Solo A Star Wars Story took aim at the first time Han Shot First. Spoilers ahead if you have not seen Solo.
Facts matter when it comes to the justified use of force. Tobias Beckett had kidnapped Chewbacca at blaster-point and absconded with the processed Coaxium on Savareen from Dryden Vos’s yacht. Han was able to head off Beckett and have his blaster drawn in order to save Chewbacca.
The Law of the Wingman
The “Defense of Others” is an offshoot of self-defense. Dating back to a long time ago in English common law, deadly force was limited to defend against the ‘forcible and atrocious’ crimes of “murder, nighttime burglary of a dwelling, arson, robbery, forcible rape and sodomy.” People v. Gilmore, 203 Cal. App. 3d 612, 249 Cal. Rptr. 914, 917 (1988) [Unpublished], citing 4 Blackstone’s, Commentaries, at pp. 180-181. These are crimes that from their “atrocity and violence, human life [or personal safety from great harm] either is, or is presumed to be, in peril.” People v. Ceballos, 12 Cal. 3d 470, 478-79, (1974) [Citations omitted].
Under California law, a homicide is justifiable when “resisting any attempt to murder any person, or to commit a felony, or to do some great bodily injury upon any person.” Cal. Penal Code § 197(1). It can also be used in the lawful defense of a person when “there is reasonable ground to apprehend a design to commit a felony or to do some great bodily injury, and imminent danger of such design being accomplished.” Cal. Penal Code § 197(3). There is a catch that if there was mutual combat, there must have a been a good faith effort to decline any further struggle before the homicide was committed. Id.
The law does not favor justified homicides by those who were the aggressors in the fight. For example, if a defendant went to a fight armed and initiated the challenge, “he cannot afterward maintain that in taking his assailant’s life he acted in self defense.” People v. Bates, 256 Cal. App. 2d 935, 939, 64 Cal. Rptr. 575, 577-78 (1967).
The jury instructions for both self-defense and defense of others require a defendant to: 1) Reasonably believe that someone was in imminent danger of being killed or suffering great bodily injury; 2) Reasonably believe that the immediate use of deadly force was necessary to defend against the danger; and 3) the defendant used no more force than was reasonably necessary to defend against the danger. 1 CALCRIM 505 (2018).
Han Solo was legally justified in shooting Tobias Beckett in defense of Chewbacca’s life and his own. First, Beckett directed Chewbacca at blaster-point to carry the highly explosive Coaxium. This is kidnapping, because Beckett forcibly detained Chewbacca against his will and moved him to another part of Savareen. See, Cal. Penal Code § 207. As Chewbacca had been kidnapped, Han could reasonably believe that Chewbacca was in imminent danger of being killed or suffering great bodily injury, meeting the requirements of the first element of the jury requirement.
Han reasonably believed the immediate use of deadly force was necessary to defend against the danger posed by Beckett. First, Han had seen Beckett in action with his blasters and knew Beckett was an expert shot. Second, Han had seen Beckett kill Vos’s men mere minutes before in a double (or triple) cross. Third, Han knew Beckett’s propensity to give “lessons” by monologue. Fourth, Han could see Beckett going for his blaster. Finally, and this cannot be overstated, the very act of kidnapping Chewbacca was a “forcible and atrocious” crime that could result in loss of life.
Han used no more force than was necessary to shot Beckett from using his blaster. While Han did fire a fatal shot, it was not excessive or a gratuitous use of violence.
Prosecutors could argue that Han was the aggressor because he confronted Beckett armed. That would ignore the fact that Chewbacca had been kidnapped after Beckett’s multiple murders on Vos’s yacht. Under the circumstances, Beckett was an immediate danger to Chewbacca’s life, and Han was justified to come to his friend’s defense.