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Star Wars: The Judicial Opinions

Our last post explored how the lens of Star Wars has been used to interpret various aspects of the law. In addition to these broader discussions, judicial opinions themselves are also full of references to the Star Wars franchise.

Some of these are directly related to the Star Wars movies and licensed products, such as this 1977 suit over allegedly derivative toys, in which the court described the characters in great detail:

C-3PO (also “See-Threepio”) is a humanoid robot of a gleaming brass- or [744] gold-colored metal. His metal plates overlap at various joints but do not cover his stomach area, through which complicated wiring is displayed. He is a “human-robot relations specialist” and often accompanies R2-D2. Ideal Toy Corp. v. Kenner Prods. Div. of Gen. Mills Fun Grp, Inc., 443 F. Supp. 291 (S.D.N.Y. 1977)

In a major copyright infringement lawsuit, the court compared the differences between Star Wars and the movie Battlestar Galactica:

To describe STAR WARS as a morality play captures its essence, taken as a whole. The central character of STAR WARS, Luke Skywalker, is flawless, greater, purer than life. The Princess, another important character, is untouchable and unreal; also purer than life, more a symbol than an actual person.  …  Now, contrast STAR WARS, as I have described it, with BATTLESTAR GALACTICA. The latter is merely a prosaic familiar story of the goods fighting the bads. GALACTICA is no morality play.It is not pure fantasy. It puts very human people, with all their weaknesses and feelings, in a situation we can all relate to, except that the familiar scenes all take place in a space setting.  Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp. v. MCA, Inc., 1980 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 16637 (C.D. Cal. 1980)

Even in cases unrelated to the movies, a number of judicial opinions have referred to characters from the saga to illustrate points. For example:

Luke Skywalker, the mythological hero:

  1. Precisely this reluctance drives many hero stories. Spiderman, Batman and Superman are a prime examples of reluctant heros. So are Luke Skywalker, the Hobbits, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Mere reluctance to take up the mantle of greatness cannot be grounds for copyright infringement. Davis v. ABC, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 76145 (W.D. Mich. July 28, 2010) (copyright infringement)

  2. Absolute certainty in matters of paternity, of course, has historically been unobtainable. Think of the characters in classical mythology who discover who their true father was somewhat late in their lives. E.g., Theseus, Arthur, Luke Skywalker. Estate of Carter, 111 Cal. App. 4th 1139 (Cal. App. 4th Dist. 2003) (paternity)

Jar Jar Binks, the symbol of disappointment:

  1. The toys customers seek in all these stores are highly differentiated products. The little girl who wants Malibu Barbie is not likely to be satisfied with My First Barbie, and she certainly does not want Ken or Skipper. The boy who has his heart set on a figure of Anakin Skywalker will be disappointed if he receives Jar-Jar Binks, or a truck, or a baseball bat instead. Toys “R” Us v. Ftc, 221 F.3d 928 (7th Cir. 2000) (antitrust)

Lando Calrissian, the traitor:

  1. Capuano promised the others he would “not do anything ‘Callrisian-esque,'” which was his way of saying that he would not betray defendants to TestMasters, as the character Lando Calrissian (“the mayor of [13] Cloud City” played by Billy D. Williams) had done in the Star Wars movie The Empire Strikes Back (Lucasfilm 1980). Robin Singh Educ. Servs. v. Blueprint Test Preparation, 2013 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 537 (Cal. App. 2d Dist. Jan. 23, 2013) (unfair competition)

Obi-Wan Kenobi, the master of diversion

  1. Without citation to authority or much supporting argument, Stapleton tries a unique line of attack. He directs the Court for “guidance” to the more detailed requirements of the analogous rule of civil procedure. See R. 45 at 5 (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(a)(2)(B)). This attempted diversion—the legal equivalent of Obi-Wan Kenobi’s “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for,” see Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (Lucasfilm 1977)—is unavailing. United States v. Stapleton, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 108189 (E.D. Ky. July 31, 2013) (expert testimony dispute)

Darth Vader, the symbol of evil:

  1. This case is somewhat akin to deciding a dispute between Darth Vader and the Borg, or if you prefer a classical metaphor, Scylla and Charybdis. Anthony v. Mazon, 2006 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 5625 (Cal. App. 4th Dist. June 27, 2006) (exclusion of evidence dispute)

  2. Defendant portrays Officer Fleming as the Darth Vader of High Desert State Prison and the nurse and other correctional officer, both of whom testified they saw the weapon in defendant’s shoe, as his minions. People v. Pimentel, 2015 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 3043 (Cal. App. 3d Dist. Apr. 30, 2015) (exclusion of witness testimony)

  3. After receiving extensive testimony, the Court notes that Vader does not appear to be anything like the powerful Dark Lord of the Sith, Darth Vader, from the epic saga Star Wars. In essence, Vader the dog, appears to be a lovable pet that was rescued from the Humane Society and put to work as a police dog. United States v. McLaughlin, 2005 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 39402 (D. Utah June 15, 2005) (search and seizure)

With the enormous box office success of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, it is likely only a matter of time until a judge incorporates references to new characters Kylo Ren, Rey, or BB-8 into a ruling.

#entertainmentlaw #intellectualproperty

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