How on earth is Star Wars rated U (“suitable for all”)?

While debate continues on whether the new Star Wars films are 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’?

The current UK movie rating system ranges from U (“suitable for all”*) to 18 (age 18 only). All three of the original Star Wars trilogy are U, while the prequels are respectively U, PG, and 12A.

My daughter 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:

Star Wars, BBFC, Rating decision, Star Wars rated U
Click for larger version (opens in new window)

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:

Star Wars, BBFC, Rating decision, Star Wars rated U
Click for larger version (opens in new window)


“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.”)


16 thoughts on “How on earth is Star Wars rated U (“suitable for all”)?”

  1. I let my (back then) almost 4yo watch all six films and he seems to have taken them in his stride. His (now) almost 7yo brother definitely knows the difference between real and fictional so I had no hesitation showing him all six films. But let me get back to you in two months and four days about the suitability of The Force Awakens.

        1. That’s good to know. We’re watching Clone Wars at the moment, and Anakin is basically the dashing hero (much better characterisation than the movies). It’ll make his fall even harder to watch I think.

  2. Our 3.3-year old daughter has only seen Andy Pandy, Bagpuss, Camberwick Green, Mary, Mungo and Midge, Peppa Pig and Morph. Oh and lots and lots of steam train YouTube videos. I don’t think she’ll be watching Star Wars for quite a while yet! I do think it is several years too old for her.

  3. We are much more strict on what media our son watches so his understanding of Star Wars comes from the total saturation of our society rather than having seen the actual movies. He can enjoy when he’s older, as he can with so much more. We just like to keep death and destruction, albeit fantasy-based, away from him as much as possible.
    I don’t understand the need to introduce more adult-themed content so early, but do understand that many disagree 🙂

    1. Yeah good idea buddy, keep death and destruction away from him and never show him anything associated with the real world. Then when he grows up he’ll find it that much harder to deal with. Poor parenting as far as I’m concerned.

  4. Hey man, great find on the BBFC notes. I have also wandered how the original trilogy are U’s but I am never one to doubt the work the BBFC do and trust them to make the correct decisions, and there are other sources available for parents to make really informed decisions about what’s suitable for their children. One nite however, I believe that Revenge of the Sith is actually a PG and it’s just the extra features on the DVD that bump it up to a 12.

    1. Actually I just did more research, it is a 12, this is why it’s very important to check your facts before making stupid comments. I was looking at the wrong BBFC post and it’s the trailer that is a PG. Oops

  5. I cant remember what age I was when I watched the origional star wars (although I clearly remember being jealous of my brother seeing Return of The Jedi with a friend when it came out). I never felt scared by any of the films as a kid, and my kids saw the films numerous times as very young kids and loved Them. We went to see Revenge of The Sith when it came out, my youngest was 5. I wouldnt recomend anyone that young watching it, not because it was scary, simply because it was so long he got bored stupid. (I am not a fan of the prequals).

  6. My 4 yr old daughter watched all the star wars films leading up to the release of The force Awakens and loved all of them. She loves her disney princess films too but strangely is often more scared by the cartoon baddies like Malificent than anything she has seen in star wars.

    1. Yeah, it’s not always clear cut what will scare them. Toy Story 3 is probably the most upset I’ve seen her at a movie, and that’s rated U.

  7. I first watched Star Wars when I was around 6 or 7, and became pretty obsessed with it (until I moved on to Star Trek, possibly by way of Gerry Anderson). “Never did me any harm” is such a cliche used to defend all manner of otherwise horrendous childhood experience, but is to an extent justified here. Nevertheless given all the onscreen deaths, the severed limb, burning corpses (which I never noticed until adulthood) and implied genocide in the original movie alone on the on hand, and the kind of censorship imposed on so many kids TV shows on the other, surprised it didn’t get *at least* a PG. Mind you think the Americans are far more censorious than the British where kids’ shows are concerned.

Leave a Reply