Will Our Young Kids See The Force Awakens?

It is with a sad lingering that my husband and I finally came to a conclusive NO this morning. I will include non-specific spoilers in this post so read along but do not expect anything to be ruined for you. I love films, or rather I love good films. One of the reasons the Star Wars canon is a favorite in our home is because it is a classic story of archetypes following classic story arcs. Some folks may call this predictable but I call it relatable even for our two and five year-olds. Our family has been getting hyped for this film from Halloween costumes, to finished movie-going costumes, to letterpressed sugar cookies, to the LEGO advent calendar, to daily light saber battles. We are excited for this film but the reality is the boys will not be seeing this in the theater.

Jedi family #BooAtTheZoo. "Dad, my candy bag is SO HEAVY." —Bodhi Yes it is, son.

A post shared by Terry (@tcabeen) on

There are many great things about The Force Awakens that I think our kids would enjoy. The protagonists are flawed and courageous. The antagonists are flawed with the possibility of redemption. Once again like with Episodes IV-VI you feel with the characters.

However unlike Episodes IV-VI the violence is actually depicted in more graphic ways.  It is very brief. So brief in fact that we even contemplated distracting our kids through several of the scenes we questioned with junk food or cuddles. Our strategy would need to be on point though. Then I thought about it and recalled the movies in theaters our five year-old has seen since he has been old enough to sit on his own… three IMAX movies about nature or science, The LEGO Movie, Madagascar 3, Despicable Me 2, Big Hero 6, and Cinderella. Recalling what all he has seen solidified that we want to keep his movie experiences pleasant and tender-hearted for right now.

Light Sabers at Denver Botanic Garden
Little boys taking light sabers everywhere. Even Denver Botanic Blossoms of Light.

The biggest practical objection is the depiction of what light sabers can do. Our daily light saber battles are friendly for the most part. Friendly like what you would find in a PG-rated film. We see the characters that become endeared to us cause harm and get harmed up close. Our two year-old is very impressionable and I can see him trying to ram the tapered point into his big brother just out of principle of giving it a go.

The antagonist in this film is also what one could call unbalanced. He throws tantrums. He seems to get some joy from torturing his captors. Up close and personal I can see the kids thinking this is acceptable. Which it is not. The character in black this time around is a total BRAT! I really wonder what he thinks his dad did to him for his acting out to be justified. However he has a cool as heck light saber. Awesome toys may trump good behavior for little kids seeing this on the big screen.

There is another scene that is very brief and too abstract to even register for our kids but I thought I should mention it. You see a society clutching each other in fear before they are annihilated. You see it all. Unlike when Alderaan was destroyed and we did not see the people… only knew about their million screams. This quick scene sticks with me because I do not know how many kids realize what their lockout drills at school mean. From what I saw on social media this week a number of kids were made aware of the hoaxed threat to the Los Angeles Unified School District while parents were glued to media. More and more kids are being made aware of terror possibilities and I wish this brief scene was cut.

I want my kids to see a “bad” guy turn into a “good” guy in this film. The idea is sweet but what he is asked to do then witnesses for this change to happen are definitely not things my kids need in their process of making good choices. My husband and I were talking about the odd innocence of not thinking people were people but rather non-characters hidden by masks in our memories of Star Wars. This film also opens up a lot of jokes and loops into the characters we knew in the past. The kids may or may not get it. They most likely will not care because of the new toys being shown now.

Here I am less than 12 hours after seeing the film. It was so good! The only sadness is that our kids will not see it with us. We had planned to see it on Christmas Day with our boys but will have to find other plans now. This is of course our choice and we are people lucky enough to have someone to sit with them when we see it at least two more times before the new year without them.

 

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2 comments

As opposed to Darth Vader lifting a man by the throat and choking the life out of him and discarding the body like trash? Or how many Imperial officers clutching at their throats as their eyes bulge and they expire? Ewoks burning and not moving. Being eaten alive in the Sarlacc. Han Solo SHOOTING how many Stormtroopers in the chest or head? Knocking an Imperial officer to his death in the shield generator station at Endor (the line immediately afterwards by the remaining officer “You Rebel Scum,” in that moment, you get why some of them think that and the statement is rather earned in that moment).

How many people died at each Death Star explosion?

So everyone has to decide for their own children, I get that. But from a media research perspective (just so you know), the portrayals of violence in the new film are MUCH more responsible than the portrayals in the classic trilogy. For example, one of the key variables in the research literature is showing the pain of those on the receiving end of violence. Studies show when this pain is masked or trivialized, the disinhibitory effect of violence is muted. This is why most Looney Tunes cartoons have been removed from children’s television channels.

The violence in the new Star Wars film is intimate, earned, disturbing, and powerful. It is shown as producing real consequences for complex characters, who suffer pain, mourning, and loss and wind up displaying their collective and individual griefs about it.

Contrast that to Luke blowing up the first Death Star, having lost his best childhood friend in the battle and having a joyous and unexamined celebration as a result. Or Vader personally killing so many officers (no worries: life is cheap and there is always someone to step up in rank afterwards).

The victories in the new Star Wars came at great cost and the celebration of those moments was infused with the grief of those losses. The whole succeeds because of the sacrifices of the individuals, and those effects are both present in a much more responsible manner than in the classic trilogy.

I understand the author’s view: Americans tend to prefer sanitized and unexamined violent narratives in which good people are justified in violent acts because of their framing. The effects research consistently shows the results of these preferences: desensitizing towards the pain of others, a lack of critical engagement of the social effects of violence, the reinforcement of the savior complex that justifies “good guy” interventions that exceed law and the social contract.

As the parent of a boy, I absolutely prefer the nuanced and painful portrayals of the complex consequences of using blasters and lightsabers to enact social change in a society to the idea that this is just normal and death, pain and dismemberment are just a normal part of struggle, and the consequences of that should merely be dismissed or banished from view.

(Then there’s the whole discussion about what else is lost by not viewing this film: the prosocial gender norm statements, the deconstruction of evil as twisted urges to control the uncontrollable, the complex displays of love and acceptance in less than ideal circumstance … a lot of baby being thrown out with that bathwater).

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