How do you know if your kid should see Star Wars (or any other movie for that matter)

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I’m very excited because tomorrow I’m going to see Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Originally I had wanted to take my son, who is about to turn 5, to go see it. Max and I have been talking about this on and off for a while and I was getting really pumped to see it with my boy. For some parents sharing a sports event is a really important rite of passage, for me it was always movies, and one of the most important for me as a kid, was Star Wars. My experience with Star Wars comes from a time and place that was very different than what he knows now, or for that matter, what he will ever know. I saw Star Wars for the first time when I was 6 or 7, I saw it probably 20 times, and, I saw it at the same movie theater for at least a year. Yes, there was a two screen movie theatre in my home town that showed Star Wars: A New Hope, for at least a year, though I think it was longer. I remember vividly getting out of the car at The Reynolda Cinema, now long gone, into the hot, humid North Carolina evening and walking into the lobby, which was decorated in old purple carpet and festooned with video games, playing a game of Galaxia and then head into watch.

The first time I saw Star Wars the one thing I can remember is being thrilled. At the end of the movie when they are all standing in front of a crowd of orange clothed rebellion soldiers, I puffed my chest up and cried a tear of joy, because at that moment, I was one of them. It had a powerful effect on my young brain one I don’t think I have felt in many many years. I thought parts of it were scary, sure, but not so scary I wanted to leave. Darth Vader was sort of scary and the sand people always left me feeling a little violated, but I could never tell you why. I did have to leave a theater once but because of a trailer for a movie called Slithis. I never saw the film, but the trailer became a running joke in my family. It was a movie about some sort of monster made from toxic waste. Only in this trailer, I recall, there was a lot of blood and people being shredded by a monstrous green sea creature. The trailer showed before Journey to the Center of the Earth, a movie I would have been fine with, but because of Slithis, I was afraid to go back in the theatre. I stayed in the lobby for the rest of the night.

The thing is I knew that was too much for me. I needed to not see that. My brothers were fine, one older, and one younger but I was so scared and disturbed I had to leave. I use this to illustrate a point and I’m using Star Wars because, let’s face it, it has been here for 38 years and, judging by this new slate of movies, it is going to be around for a lot longer. So how do you know if your kid is old enough to watch it (and by “it” you can really insert any movie for Star Wars)? My conversation with my son Max was a teaching moment for just such a lesson, and the great thing was the lesson came from my experience watching the trailer for Slithis.

Now we live in an age when we can watch trailers whenever we want. They are on imdb, Apple, and Youtube, if a movie is coming out and a trailer has been made you can find it. So, I showed Max the trailer for Rogue One. Then I asked him if he wanted to see it with me. I got a thumbs down. He said “Mom thinks it would be too scary.” What I think he really said is that, it looks scary for me, so I stepped back and took another look as his parent, not the excited adult who really wants to see this movie. It does look scary and not like the original Star Wars movies, or even The Force Awakens. It looks like a war movie, darker and more violent that what was come before it. Of course you can take trailers with a grain of salt, they are marketing after all, but use that gain in combination with your gut as a parent and you have a winning formula.

Max has seen the original Star Wars movies and loves them, but, he saw them on a TV screen, not in a movie theatre, which I have found, makes a big difference with little kids. In addition, if you’re not sure if your kid is ready to watch something, find the trailer, show them that. I think 80% of the time you can tell if they are ready for whatever it is by how they react. I want my son to have the experiences that I had with things like Star Wars, but he won’t, and I’m not going to force it on him (no pun intended/maybe a little intended).

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