As the time for the premier for The Force Awakens draws near, excitement is brewing for those new and familiar with the series. For decades many fans have speculated on the comings and goings of the characters from the original Star Wars Trilogy. With the canon now being rewritten, The Force Awakens hopes to take us to places in the galaxy far far away that have never been seen before. Screen shots from the movie trailers hint at the return of many familiar characters. Of course this just leads to more questions, but one question that has been left unanswered for decades deals with an object rather than a character. That object is the lightsaber wielded by Luke and Anakin Skywalker. Yes, fans might want to know where that lightsaber is, but for that matter, who actually owns the lightsaber? For that answer the lightsaber must be analyzed through the intricate lense that is property law.
As you might recall this was the second lightsaber Anakin built. His first lightsaber was destroyed on Geonosis during the events of Attack of the Clones. From the Clone Wars series there is no depiction of him making the new lightsaber, but there was an episode showing younglings crafting their own Jedi weapons. For the sake of this analysis, we will assume that Anakin made his second lightsaber in a similar matter. However, this does not mean that the Jedi Order may claim ownership over the weapon (think crafts that you bring home from summer camp, but more dangerous). This would mean the lightsaber is Anakin’s personal property. This means that Anakin has the true legal title to the lightsaber.
After Anakin and Obi-Wan’s battle on Mustafar, Obi-Wan took the lightsaber with him before entering into a self-imposed exile on Tatooine. At no point does Anakin give the lightsaber to Obi-Wan, therefore Anakin still retained rightful title in the lightsaber. It is not clear if Obi-Wan meant to take it for himself or if he knew that he would give it to either Luke or Leia. Either way, this was arguably still an act of larceny. Connecticut law defines larceny as:
A person commits larceny when, with intent to deprive another of property or to appropriate the same to himself or a third person, he wrongfully takes, obtains or withholds such property from an owner. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 53a-119 (2015).
Since Obi-Wan cut off Anakin’s legs and arm immediately before taking the lightsaber, it seems a likely conclusion that Obi-Wan intended to deprive Anakin of the lightsaber by taking it and leaving Anakin to smolder in the lava of Mustafar.
Meanwhile, Obi-Wan has been exerting dominion and control over the lightsaber. He kept it with him on Tatooine during his exile, and nineteen years after the events of Revenge of the Sith, Obi-Wan presented the lightsaber to Luke Skywalker, saying that it belonged to his father. At this point, Luke was under the impression that his father was already dead. To his knowledge then, there was no other owner of the lightsaber still living. He took the lightsaber from Obi-Wan as a gift, not knowing that the true title of the lightsaber still resided with his living father. Connecticut defines a gift as follows:
A gift is the transfer of property without consideration. It requires two things: a delivery of the possession of the property to the donee, and an intent that the title thereto shall pass immediately to him. Coppola v. Farina, 50 Conn. Sup. 11, 13, 910 A.2d 1011 (2006).
There are two elements that must be satisfied. First, that the possession of the lightsaber transfer to Luke, and second, the intent that the title immediately transfer to Luke. While the first element was satisfied, the second could not be fulfilled as Obi-Wan never had the title to the lightsaber. As such the gift fails, however, Luke is still in (unlawful) possession of the lightsaber.
Fast forward to the events of the Empire Strikes Back in which Luke has his hand cut off by Darth Vader (Anakin Skywalker) and is deprived of the lightsaber. However, shortly after this he learns that Darth Vader is his father. Upon this revelation, he is aware that his father, the true owner of the lightsaber, is alive. Darth Vader has a valid claim against Luke for the return of the lightsaber. In terms of criminal conduct though, it is unlikely that Luke could be charged with receipt of stolen property. In the state of Connecticut “a person is guilty of larceny by receiving stolen property if (he/she) receives stolen property knowing that it has probably been stolen or believing that it has probably been stolen.” Conn. Gen. Stat.§ 53a-119(8). In this instance, Luke had no reason to think that the lightsaber had been stolen since he was convinced that his father was dead. Granted Luke probably should have asked a few more questions regarding the provenance of the lightsaber, but this does not make him liable. As a result, though Darth Vader would have had a claim, there would likely not have been a criminal claim against Luke.
Regardless of the claims against him, Luke lost the lightsaber in an undisclosed location on Cloud City. If he was still exerting dominion and control over the lightsaber, he would be on notice to return it to its true owner. Luke, however, was not in possession of the lightsaber after learning that his father was still alive. As such, he was not necessarily responsible for returning it at that point.
Moving then to the events of Return of the Jedi. After the death of Darth Vader, Connecticut intestacy law suggest that his personal property would then belong to his living heirs. In this case, the two living heirs would be Luke and Leia Skywalker (since Padme, their mother, is also deceased). See Conn. Gen. Stat.§ 45a-438. However, there is an argument to be made that Luke contributed to the death of Darth Vader by weakening him before his confrontation with Emperor Palpatine. Albeit Darth Vader acting on his own to save his son, this does not change the fact that Luke intentionally acted to harm his father. But for Luke’s lightsaber duel, Darth Vader may have been able to fend off Emperor Palpatine. More importantly, after the exchange Luke drags his father’s body to a hangar in an effort to leave the second Death Star. In the end, Darth Vader asks Luke to help him take off his mask. Luke acknowledges that this will kill Darth Vader. Although Darth Vader claims that this is inevitable, Luke still takes off the mask knowing that it would lead to Darth Vader’s death. While some jurisdictions recognize “right-to-die” legislation, Connecticut is not one of them. As a result, Luke may be charged with murder. In Connecticut, “A person is guilty of murder when, with intent to cause the death of another person, he causes the death of such person or of a third person or causes a suicide by force, duress or deception . . . .” Conn. Gen. Stat.§ Sec. 53a-54a.
The reason Luke’s actions are relevant to the lightsaber ownership is due to the fact that Connecticut has a slayer law. A slayer law prevents certain individuals from inheriting property if they caused the death of the person leaving the estate. In Connecticut, if Luke is found guilty of murdering his father (or being an accessory to his father’s murder) then he is prohibited from inheriting or receiving part of the estate from the victim (i.e. his father). Conn. Gen. Stat.§ Sec. 45a-447(c)(1). According to Connecticut law, the residual estate would then pass to Anakin’s other heirs. Conn. Gen. Stat.§ Sec. 45a-447. This means that the Connecticut Superior Court could determine he is guilty of murder, but a conviction would not bar him from inheriting the lightsaber. Only when he exhausts all of his appeals would he be barred from inheriting. Sulser v. Winnick, Conn. Super. LEXIS 2137 (2007).
If Luke were to be found responsible for Darth Vader’s death, then the statute would leave Leia Skywalker, Darth Vader’s only other living heir, to inherit their father’s entire estate (which may consist of shares in a now imploded Death Star). Whether or not Leia is aware of this, the true title to Darth Vader’s lightsaber would go to Leia. The unique nature of the lightsaber may prohibit Leia from wielding it like her brother or father. Certain laws may require the lightsaber to be registered for Leia to possess it, or the law could require Leia to have a permit for the lightsaber. This is likely not the case as it would equate lightsabers to handguns under Connecticut law. However, Connecticut still finds a knife with an automatic spring release from the handle with a blade longer than one and one-half inches to be a dangerous weapon. See Conn. Gen. Stat.§ Sec. 29-38. A lightsaber surely has a similar release function with a saber length of longer than one and one-half inches. While this law does not make mere possession of the lightsaber illegal, carrying the lightsaber in a vehicle or on one’s person would certainly be illegal with few exceptions. Although Leia may have title to the lightsaber, she could be prevented from taking it with her for weekend getaways in the Millennium Falcon.
[SPOILERS AND SPECULATION]
This leads us to Star Wars VII. While images show Finn (John Boyega) holding what looks to be the lightsaber in question this has not been definitively confirmed. How he received or acquired the new lightsaber will impact the necessary legal analysis. In the hands of Finn, we see the memorable blue glow of the lightsaber that has not been seen (in the film timeline) since Luke learned of his parentage in The Empire Strikes Back. While the lightsaber’s current location is yet to be seen, its fate will likely play some role in the plot of The Force Awakens. Leia has the legal title to that fabled piece of property, but she may not even realize it. In the end, no one can legally obtain ownership of the lightsaber in question without Leia transferring title.