Solo will soon be released on DVD/Blu-Ray/LaserDisc/Beta Max, which means it’s high time to take another look at our favorite scruffy looking nerf herder’s spectacular entry into the world of scoundreling: the conveyex train heist. Apart from being one of the most fun scenes in any Star Wars movie, Han’s participation in the heist would almost certainly land him in deep bantha poodoo with the Imperial military. We’ve analyzed Han’s legal woes based on 19th century train robbery laws, but Han’s military service gives him unique and significant added legal exposure beyond what the other members of Beckett’s crew would face.
Before diving into the heist itself, it’s worth asking whether the Imperial military would even have jurisdiction to prosecute Han in the first place. After all, Han had walked away from his military unit by that time. Unfortunately for Han, his half-baked exit strategy from military service would not free him from the Empire’s jurisdictional hooks.
At the time Han joined up with Beckett & Friends™, he was still an Imperial soldier. In most real world cases, enlisted soldiers continue serving until their contractual term of service runs out or they are discharged in some other fashion (e.g. medical reasons or for misconduct). Han voluntarily enlisted in the Imperial military, which means he probably had a similar term of service that was not completed when he ran away from Camp Forward (if you were hoping for a more creative Imperial base name, you’re out of luck). That means Han, just like a real soldier, would still be subject to military law even though he no longer wore the fine grey threads of the Imperial Army at the time of the heist.
While robbing a normal train is bad enough, Han’s problems are multiplied because he is an Imperial soldier stealing Imperial property. Just like in civilian criminal codes, larceny is a crime under the UCMJ. However, the UCMJ makes a special distinction when military property is the thing being stolen. Soldiers like Han are often entrusted with millions of dollars (or Imperial credits) worth of equipment and property. Even though theft of military property is not a distinct UCMJ article, it functions as an aggravated form of larceny that reflects the seriousness of a breach of that trust. As a reflection of that seriousness, its maximum punishment is double that of traditional larceny.
Under Article 121 of the UCMJ, larceny of military property requires that five elements be proven:
- That the accused wrongfully took certain property;
- That the property belonged to the United States government;
- That the property was of a particular value (property worth $500 or more equates to a higher maximum punishment);
- That the taking was with the intent to permanently deprive the government of the use and benefit of the property; and
- The property was military property.
The Military Judge’s Benchbook defines “military property” as real or personal property that is owned or used by one of the armed forces which has either a uniquely military nature, or is used by an armed force in furtherance of its mission. For example, a M1 Abrams tank would be the dictionary definition of military property, because its very nature is a war-fighting machine. Likewise, the tank’s fuel (though not uniquely military in nature) would still be military property because of its use by the Army in furtherance of its mission.
In Solo, the coaxium aboard the railcrawler train would undoubtedly fit the definition of military property. While coaxium is not a uniquely military item, this particular stockpile of it was being used by the Imperial armed forces in furtherance of its mission. The Imperial fleet depends on coaxium to power its fleet, while the specific batch of coaxium targeted by Beckett and Han was on its way to an Imperial facility where it would no doubt be destined for distribution and use.
Han stands a better chance of successfully navigating an asteroid field than of beating this sort of charge. As for the first element, Han certainly took the coaxium, even if he wasn’t successful in getting it offworld. He not only helped Chewie break the coaxium train car free, but he then piloted the AT-hauler that was meant to carry the precious cargo away to safety. Even though the crew didn’t make it far with the coaxium (thanks to the supreme badass known as Enfys Nest) Han physically removed the coaxium car from the train and transported it elsewhere.
The Imperial military also wouldn’t break a sweat proving the second and third elements. If there’s one thing the Imperial military seems truly adept at, it’s the mundane business of exhaustive record keeping. With that in mind, Imperial prosecutors would likely trot out an exhaustive string of evidence to trace ownership of the fuel from the train all the way back to the Imperial facility that originally acquired and refined it. Given coaxium’s importance to military operations, the Empire almost certainly kept detailed records about its stockpiles in order to maintain accountability of the extremely valuable resource.
Since the coaxium from the heist was destroyed, those records would be critical to establish the value of the supply. In real world cases, the military unsurprisingly keeps detailed acquisition records on every piece of property, from the smallest bullet or wrench to tanks and aircraft. Military prosecutors typically trot out logistics and acquisitions officials who can testify to those records and amounts, providing the court with precise cost and value information.
Solo makes it clear that coaxium is exceptionally valuable, which means the amount stolen from the train was likely worth tens of millions of credits. Given coaxium’s cost and huge operational value, the Empire almost certainly kept close track of its expenditures for the resource. The mighty Imperial military would have no trouble lining up an army of stuffy experts to testify in perfectly crisp British accents about the staggering value of the fuel. This testimony would not only satisfy the third element of the crime, but it would also inevitably influence the opinion of military jurors, who would likely harbor outrage at Han’s audacity in stealing such a tremendous amount of the Empire’s property (which was no doubt totally lawfully obtained in the first place).
As for proving Han’s intent to permanently deprive the Empire of the coaxium, the circumstances of the heist are damning for Han. From the theft of the AT-hauler to the team’s shootout with Range Troopers and their demolishing of the train bridge, the scale of the heist strongly suggest that the crew wasn’t just temporarily borrowing the coaxium. A plan of that complexity is evidence in and of itself of an intent to permanently deprive the Empire of the property. To make matters worse for Han, he piloted the ship that carried the coaxium away—an act that would almost certainly convince any military jury that he had the requisite intent to commit the crime.
Given the overwhelming evidence against Han, even a droid with a bad motivator could probably manage to secure a conviction against him. Of course, Han Solo would absolutely be the type of criminal defense client defiantly tell his military defense counsel “Never tell me the odds.”