The Star Wars Rebels episode “Fighter Flight” touched on two important legal issues: Eminent Domain and Reckless Flying. Let’s explore each.
We Are No Longer Interested in Buying Your Farm
The Empire demanded a farmer sell his property to the Empire. The amount for the property is never disclosed. After refusing the Empire’s offer to buy the farm, the Empire destroyed the farmer’s house with an armed transport. The farmer and his family were then arrested for their failure to sell their property to the Empire.
In the United States, when the government takes private property for public use it is called “Eminent Domain.” The government “may acquire and hold real property in any state, whenever such property is needed for use of government in execution of any of its powers, and when it cannot be acquired by voluntary arrangement with owners, it may be taken in exercise of power of eminent domain.” Van Brocklin v Tennessee (1886) 117 US 151.
The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution is intended to limit the power of the United States in taking property from its citizens for public use. United States v Lee (1882) 106 US 196, (superseded by statute as stated in Block v North Dakota (1983) 461 US 273).
The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution requires that the government cannot take private property for public use without “just compensation” to the property owners.
In the case of the Empire, if a farmer refuses to sell his farm, he is charged with treason and arrested. These actions are more in line with Stalin’s Soviet Union than a Republic.
Let’s Go Fly a Tie
Zeb and Ezra stole a Tie Fighter while resisting arrest for attempting to steal fruit from the Empire. Zeb’s initial flight in the Tie Fighter included a low speed buzzing of a farmer’s market in a street fair, complete with firing the ship’s cannons at a fruit stand, resulting in its destruction.
On Earth, and in the United States specifically, flying aircraft is a highly regulated activity, requiring licensing, controlled airspace, and minimum altitude requirements.
States such as Wisconsin have specific laws prohibiting reckless flying:
No person may operate an aircraft in the air or on the ground or water in a careless or reckless manner so as to endanger the life or property of another. In determining whether the operation was careless or reckless the court shall consider the standards for safe operation of aircraft prescribed by federal statutes or regulations governing aeronautics.
Wis. Stat. § 114.09.
In-flight activities that can endanger the lives of others include:
Any person who ‘buzzes’, dives on, or flies in close proximity to a farm, home, any structure, vehicle, vessel, or group of persons on the ground.
A pilot who engages in careless or reckless flying and who does not own the aircraft which he is flying unduly endangers the aircraft, the property of another.
The operation of aircraft at an insufficient altitude endangers persons or property on the surface or passengers within the aircraft. Such flight may also constitute a violation of 60.107.
Acrobatic Flight. No person shall engage in acrobatic flight:
Below an altitude of 1,500 feet above the surface.
Minimum Safe Altitudes. Except when necessary for take off or landing, no person shall operate an aircraft below the following altitudes:
Anywhere. An altitude which will permit, in the event of the failure of a power unit, an emergency landing without undue hazard to persons or property on the surface.
Globe Indem. Co. v. Hansen, 231 F.2d 895, 904 (8th Cir. Minn.1956).
Zeb’s flight down the street would technically be “buzzing” near structures (the buildings) and people on the ground (the merchant farmers). Moreover, as the Tie Fighter was the property of the Empire, this would be hijacking and endangering the aircraft in flight. Furthermore, the low altitude flight endangered people on the ground, specifically those near structures hit by the Tie Fighter, or those threatened by weapons fire.
The Empire has a totalitarian judicial system where any crime seems to be treason punishable by death. As such, while Zeb did commit a crime, the Empire is not exactly a model society predicated on freedom with proportional punishment.
Tie Fighter Photo by Judge Matthew Sciarrino from his collection.