PEMBROKE PARK, Fla. – After attending the funeral of his close friend Christopher Andrew "Drew" Leinonen, who was among the 49 killed at the Pulse nightclub shooting, Joshua Yehl was a bit of a mess.
"On the way home I started thinking about what I loved the most about him, and that was just sitting around talking about Star Wars or going to a Star Wars exhibit or convention," Yehl said in a Facebook interview.
Yehl wanted to remember his friend the way he knew him, as a "big nerd" who loved Pokemon, video games and of course, Star Wars.
Then Yehl got an idea, what if he could get Leinonen honored as the first LGBT Star Wars movie character?
Yehl started a Change.org petition addressed to President of LucasFilms, Kathleen Kennedy, Walt Disney Company CEO, Bob Iger, and anyone behind Star Wars. In the petition Yehl gives suggestions on how his friend can be honored – such as using his likeness, or running his name through a Star Wars Name Generator.
"You are all masters of your craft, so I know that whatever you come up with will be marvelous," Yehl wrote in the petition. "This character will not only honor Drew but all of the other victims at Pulse in Orlando, including his boyfriend Juan Ramon Guerrero, and every LGBT person to ever lose their life to hate."
Yehl met Leinonen at a birthday dinner. They were seated across from each other and sparked a conversation about Battlestar Galactica.
They quickly learned that they both loved movies, and were nerds at heart.
"Drew was a bundle of joy," Yehl said. "If he wasn't talking about movies or showing you some new gadget he bought, he was tickling you or pulling you up to dance. He was a friend to everyone he met. Literally. You'd go to the club with him and turn around and he'd be gone, and then you'[d turn around again and he'd be back with five new friends."
And yes, Yehl is very well aware that it is a long shot asking for his friend to be in the Star Wars franchise, but that's not stopping him.
"I am being very practical about this," he said. "Of course hope that it happens, but I'm also prepared to accept that it's just not in the cards. If it did work, I would be ecstatic."
Leinonen, whose favorite character was Darth Vader, would've been thrilled too.
"I'd like to think he would be flattered and would have felt loved by everyone who helped make this happen," Yehl said. "And he would give all those people a big huge and a sloppy kiss on the cheek."
And if it doesn't work out – that's OK too.
"I think some good has already been done by getting people to engage in the conversation about the importance of having visible LGBT characters in mainstream movies, plus the world got to know drew a bit better, which is really nice to know," Yehl said.