Maz Kanata’s fabled castle may have stood for a thousand years, but it didn’t last long when the First Order rolled into town with blasters cannons blazing. In the wake of the Battle of Takodana, we’re left to wonder whether Maz has any legal recourse against Kylo Ren and friends for the destruction they wrought?
Injuries and damage or loss of property are often unavoidable during real world overseas operations. The United States has an extensive framework of legal mechanisms by which local residents, allied forces, and host nation governments can make claims to be repaid for their losses. However, only certain U.S. laws allow for claims arising overseas.
For our purposes, we’ll assume Supreme Leader Snoke is somehow really interested in the rule of law and has therefore adopted a similar legal framework for the First Order. Since First Order forces were operating on Takodana, rather than their home “planet,” Starkiller Base, Maz would have to look to the set of claims laws that apply galaxy-wide. The big three claims acts that apply worldwide are the Personnel Claims Act (31 U.S.C. § 3721), the Military Claims Act (10 U.S.C. § 2733), and the Foreign Claims Act (10 U.S.C. § 2734).
The Personnel Claims Act (PCA) is limited to claims for loss and damage of military personnel and Department of Defense civilian employee property. Since Maz isn’t a First Order stormtrooper (wouldn’t that be an amazing little set of armor, though?) or other employee, she can’t file a claim for loss of the castle under the PCA. Similarly, the Military Claims Act (MCA) is limited to claims by U.S. citizens only. Maz doesn’t exactly seem to be a card-carrying First Order citizen, so the MCA would also offer her no help.
The Foreign Claims Act (FCA) is probably the most widely used statue by deployed U.S. forces. Not only does the FCA apply worldwide, but it also allows claims by foreign citizens for property loss or damage caused by U.S. military personnel. So far, the FCA is looking pretty good for Maz. Unfortunately, while the FCA allows for claims based on damage or loss caused by negligent or wrongful acts, the claim must result from noncombat activities. Maz’s prized watering hole was leveled as Resistance and First Order forces slugged it out in combat, which means she could not recover under the FCA.
The bar on combat-related claims can be a major impediment in many real world military operations, especially when trying to gain and maintain the support of the local population. Despite the bar, the U.S. has allowed claims for combat damage in various conflicts. For example, following Operation Urgent Fury in Grenada, the United States created a special program to pay for combat-related injury and property damage. Similarly, after Operation Just Cause, the U.S. provided Panama with a broad set of recovery funds, which included money for combat-related claims.
In the Star Wars universe, the First Order must deal with the same sort of concerns that prompted the U.S. to make exceptions to the normal bar of combat-related claims. The Galactic Empire fell because their military might meant little without the broad support of the people. The Empire’s repeated decision to leave worlds in ruin after their operations was a big reason their support eroded so quickly. If the First Order wants to avoid falling into the same trap as their predecessors, they have to do more than just look really cool and win each battle. That means not leaving a trail of wreckage and devastation across the galaxy.
From that standpoint, it would be a smart move for the First Order to make an exception to the general rule barring combat-related claims and repay Maz for her losses. Her castle was one of the most prominent and long-standing gathering spots in the galaxy. Maz’s policy of welcoming all comers also made her a popular figure with all walks of life. Leaving her empty-handed amongst the debris would inevitably sow a tremendous amount of ill will towards the First Order. For an organization trying to govern the galaxy, that’s not exactly getting off on the right foot (neither is obliterating the Republic’s capital planet, but oh well).
However, Supreme Leader Snoke doesn’t exactly strike me as the generous type, which means the First Order may not want to grant a blanket exception to the bar against combat-related claims. Given the First Order’s rapidly expanding combat operations, such a move could prove extremely costly.
As an alternative, the First Order might instead empower its local commanders to pay out battle damage claims under certain circumstances. During Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, the U.S. implemented a program known as the Commander’s Emergency Response Program, or CERP. The program was designed as a tool for local commanders to respond to small-scale, urgent humanitarian relief and reconstruction projects to assist the indigenous population. Commanders can also use CERP funds to repair collateral damage caused by combat operations. Despite its limits, the program has become an invaluable tool for commanders to achieve their missions through maintaining popular support.
The First Order would be wise to adopt a program similar to CERP and help rebuild her castle. Although rebuilding the castle is not a small-scale or low cost job, the First Order could use a CERP-like program to at least help start the rebuilding project. Since the program is decentralized, First Order commanders would have discretion on how the funds are used in their theater of operations, ensuring that credits are spent on projects that are actually necessary.
If the First Order wants to succeed where the Empire failed, it has to do more than freak people out with planet-sized lasers. While the First Order would not be liable for destroying Maz’s castle in combat, it would be a shortsighted move to leave it in ruins. After all, if Supreme Leader Snoke can afford gigantic new star destroyers and fancy golden robes, he can crack open his wallet to pay for some cinder blocks and masonry work for poor Maz Kanata.