Please note: This majority of this post was written pre-release. Please find post-screening advice at the end.
**Contains potential minor spoilers for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, as well as major spoilers for episodes I-VI**
It’s finally official in the UK – Star Wars: The Force Awakens has been rated 12A. While children under 12 are permitted, they have to be accompanied by an adult. More than that, it means as far as the BBFC examiners are concerned, the new Star Wars film is only suitable for children age 12 and over.
This isn’t too much of a surprise, as it has already been rated PG-13 in the states.
So what does this mean for parents like myself, who have a child that adores Star Wars but is way younger than the recommended age? Should young children see Star Wars: The Force Awakens? Is the new star wars film OK for kids?
The UK ratings for the previous Star Wars films have mostly been U – with the two most recent ones Attack of the Clones (2002) and Revenge of the Sith (2005) being rated PG and 12A respectively (Attack of the Clones was originally a 12A too, and had to be cut to be a PG – a 1 sec head butt was removed).
The BBFC ratings of Star Wars films are frankly odd, and I have previously written about the U rating of the original Star Wars. How can a film with so much violence, threat, and even severed limbs and smouldering bodies be given the rating of U?
The 12A for Revenge of the Sith is justified. The Jedi are slaughtered, Anakin kills children (‘younglings’), almost murders his pregnant wife, and then he gets both legs chopped off and burned alive by lava.
My daughter is 3-years-old. She has seen all the Star Wars films bar Revenge of the Sith. While we’re fairly permissive in terms of what films she can watch, even I think Revenge of the Sith is too much.
She’s never been terribly into the prequels anyway. We recently attempted to watch the movies in the legendary Machete Order – it failed after she refused to watch Attack of the Clones, choosing Singin’ in the Rain instead. Who can argue with that choice?
Anyway, are we to assume that The Force Awakens is of the same level of violence as Revenge of the Sith? Or is the rating more of a technicality like the uncut version of Attack of the Clones? Or perhaps it’s more like the original trilogy, and film ratings have become more conservative since?
The BBFC have published notes on their decision, which may shed some light.
With regard to violence, they state it is frequent yet moderate, and includes:
“…blasters and lightsabers, and dogfights between spaceships. Sight of blood and injury detail is limited and brief.”
Well that doesn’t sound so bad. In fact that sounds like pretty much every Star Wars film rated U.
Bad language can also be a cause of a higher rating. According to the BBFC, it is infrequent and mild – ‘hell’ and ‘damn’ are specifically mentioned. Again, nothing out of line with the previous Star Wars movies.
However, there is an additional note labelled threat:
“Occasional scenes of moderate threat include characters being interrogated using ‘the Force’, which it is implied causes them pain, and characters being held at lightsaber-point.”
There are two specific scenes mentioned, which sound like ones hinted at in the trailers.
The first is likely this:
It appears to be Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) being “being interrogated using ‘the Force’” by Kylo Ren (Adam Driver).
The second reads like this one, again featuring Kylo Ren, this time with Rey (Daisy Ridley):
So are these scenes too scary for little Star Wars fans?
The threat is described as moderate, which again seems to be not dissimilar to the tone of the previous movies. Think of Vader’s penchant for choking people with the Force, the Wampa about to eat Luke on Hoth, or the Emperor’s torturing of Luke using ‘Force Lightning’. These to could be described in the same way.
It’s also worth noting that in the states that the original Star Wars trilogy were all rated PG, as were the prequels until Revenge of the Sith, which was PG-13 (a classification that was only introduced in 1984, after Return of the Jedi).
So, should young children see Star Wars: The Force Awakens?
I’ve been promising my 3-year-old daughter all year that we’re going to see it, when she turns 4 in January. It never occurred to me that it could be rated a 12A. She’s watched the trailers many times, has a LEGO set with Rey, and is already a big fan of BB-8.
The obvious answer for me is that I need to see it first, which I will. My daughter has no concept of ‘spoilers’ – however, I am booked in for opening weekend (and may even get a preview before that – fingers crossed!)
If I’m honest, it’s going to have to be pretty intense for me to say she can’t see it (my wife isn’t seeing it with me, so the decision it pretty much in my hands).
Like any kid, she can get scared of things she watches. I have noticed that she seems to like this process. She has such empathy for characters, that while seeing them in danger is upsetting, seeing them get out of trouble is reassuring and empowering. On other occasions, when it hasn’t turned out so well for the character concerned, she now understands the concept of sacrifice – helping others even though it can have bad consequences for yourself.
The likes of Dorothy against the Wicked Witch, the characters of Toy Story 3 heading for the incinerator, the Iron Giant vs. a nuclear missile, or Lois Lane ‘dying’ in Superman have all provoked whimpers and an intense need for a cuddle on first viewing, but are now key parts of movies she loves.
She embraces the drama of great stories, understanding that empathy for characters you love involves feeling concerned for their well-being – just like people in real life.
In the meantime, she is being exposed to wonderful inspiring stories of friendship, love, triumph over adversity, and as many inspiring female role models as possible.
For me, the most interesting thing in the BBFC notes about The Force Awakens was this:
“STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS is a sci-fi action adventure in which a young woman becomes embroiled in a galactic conflict.”
It seems like the suspicions are true – Rey is THE central character of the film. After six episodes over a period of decades, we are finally getting a Star Wars movie with a female lead. A woman will be at the heart of the Star Wars saga for the next generation.
How the hell can I not take my daughter to see that.
(This post is now rated 12A for infrequent use of very mild bad language)
Post-Screening thoughts – will I take my 4-year-old child see Star Wars: The Force Awakens?
Having now seen it, I think it’s pretty much in line with the original trilogy. The ‘force interrogation’ mentioned in the BBFC notes is quite intense, but relatively brief. While similar in nature to Vader’s force choke, the tone is less playful.
There’s nothing in the film like the worst violence of Revenge of the Sith, but there is a rougher feel to the general tone of the action. There is also a more suspenseful aspect to action scenes, and main characters are regularly placed in jeopardy. Overall, imagine a tone slightly more intense than The Empire Strikes Back, but with a little more humour.
The source of most of the suspense and jeopardy is Adam Driver’s gloriously menacing Kylo Ren. He is a troubled and disturbing character, but never more so when masked and speaking with his lo-fi synthesised voice. He is definitely going to scare a lot of kids – but then that’s what we expect from our villains. If your kid is OK with Vader, Darth Maul, or the Emperor, Kylo Ren should be fine too.
There is also a (silly and annoying) scene early on involving creatures that eat people (not main characters, though they are in danger too) that may be a little scary. Think a bit more intense that the Rancor in Return of the Jedi.
One thing to bear in mind is that even if your child is comfortable with the existing movies, they have likely experienced them on the small screen. The added intensity of seeing this on a big screen, with louder and more dynamic audio, should be taken into account.
My initial thoughts still stand – it’s not enough to dissuade me from taking my daughter. I am confident I can guide her through or frame anything that might scare her.
I feel experiencing Rey’s journey, how she deals with everything thrown her way, will inspire my daughter in a way no other Star Wars character’s story has – because she is a woman. The fact some of this is scary and intimidating only reinforces how empowering her journey is.
How did my 4-year-old child react to watching Star Wars: The Force Awakens?
As of writing (April 2016), my daughter has seen at the The Force Awakens cinema. Twice. And again on a plane. And again at home on BluRay.
I admit, I was nervous the first time we watched it together about whether it would be ok. We went to see it weeks after release, on a midweek term time screening, which I had hoped would be empty so we could talk about what was happening without disturbing anyone.
Nope. The cinema was packed with the many retirees in town. So I explained how she could only ask really important questions. I had already read the opening crawl to her at home a few times, as she always likes me to do that at home with the other movies.
She will always react when she finds something uncomfortable or scary, turning away from the screen, or crawling into my lap, or imploring me to tell her everything’s going to be all right. Toy Story 3 and Return to Oz have been the worst offenders.
The were certain moments that I was worried about, and paid attention to her as they occurred such as the slaughter of the villagers and Kylo Ren’s force interrogation of Poe Dameron. All were fine.
The bit I was most worried about was the Rathtars escape on Han & Chewie’s ship.
I had warned her about this bit. And when it came to it I bottled, and covered her eyes. Which was probably really dumb, because I had told her how it might be scary, and then just hearing all the monster sounds and screams would probably be much scarier than the actual scene.
Anyway, we got past that bit – and the rest was fine. We got home, and she instantly wanted to reenact scenes with her toys – especially Rey piloting the Millennium Falcon. She did turn to me rather forlornly after THAT scene, and said with a heartbreaking quiver in her voice “Is [REDACTED] dead?’. She’s probably too young for it to be her “I am your father” moment, but it’s the closest we’ve come so far.
She’s never been a fan of the prequels, but Star Wars: The Force Awakens has become as much a part of the saga as the original trilogy. Now we have it at home, I can talk to her about it. I can frame the violence that same way we do in the darkness of classic fairytales.
And the Rathtars I now frame as being very silly (which they are). She doesn’t find it scary any more. I’m not sure she ever did, but thought it must be because I told her it was. I have absolutely no qualms about showing the movie to her again at all.