While debate continues on whether the new Star Wars film The Force Awakens is suitable for children under 12, reflect on one of the great mysteries of cinema – how on earth is the original Star Wars (1977) rated ‘U’?
My daughter, who is 3-years-old, has seen all, bar Revenge of the Sith, multiple times. I’m not sure what age will be the right age for her to see Ep III, but I imagine it will be younger than the BBFC suggested 12.
While the U rating for the original Star Wars was made in 1977, the decision has been revisited and left unrevised since then.
Here are just some of the potentially problematic things that happen in Star Wars (SPOILER ALERT):
- Darth Vader choking a man to unconsciousness/death
- The smouldering skeletons of Luke’s murdered Aunt and Uncle are clearly visible
- Obi-Wan severs the arm of a bar alien, with a shot of the bloody dismembered limb
- Scores of onscreen deaths by firearms and other means, plus an entire planet is destroyed, presumably killing billions
So how could such a film be classed as a U – suitable for all?
The BBFC has copies of a couple of the original 1977 ratings examiner reports on their website.
This first report is a fairly accurate summary of the film and sensible regarding its tone:
The reference to “futuristic” (set a long time ago), and the craziest spelling of R2-D2 I have seen (“Artuditu”) aside, its description of a “galactic fairytale” is apt. The conclusion that “We could find little in the film to cause more than a thrill of excitement in a TV-reared generation…” despite being rated PG in the US, is one that as a parent I accept too (although the Jawas did freak my daughter out for a while).
But this other examiner report reads like they were doing the 1977 equivalent of browsing on their smartphone while watching the movie:
“Set thousands of years in the future…” (as previously mentioned, the film literally begins with “A long time ago…”)
“…the Universe…” (in a galaxy far, far away…)
“…is ruled by Grand Moff Tarkin” (The Emperor is named a ruler)
“From a large planet called ‘The Battle Station’…” (The Death Star, not a planet)
“The climax of the film is when aircraft from the princess’s planet attack the ‘Battle Station’, led by Luke.” (Spaceships, princess’s planet memorably destroyed, Death Star!, Luke didn’t lead the attack).
There are aspects they’ve clearly misunderstood, but the examiner is literally making things up that are never even mentioned. It’s almost as if they’ve read an early draft of the script rather than watched the finished film.
Still, I can’t argue with the conclusion of “Grand fun for all ages…” and “…a vastly entertaining story.”
I found these reports a fascinating insight into the thought processes that informed these original decisions, and while I question how much attention they were paying to the story, I am glad their common sense assessment of Star Wars still stands. My daughter loves them, and the scary Jawa era aside, has repeatedly returned to them.
(* The BBFC state that “A U film should be suitable for audiences aged four years and over.”)