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I’ve got a two-year-old son, and I’m struggling with the question of when to show him Star Wars. Not that I’m going to show it to him now, but I’m trying to figure out when.
I’m not sure exactly when I saw the original. It might have been in ’77, or it might have been in a re-release prior to The Empire Strikes Back. So I was either 3, 4, or 5 years old. I then saw Empire in 80 and Jedi in 83.
For the original, I only remembered a few things. I remembered the droids and the Jawas, I remember the Tusken Raiders, a few brief scenes from the Death Star (including the trash compactor and Obi-Wan shutting down the tractor beam), and I remembered that there was a bunch of spaceships flying around trying to blow up some big bad planet thing.
The only “violent” thing I remembered was the Tusken Raider attacking Luke in the desert. That was REALLY intense. None of the stuff with shooting the stormtroopers, the lightsaber battle, Alderaan, the assault on the Death Star, the burned Lars homestead… none of that stuck with me. Not even Ponda Baba losing his arm in the cantina.
Of all those things, the one that bothered me was the Tusken Raider attack. Perhaps it’s because it was very startling, they were creepy and feral (and made creepy sounds), and because I understood the nature of hitting someone over the head with a blunt object. I didn’t understand blasters back then.
And keep in mind, there was no blood in the movie (well, other than a tiny bit by the severed arm).
Also, kids don’t process seeing a small image of a planet blowing up with individual people, villages, communities, and such on that planet. They don’t think of it as anything more than a really important rock blowing up (there’s no context for them). As for making Leia watch, they only get “she saw what the bad guy did, and it made her sad.” They don’t process that she has family and friends there. Also, it never shows Leia being stuck with a needle. Only a needle coming toward her.
There’s a lot of scary stuff IMPLIED. Very little actual violence is shown. And even then, the Special Editions have watered that down a bit (see comparisons on the cuts of the detention block rescue scenes where the imperial officers were being shot).
For Empire (I was 6 years old then), I remembered much of Hoth. I remembered a little bit about a swamp with a boring muppet and a lot of snakes, and a cave scene that was really creepy but not memorable. I remember C-3PO died but they put him back together, so it was okay. I remember Darth Vader hanging out with the good guys and having dinner, which I found confusing.
The violence perpetrated by the good guys is CLEARLY communicated to be necessary to get rid of evil and to save people from the evil bad guys.
And that’s about all I walked away from Empire with. The most memorable/creepy thing for me was Han cutting open the Tauntaun to keep Luke warm, but I had realized that it was already dead, that it wasn’t a violent act, and that Han was saving Luke.
By the time Return of the Jedi came around, I was easily able to grasp everything going on and had a fairly comprehensive long-term memory of the movie.
So… Here’s why I don’t think it’s quite as big a deal for younger kids:
- There’s practically no blood.
- The violence isn’t portrayed to be a result of bullying, anger, or hatred (yes, on a deeper level that’s all there, but on a superficial level, none of it is portrayed that way).
- There are very clear lines between good and evil. The violence perpetrated by the good guys is CLEARLY communicated to be necessary to get rid of evil and to save people from the evil bad guys.
- Kids understand the premise of “consequence.” The bad guys were being evil, and so they had to deal with the consequences of their actions.
I don’t think I’ll bother showing it to my son until he’s able to remember much of it. Think I’m going to wait until around 7 (give or take a year; we’ll see how he’s doing then).