Lucasfilm has honored shooting victim and hero Riley Howell, a student at the University of North Carolina who died while trying to prevent a gunman from killing more of his classmates. The Disney owned company has made him into a Jedi who exists within the official Star Wars canon. Howell was a big Star Wars fan and, following his heroic act in April of this year, Lucasfilm reached out to his family to let them know he would be immortalized as part of a galaxy far, far away as a way to honor his courageous act.
This all started when a fan contacted Lucasfilm on May 4 letting the company know what a huge fan Riley Howell was following his passing. The UNC shooting left two dead and four others injured. However, authorities have stressed that Howell's action almost certainly prevented further loss of life. Howell's Star Wars fandom became a big part of the conversation after the fact. That, coupled with the letter, got Lucasfilm's attention and, later that month, Lucas Seastrom of the Lucasfilm Fan Relations Team wrote the following in a letter to Howell's family.
"Riley's courage and selflessness brings out the Jedi in us all. As a small tribute, 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."
Riley Howell's inclusion in the franchise came in the recently released Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker Visual Dictionary. Lucasfilm played with his name a bit to make it sound a bit more Jedi-like, dubbing him as Jedi Master Ri-Lee Howell. The passage about Ri-Lee reads as follows.
"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."
So, not only did Howell become a Jedi, based on this passage, he was a very important one. Given the nature of the sacred Jedi texts in Star Wars, it's entirely possible we could see Ri-Lee pop up in future stories, be it in animation, comics, novels or maybe even a show on Disney+. Riley's mother, Natalie Henry-Howell, had this to say about her son's inclusion in the universe.
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"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."
The Star Wars fandom is divided right now. Many of us are debating The Last Jedi and/or The Rise of Skywalker. But at the heart of this bickering is something we all love and its message has always been a positive one. Star Wars is about good conquering evil. Overcoming hatred. Riley Howell certainly embodied the ideals of the Jedi and, as fans, perhaps we can all learn a lesson from Jedi Master Howell. May the Force be with him, always. This news comes to us via the Charlotte Observer.
There’s one particularly telling and effective moment in The Skywalker Legacy, the feature-lenght documentary that’s included on the Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker home release that sums up much of the ambivalence and consternation that some had with J.J. Abrams’ return to the Star Wars universe. After showing the intricate construction of a giant, practical snake monster, the doc cuts back to footage of Jabba The Hutt, that old analogue beast that slithered its way into our hearts. The sentiment is clear – we’re making movies like we used to! A celebration of practical effects, the dripping of k-y jelly to give viscosity just like the old costume days, it’s all there. There’s excitement on set, everyone talking about how amazing it looks, how lifelike, how this is how you’re supposed to do movies like this.
Cut to Visual Effects Supervisor Roger Guyett who shatters the myth, letting us know the creature was replaced by a CGI version in post.
Guyett’s resume is mighty. Having made his bones on groundbreaking films like Twister and Casper, he helped Spielberg bring the events of D-Day to screen in Saving Private Ryan, helped bring to life the best looking film in the Harry Potter series, Alfonso Cuarón’s Prisoner of Azkaban, and even made the theatrical version of Rent feel more than a stage production. Guyett has had many collaborations with Abrams – from the Star Trek Reboots through The Force Awakens and The Rise of Skywalker he was even second unit director on the former, as well as working with George Lucas on Episode III to round off the prequels. He’s in a unique position to speak to these changing landscapes of epic filmmaking.
We spoke at length about the apparent contradictions and indulgences in making a Star Wars film, and he made the case for why nothing was wasted and all contributed to the final presentation. He was erudite and open to the discussion, making for a dream conversation with a man who quite literally has helped shape what amazes us on screen for decades.
The following has been edited for clarity and concision.
We see practical effects being championed as almost a marketing ploy with the “postquels” as a mix of nostalgia and an attempt to delineate from Lucas’ second trilogy. In some ways the love of the practically-realized snake undercuts the extraordinary CGI you and your team accomplished, and raises questions about why the need to fetishize the on-set inclusions when they’re replaced anyway. Could you talk about that ethos, that somehow doing stuff on a computer is a “cheat” while doing an effect practically is not?
I think at the end of the day we’re all trying to do the best that we can, trying to make the best, most dramatic or emotional movie we can visually. I’m coming from figuring out how do you get the most...