Disclaimer: Spoilers of Star Wars movies ahead, especially Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith.
Now almost four decades old, Star Wars is as big as ever. The proof is in any big-box store; franchise-related merchandise can be found among the toys, video games, clothing, food, sporting goods, books, and everything in between. Last fall’s Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens is one of the highest grossing movies of all time, and it is just the first of six new Star Wars films scheduled to release between now and 2020, including three standalone movies. Between that and the franchise’s television presence, there’s no shortage of ways to visit galaxies far, far away.
From the very beginning, George Lucas conceived of Star Wars as being for a broad age audience: children and adults. Every Star Wars movie, starting with 1977’s Star Wars (now called Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope), featured a handful of cute aliens or droids that were meant to appeal to kids … and which could also be purchased as merchandise by kids. Episode IV had short little glowing-eyed aliens called Jawas, a noisy droid named R2-D2 and a large furry hero character in a Wookiee named Chewbacca … and Episodes V and VI we saw the likes of Yoda and the Ewoks. From 1999 to 2005, Lucas released the three prequel movies — Episodes I, II, and III — and those, too, had obligatory kid-friendly characters, from the infamous Jar-Jar Binks to the droid army that was both evil and funny.
In short, between the movies and the other merchandising, it’s clear that Lucas wanted to hook grade-school kids into Star Wars and keep them there into adulthood. However, there is one serious problem.
In 2005, Lucas completed the prequel trilogy with Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith. This was an important point in the Star Wars chronology, because it established how the Jedi were killed off and how one young Jedi, Anakin Skywalker, became the primary villain of the original trilogy, Darth Vader. There was no reasonable way to accomplish this without violence, and indeed Episode III is the first of the Star Wars movies to earn a PG-13 rating. Part of that PG-13 rating comes from the fantasy violence of various battles, including a series of sad scenes where individual Jedi are systematically killed in what is known in the movie as “Order 66.”
But the most violent scene in Episode III comes at the end of the film, and it is more disturbing than anything in The Force Awakens, despite that movie also being PG-13. In Episode III‘s climactic battle, Anakin Skywalker duels his old mentor and friend, Obi-Wan Kenobi, on a fiery volcano world. The scene ends when Anakin tries to leap over Obi-Wan’s head and Obi-Wan cuts off one of his arms and both of his legs with a lightsaber. Anakin subsequently slides toward a volcanic floe, his entire body combusting into flame. Obi-Wan leaves him for dead, but he’s rescued by the Emperor of the Empire and saved by being placed into the dark life-support suit that we all associate with Darth Vader. (You can see the entire sequence here.)
Ways to Handle Star Wars: Episode III
As an adult and a Star Wars fan, I have a lot of appreciation for Episode III; it’s a better film than Episodes I and II and it does a good (if not perfect) job of filling out the gaps in the Star Wars timeline. But as a parent, it creates a bit of a dilemma, particularly if you have grade-school-aged children.
So what to do? Here are a few options.
- Show Episode III. This is an option, and as a parent you might determine that your kid can handle it. Obviously, the older the kid, the easier this probably is. (There are several schools of thought on what order to show the Star Wars films to the uninitiated.)
- Show Episodes IV, V, and VI while holding off on I, II, and III for now. This option actually works just fine, especially if the whole point is to explain who everyone in Episode VII is. I know more than a few parents who took this route last fall before The Force Awakens came out … and given that IV, V, and VI are superior films anyway, you won’t feel like you’re missing out on the best part of the franchise.
- Show Episodes I, II, IV, V, and VI, skipping III. Probably my least favorite option, although it’s worth mentioning. Episode I has some kid-appeal with its young Anakin Skywalker and its pod-racing, and Episode II has a couple of funny moments too, so I suppose this is an option. It also leaves a pretty big plot hole. A modification on this would be to simply show Episode I, skipping II and III, although it also leaves some plot holes.
Ultimately, everyone will take a different approach but here’s what I did: last fall, I showed my 8-year-old daughter Episodes IV, V, and VI before taking her to see The Force Awakens. It worked out fantastically; she really liked all of them. Then, this spring, she asked about seeing the other three movies. With about seven weeks until Episode VII came out on Blu-ray, we decided to do six movies in six weeks. She thought Episodes I and II were okay, although not as good as the older movies. (This was a surprise to me, especially Episode I, which is not very popular with adults but I thought would be popular with her.)
As for Episode III? She was fine the night we watched it, but the next morning she admitted that the last scene creeped her out a bit, and she even choked up some as she talked. My 8-year-old is pretty even-keeled and she’s never expressed being scared or creeped out by any movie she’s seen, so this was a bit of a surprise. She and I talked about it and what it was that was disturbing, and I even found a documentary on YouTube that explained how they made the scene (I used this video, starting just before the 1 hour 22 minute mark). That helped demystify it some for her, especially seeing the actor in front of a blue screen during the take and then laughing afterward.
She doesn’t have much interest in watching it again, though, and we’ve since moved on to re-watching the original trilogy, which she likes much better.Category: Family Free Time