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Is 'Star Wars' still safe family viewing?

Posted December 17, 2016
Updated December 18, 2016

Two Stormtroopers pose for photographers upon arrival at the premiere of the film 'Rogue One: A Star Wars Story' in London, Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2016. (Deseret Photo)

Amid fresh hype for “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” critics offering mixed reviews of the latest Disney/Lucasfilm installment seemed to all agree on one thing: It is, by far, the most violent and darkest film of the franchise.

Washington Post film critics Ann Hornaday and Kristen Page-Kirby both warned viewers to be prepared for a very different kind of “Star Wars” vehicle — one where the body count is high. The film also scored a higher violence rating than previous Star Wars films on content watchdog site Common Sense Media, though the site still rated the film as good for families with children over age 10.

That presents second-generation fans who grew up young enough to appreciate the prequels and with parents who treated watching the original trilogy as a milestone of American childhood with a problem: Is Star Wars still solid family entertainment?

“You should not bring small children to ‘Rogue One,’” Susana Polo wrote for gaming and geek culture website Polygon. “I haven’t quite worked out how I feel about that yet.”

Up until this point, the wars in Star Wars have been largely bloodless affairs. Torture scenes in “The Empire Strikes Back” were depicted off-screen. There are no sweeping pan shots of bodies littering vanquished battlefields. Qui-Gon Jinn’s death by lightsaber in “The Phantom Menace,” as well as Han Solo’s murder in last year’s “The Force Awakens,” were both shot to minimize violence — not showing it or cutting away from the violence quickly, with both bodies immediately falling out of sight.

Even when Luke Skywalker’s hand is cut off at the climax of “The Empire Strikes Back,” he’s left with a clean, gore-free wound (most fans theorize that blaster and lightsaber wounds are immediately cauterized on impact).

“Rogue One” departs from its predecessors in this way on purpose, trying to be defined more as a war film than a space Western.

“Certain shots, such as a child screaming for her mother in the middle of a rebel attack on the Empire troops in a crowded marketplace, evoke memories of various nonfiction wars in Vietnam and Iraq, by design,” cautioned the Chicago Tribune’s Michael Phillips.

It remains to be seen whether the aesthetic of “Rogue One” will become a feature of future Star Wars films, but until the release of Episode VIII, parents are already debating new guidelines for how young is too young to introduce children to a galaxy far, far away.

One parent recently on Reddit was torn: By the father's estimation, his 5-year-old son is now old enough to start watching the films, and it would be a treat to see his first one on the big screen. But should “Rogue One” be the first?

Most users advised against it and made an excellent point: Part of the beauty of Star Wars is that the installments were made decades apart, meaning they can be watched and enjoyed as children mature.

Despite backlash over the three prequel films of the early 2000s, “The Phantom Menace,” with a very young Anakin Skywalker as a protagonist and a lot of action, was generally considered a good introduction to what may become a lifelong obsession for another generation.

“You might hate that movie,” one user advised, “but your son is going to love seeing such a young Anakin, and the races.”

Email: chjohnson@deseretnews.com

Twitter: ChandraMJohnson

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