SPOILER ALERT: Spoilers for the Battlefront 2 single player campaign follow below.
*Now this is the story all about how Iden’s life got flipped, turned upside down*
Commander Iden Versio, the central character of Star Wars Battlefront 2, goes through quite the roller coaster ride during the single player campaign. In short order, she goes from leader the elite Special Forces team known as Inferno Squad and hero of the Empire, to a marked fugitive who stands accused of treason. By all accounts, Commander Versio is in deep bantha poodoo. But while the accusations against her are severe, does Iden have a legitimate defense?
First up, lets take a look at the facts of her case. After the second Death Star is obliterated, Operation Cinder, Emperor Palpatine’s dastardly contingency plan, kicks in. Operation Cinder calls for wiping out a number of Imperial worlds, including Vardos, Iden Versio’s homeworld.
Iden is naturally horrified at the mission, but her father, Admiral Garrick Versio, dismisses her concerns about the mission, showcasing the very finest in blind allegiance. Admiral Versio puts the Emperor’s plan in motion. He activates a network of satellites above Vardos that trigger massive storms designed to destroy everything on the planet. The Admiral then issues a direct order for Iden to travel to the surface and evacuate a single Imperial official, Protectorate Gleb.
Once on Vardos, Commander Versio decides to go beyond her father’s orders to save a number of civilians. Gideon Hask, another Inferno Squad member, confronts Iden and accuses her of treason for betraying Inferno Squad’s orders. Iden refuses to yield, shoots Hask in the leg as a parting gift, and quickly becomes hunted as a traitor.
Since Gideon Hask’s angry proclamation isn’t exactly a formal indictment, how exactly would Commander Versio be charged? As a military officer, Iden would be subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). In the real world, the UCMJ is the body of law that governs the conduct of all military members. Service members who break the law can face courts-martial, which are federal trials, complete with a military judge and panel (jury) of senior service members. Iden has firsthand experience with the Imperial military justice system, having been court-martialed once before as a part of a covert Inferno Squad operation.
Interestingly, the UCMJ has no specific article covering treason. That doesn’t mean Iden gets off scot-free, though. While it may seem odd that the military’s criminal code doesn’t cover treason, the omission was not a mistake. Treason is one of only three crimes identified in the U.S. Constitution, along with piracy and counterfeiting.
Despite its mention in the Constitution, the actual criminal offense of treason is codified in 18 U.S. Code § 2381. Section 2381 uses the Constitutional definition of treason:
“Whoever, owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere, is guilty of treason.”
Although treason and many other federal crimes don’t appear in the UCMJ, prosecutors can still charge them. In real world courts-martial, Article 134 of the UCMJ is used as a means of charging federal offenses that are not covered in the UCMJ. Therefore, even though treason is not an offense in the military code, Iden could still be charged with treason as part of a court-martial.
While the Empire could certainly charge Iden with treason, do they have a solid case against her? In order to commit treason, one has to owe allegiance to the country. American citizenship is sufficient to trigger that obligation. As a citizen of Vardos, which was a loyal Imperial system, Iden would owe the same allegiance to the Empire.
U.S. military officers also owe allegiance by virtue of their oath of office, which is taken upon receiving a commission:
“I, (name), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”
As a commissioned Imperial officer, Iden Versio would have undoubtedly sworn to a similar oath when she graduated from the Imperial Academy on Coruscant. Thus, it’s safe to say Iden owed allegiance to the Empire.
Next, what acts could Imperial prosecutors use as evidence of treason? When you break the statute down, there are two ways to commit treason: (1) By levying war, or (2) By giving aid and comfort to enemies. The term “levying war” is borrowed from English law. It means, “the assembling of a body of men for the purpose of effecting by force a treasonable object….”
Setting aside Iden’s later decision to join the Rebellion, prosecutors would have a difficult time proving that Iden levied war against the Empire by saving civilians. Iden did not incite or organize civilians to go to war against the Empire. The civilians did not arm themselves or use force at Iden’s request. Instead, they simply wanted to get off world to avoid annihilation. While she may have violated her superior officer’s order, Iden’s compassionate act doesn’t amount to levying war against the Empire.
Prosecutors would have similar trouble proving that Iden provided aid and comfort to enemies of the Empire. While Iden obviously provided aid to civilians, they were not enemies of the Empire. The whole point behind Iden’s defiant act was that the people of Vardos were loyal citizens who deserved protection. When Operation Cinder started, Vardos civilians had not lifted a finger against the Empire, yet they suddenly found themselves in the crosshairs of the Emperor’s wrath for no sensible reason. During the Vardos mission gameplay, citizens appear confused and scared, pleading with Imperial troops to let them leave as terrifying storms formed above. These are not the actions of enemies, but of the loyal citizens who are fearful for their lives. Imperial prosecutors could not reasonably claim that those same citizens suddenly became enemies simply because the Emperor decreed that the planet should be destroyed.
Iden also lacked the mens rea, or guilty mind needed to commit treason. When confronted by Hask, Iden declared that it was the Empire’s job to save civilians from things like Operation Cinder. To her, the people of Vardos were still Imperial citizens who deserved to be protected from its military. The Emperor’s order did nothing to change that in Iden’s mind, which means that her actions were intended to be a measure of loyalty, not betrayal, of the Empire.
In the end, the crime of treason requires more than just defying the order of a superior officer. Iden’s choice to save Imperial civilians from imminent death simply does not amount to treason. Carl Sandburg once said, “If the facts are against you, argue the law. If the law is against you, argue the facts. If the law and the facts are against you, pound the table and yell like hell.” In Iden’s case, Imperial prosecutors would likely be doing a lot of pounding and yelling indignantly, albeit in very pleasant British accents.