Short-answer to the question of “Am I taking my kindergartener to see The Last Jedi on Friday night?”: No. Well, probably not. No, definitely not. Maybe? Probably.
Here’s how I arrived at this resolute conclusion: A few Movie Nights ago, we rented Spider-Man: Homecoming, the 374th and most recent Spider-Man movie and the youngest-skewing, funniest, and most accessible entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. If you haven’t seen it — no spoilers are forthcoming, promise — it casts Spider-Man as a pleasantly isolated 15-year-old dork, one whose powers derive primarily from his fancy Tony Stark-built suit instead of the spider bite from the comics, so it’s a lot more concerned with faux-paternal relationships, prom crushes, and adolescent identity crises than saving the world from galaxy-sized hell-demons. The bad guy isn’t even trying to destroy the universe, or the galaxy, or even a city. He’s trying to scrape out a living on the alien-arms black market, as one does. (He’s also played by Michael Keaton, who better be in Infinity War.)
As PG-13 movies go, Homecoming is surprisingly light. The rating, as near as I can tell, is for standard computer-built violence, monstrous alien weaponry, and one pretty hilarious half-obscenity. But it was fine for my 6-year-old, despite his being seven full years off the MPAA’s legendarily learned, consistent, and logical recommendations. (He didn’t catch the obscenity, but did like “Blitzkrieg Bop” over the credits.)
A few weeks later, reasonably well comfortable with the notion of a Marvel PG-13, we hit up Thor: Ragnarok, another MCU CGI fiesta with a PG-13 rating. And without giving too much away, let me just report that a lot more people get impaled, machine-gunned, and slammed into solid things in that movie. There are a lot more galaxy-sized hell-demons. And one major character loses an eye and fights with a hole in his face for 20 good minutes, usually in the vicinity of colorful chaos and Led Zeppelin music. The 6-year-old is, of course, no stranger to colorful chaos and has become a pretty big fan of “Immigrant Song,” but did politely request to take in the second half of the movie from the back row of the theater, on my lap.
If all goes according to the Empire Strikes Back constant of filmmaking, some pretty bleak stuff is coming. There’ll be a lot of lightsabers. It may be a little more intense than my son is ready for. I take that back: He’s ready for anything, but it’ll be more intense than I’m prepared to talk about.
Calm your commenting fingers down: I know this is on me; I know you don’t take a 6-year-old to a PG-13 movie without checking it out first and I acknowledge that there are websites full of helpful dorks who warn negligent dads like me about all the coke and car crashes and sideboob in America’s valuable new movies. I ignored all of them for the following reasons: 1) The entire family wanted to see Thor: Ragnarok, which is, incidentally, awesome; 2) The 6-year-old has successfully navigated Spider-Man: Homecoming, as well as Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and about nine million reasonably violent episodes of MythBusters;, and 3) Our sitter bailed.
All of which brings us to The Last Jedi. The Last Jedi is rated PG-13, much like its predecessor, The Force Awakens, which seemed negligibly more violent than other Star Wars movies, with the possible exception of that one scene, which, if anything, illustrated the dangers of building long walkways over huge epic abysses without so much as a railing. I have a ticket right now for my 6-year-old. I bought it in October, obviously, along with the nine other tickets in my possession. It’s a Star Wars movie, I told myself. It’s a shared experience that’s made memories. This is something I only remember doing with my own father once, for Return of the Jedi, because I was way too little for the other two.
Aaaaaaand I think my kid’s not coming.
Like all ratings, warning, and cautions, the phrase PG-13 means very little. It’s a shapeless arbitrary thing, slapped upon a thing I haven’t seen by people I don’t know. I’ve played Parental Advisory-stickered records on the way to kindergarten dropoff; I’ve been more horrified by idiotic, histrionic morning-news TV shows than anything that happens in Thor. I used to be able to say I’d be comfortable with my kids listening to pretty much anything said by any President of the United States. All of which is to say my morals are my own, and I have little interest in anyone else’s opinion of them.
But I think he’s not coming.
The Last Jedi is the second in the trilogy, which, if all goes according to the Empire Strikes Back constant of filmmaking, means some pretty bleak stuff is coming. There’ll be a lot of lightsabers. It may be a little more intense than he’s ready for. I take that back: He’s ready for anything, but it’ll be more intense than I’m prepared to talk about. I can make memories other times. And, ahem, I can watch the movie, without having to mentally check myself every 30 seconds to make sure he doesn’t need to relocate to the back of the theater.
The problem is, the 6-year-old thinks he’s going to The Last Jedi. We’ve watched trailers for The Last Jedi. We have done a lot of talking about The Last Jedi. So I have devised the following plan for breaking the news: I am going to lie to him and say it hasn’t opened yet. (It’s cold, but this plan totally worked for Despicable Me 3.) If it’s okay, we’ll take him next week, possibly in IMAX. If it doesn’t? There’s always Spider-Man.