The opening scene of Rogue One is the forced conscription at gunpoint of Galen Erso by Director Orson Krennic and his Death Troopers. The work on the Death Star was stalled and Erso was needed to complete the project.
Was that legal?
The United States history with drafting citizens for military service offers a comparison for conscripting citizens for military service.
Civil War case law addressed the first draft cases in the United States. One Court described conscription as follows:
A conscript is one taken by lot from the conscription (or enrollment) list, “and compelled to serve as a soldier or sailor.” (Web. Dic. verb. “conscript.”) The power to raise an army by conscription or coercion (the words are nearly synonymous) rests alone on the idea that the power is unlimited, as to the means to be used, as well as to the numbers of which it may be composed. If there was no other power or principle in the instrument to be affected in its operation by such a view, there would be force in the idea. But the Constitution must be administered so that the whole may stand in full force, unimpaired by any particular portion.
Kneedler v. Lane, 1863 Pa. LEXIS 268, at *66 (Nov. 9, 1863).
Galen Erso’s service was needed to complete the Death Star. Erso recognized the weapon was being built to ensure peace through terror. Moreover, most people drafted were through the mail, not at gunpoint. Furthermore, U.S. citizens have been drafted when they strongly disagreed with the war they were being drafted to fight in. As the US Supreme Court said on this issue:
Other fields of legal obligation aside, it is undoubted that the nature of conscription, much less war itself, requires the personal desires and perhaps the dissenting views of those who must serve to be subordinated in some degree to the pursuit of public purposes.
Gillette v. United States, 401 U.S. 437, 459 (1971).
The US Selective Service Act allows for retired military service members to be recalled to service for up to twenty-four months:
Until July 1, 1953, and subject to the limitations imposed by section 2 of the Selective Service Act of 1948, as amended, the President shall be authorized to order into the active military or naval service of the United States for a period of not to exceed twenty-four consecutive months, with or without their consent, any or all members and units of any or all Reserve components of the Armed Forces of the United States and retired personnel of the Regular Armed Forces.
50 U.S.C.S. § 3819.
Galen Erso had left the military and was objectively opposed to building the Death Star. That was clearly evidenced by moving his family to a remote farm, complete with early warning systems and a bunker to hide his daughter. However, the concept of drafting a retired service person is not unheard of for national defense. That being said, Director Krennic’s methods are highly problematic with threatening Erso at blaster-point to kidnap his entire family.
The Death Troopers shooting Lyra Erso raises multiple other issues. Lyra arguably had a defense of others for Galen, because multiple Death Troopers had weapons pointed at Galen. However, the Death Troopers could argue they were within their rights to 1) legally draft Galen and 2) acted in self-defense after Lyra drew a weapon at them. However, this would then require an Imperial Court to recognize kidnapping families at gunpoint is not forced labor, but a legitimate way to draft service members. A galaxy far, far, away might accept that, but not this one.
Galen Erso worked on the Death Star far beyond twenty-four months. As evidenced in his holographic recording, this long tenure could be attributed to Galen’s working on the Death Star project in order to sabotage it. The Empire likely did not allow for conscripts to leave the service, but the Empire should have reconsidered their “enhanced drafting” methods.