A Long Time Ago, in a Galaxy Far, Far, Away, was Luke Skywalker within his legal rights to offer R2D2 and C3PO as a gift to Jabba the Hutt in Return of the Jedi? In order to determine whether Luke was legally entitled to do so, we have to understand the ownership history of our favorite Droids.
R2D2 is introduced in Queen Amidala’s escape from Naboo. As such, R2D2 appears to be the state property of Naboo. Queen Amidala as the head of state exercised her control over R2D2. The Droid continued his service to Amidala while she was a Senator.
C3PO was built by Anakin Skywalker. As such, C3PO is Anakin Skywalker’s personal property. However, as a minor, Anakan’s mother may have held title, but for the fact both Skywalkers were slaves. Moreover, C3PO was left on Tatooine after Anakan left to become a Jedi. At this point, C3PO was in the possession and control of Shmi Skywalker as her personal property (assuming a slave could own property).
At the time of Shmi’s death, C3PO would have been her personal property. Moreover, Shmi’s marriage to Cliegg Lars would not transmute her personal property to community property, unless there had been a written change of ownership. As such, Lars would have had a right to one half of Shmi’s personal property by intestate succession, because Shmi had one child (Anakin). See, Cal Probate Code 6401(c)(A). As one cannot have half a Droid, Lars arguably gave up any interest in C3PO in order to have Shmi’s other remaining personal property. As such, Anakin Skywalker would have become CP3O’s legal owner upon her death (unless Shim had a will stating otherwise). Alternatively, Cliegg Lars would become the proper owner of C3PO if the Droid were community property and Shmi died without a will.
As such, by the time of Anakin and Padme’s marriage, Anakin was the owner of C3PO and Padme the owner of R2D2 (or the state of Naboo). However, the marriage does not make them co-equal owners of the Droids, because marriage does not make personal property community property, unless there is a valid transfer of ownership.
R2D2 shared many adventures with Anakin Skywalker throughout the Clone Wars. Moreover, C3PO appeared to spend a substantial amount of time with Senator Amidala. While there marriage was secret, this does tend to show them treating the Droids as community property.
Revenge of the Sith first shows Anakin being left for dead on Mustafar, soon followed by Padme giving birth to twins, followed by her death. In theory, Anakin’s personal property could have transferred to Padme at the time of Anakin’s “death.” As such, Padme would have been the legal owners of both Droids before her death. Alternatively, an argument could be made that Anakin’s attempted murder of Padme cut off his rights to any of Padme’s personal property or community property, much like Obi Wan Kenobi did to Anakin’s limbs. (See, Cal Prob Code § 250, which prohibits someone who kills a descendant from inheriting under interest succession or a will). Additionally, one could argue that Lord Vader lost his property rights to CP3O due to abandonment.
The twins would have had a right to the Droids at the time of their mother’s death through intestate intestate succession. However, given both were newborns, Bail Organa arguably became the bailee of the Droids until the Skywalker twins were of legal age. In turn, Organa entrusted the Droids to Raymus Antilles for safe keeping.
By the time of A New Hope, Leia has possession, custody and control of the Droids. While this was to the exclusion of Luke, only Bail Organa, Yoda, and Obi Wan knew of the Skywalker twins. Leia exercised her property rights over R2D2 by sending him on the mission to find Obi Wan Kenobi.
The Jawas finding R2D2 and C3PO on Tatooine and selling the Droids presents an interesting legal challenge. The Jawas could argue the Droids were abandoned or lost, claiming a right over them. However, if lost, the Jawas made no attempt to locate the right owners, but simply put them up for sale. Consider the following California law:
One who finds lost property under circumstances which give him knowledge of or means of inquiry as to the true owner, and who appropriates such property to his own use, or to the use of another person not entitled thereto, without first making reasonable and just efforts to find the owner and to restore the property to him, is guilty of theft.
Cal Pen Code § 485.
This puts Uncle Owen into a strange position of arguably buying Droids that Luke actually had a legal right to already own.
The Jawas might have had a valid claim to lawfully owning the Droids on a “finders keepers” theory. Considering that the Droids escaped the Tantive IV in an escape pod, case law involving life boats found at sea is helpful in determining if the Droids were abandoned by Princess Leia, thus properly found by the Jawas.
Under case law, a “derelict vessel” is one that is abandoned and deserted. This can be by accident, necessity or voluntary actions, without hope of recovery. PAUL W. REISS, ET AL. v. ONE SCHAT-HARDING LIFEBOAT NO. 120776 # 1, ET AL., 2006 AMC 1401 (D.S.C. 2006), citing Rowe v. the Brig, 1 Mason 372, 20 F.Cas. 1281, 1282, No. 12,093 (C.C.Mass. 1818).
At the time of Leia’s capture, she could have believed she had no chance of escape. Moreover, she had no idea of where the Droid escape pod landed. However, she did give R2D2 orders to find Obi Wan Kenobi. These facts show that while the Tantive IV was lost without hope of recovery, Leia still exercised control over the Droids to complete her mission, even if she had no hope of recovering them.
If the escape pod could be considered a derelict vessel, and the Droids lost, the Jawas could have been within their salvage rights to find and sell the Droids. PAUL W. REISS, ET AL. v. ONE SCHAT-HARDING LIFEBOAT NO. 120776 # 1, ET AL., 2006 AMC 1401 (D.S.C. 2006). However, there could be a real legal challenge against the Jawas for not attempting to find the legal owner of C3PO and R2D2.
Assuming that the Jawas had the legal right to sell the Droids, Luke Skywalker would have become the proper owner of the Droids after the deaths of his aunt and uncle. As such, he would have had the legal right to gift the Droids to Jabba the Hutt. However, the following mutual combat and death of Jabba would either make Jabba’s estate the rightful owner of the Droids, or Luke re-covered them as lost property.
Alternatively, since Jabba did not accept Luke’s initial offer, he could claim the Droids were not a gift, but consideration for a contract for Han Solo. Since Jabba rejected the deal, he had no right to R2D2 and C3PO.