BB-8 in Star Wars The Force Awakens is an endearing droid who rolls right into your heart. In the fine tradition of Lassie Come Home and Benji The Hunted, BB-8 was separated from his owner Poe Dameron, and bravely embarked on an adventure where he made new friends Rey, Finn, Han, and Chewbacca.
The rest of this post contains many spoilers on The Force Awakens, so if you have not seen the movie and want to be surprised, stop reading now.
BB-8 was separated from his owner Poe on Jakku. BB-8 set off into the desert, was captured by a scavenger, and rescued by Rey. BB-8 stayed in Rey’s care and was eventually told by Finn that Poe was killed. BB-8 ultimately learned Poe escaped death and was reunited with his master.
BB-8 effectively acted like a lost dog, who was on a final mission started by his owner. Cases about lost dogs are very helpful in understanding the respective ownership rights to BB-8 prior to his reunification with Poe.
Cities across the United States have code sections on lost dogs. For example, in Lauderdale Lakes, Florida, dog owners shall promptly notify the chief of police with a description of the dog, if their dog is lost, strayed, or stolen. Lauderdale Lakes, Florida Code of Ordinances Sec. 10.33.
It is likely cities across the Republic and First Order had similar ordinances for droids. However, unlike dogs, droids can communicate with “bee boops” that people can understand easier than a collie communicating Timmy fell down a well. Droids can state clearly, “That is my owner,” where one usually has to watch a dog for conduct towards a person (which is not always effective). Even then, nothing can prove dog ownership like having DNA evidence, as in a Katrina case where an owner was able to demonstrate ownership of a lost dog. Augillard v. Madura (Tex.Ct.App. 2008) 257 S.W.3d 494, 501.
Rey was tempted to sell BB-8 for food by Unkar Plutt. Rey knew BB-8 had an owner, but did not know whether he was alive or not at that time. Could Rey have sold BB-8 for food?
Conversion is an “act of dominion wrongfully exerted over another’s property in denial of or inconsistent with the owner’s rights therein.” Lincecum v. Smith (La.Ct.App. 1973) 287 So.2d 625, 627, citing, Hamilton v. Travelers Indemnity Co., (La.Ct.App. 1971) 248 So.2d 617, 618; 89 C.J.S. Trover and Conversion § 1 (1955).
If Rey had sold BB-8, with the knowledge the droid belonged to Poe (even if not by name), she would have committed an act of conversion. In a case where a dog-finder claimed he did not own a dog, but ultimately had the dog put to sleep, the Court held he committed an act of conversion, because the dog-finder exercised “dominion and a right of ownership which he did not legally possess. When he authorized destruction of the puppy there was a complete interference with the owner’s rights, and an obvious conversion.” Lincecum, at *628.
Selling BB-8 would have been “complete interference” with Poe’s ownership rights, which ultimately would have resulted in BB-8’s destruction. Luckily, Rey had a clear moral center and was not bribed into committing an act of conversion for food.
After believing Poe had been killed, Rey and Finn set out to return BB-8 to the Resistance. While the goal was to return BB-8 to the Resistance for the data the droid carried, this arguably could have begun establishing Rey’s ownership of BB-8, if Poe was indeed dead. Case law holds that when a finder of a lost pet who made a reasonable effort to locate the owner, responsibly cares for the animal over a reasonably extensive period of time, then the finder could acquire possession of the lost animal. Morgan v. Kroupa (1997) 167 Vt. 99, 101.
Rey cared for BB-8 over a short period of time (the story had to be only a couple of days at most) and made reasonable efforts to return BB-8 to the Resistance after believing Poe had been killed. If Poe had owned the droid himself and did not have any heirs to inherent BB-8, one could argue Rey had become the owner of BB-8. Poe’s estate would have a valid claim to BB-8, as Rey only had the droid for a short period of time, and the sale of BB-8 could have been used to settle any estate debts. However, since Rey returned BB-8 to the Resistance, thus reuniting BB-8 with Poe, this argument is moot, as the droid was returned to his proper owner. Just like Lassie.