, according to The Associated Press.

He was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences for the deaths of Howell and Parlier, The Observer reported.





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