For parents, “Rogue One” is the great “Should I take my kids?” conundrum of 2016. The first “Star Wars Story” outside of the “episodes” is the most action-heavy, battle-focused “Star Wars” installment yet. It’s also the boldest in terms of outcome. But we’ll get back to that.
“Rogue One” is rated PG-13 for “extended sequences of sci-fi violence and action.” As usual, the MPAA rating is not particularly helpful. So many parents are turning to reviews and the opinions of friends and family.
In reviews and pre-release buzz, the film has been described as “darker” than the other “Star Wars” films, but that’s not quite accurate. Remember that “Empire Strikes Back” ended with Han Solo frozen in carbonite, and Luke Skywalker learning that Darth Vader was his father and losing his hand. In “The Phantom Menace,” we see the corpse of Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn in flames — and let’s not forget Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru burned to a crisp in “A New Hope.”
Even the fairly innocuous “Attack of the Clones” included a beheading. And “Revenge of the Sith” — referred to in my house as “the dark one” — features the most gruesome moments of the series, by far.
The implications of “Rogue One” are certainly dark. But it’s not a graphic film. What it is, above all else, is a grittier “Star Wars” entry. Director Gareth Edwards’ “embedded” shooting style emphasizes on-ground combat, and the result is a more realistic feel. But there is little explicit violence. There is little explicit bloodshed, but there is war-like violence and some disturbing imagery throughout the film.
Without spoiling “Rogue One,” parents need to know that the film is very dark. But for many kids, especially those under 10 or so, the implications of what actually occurs will zip over their heads like an errant X-wing.
The outcome is also hopeful, and even inspiring. In addition, the female heroine of “Rogue One” is a fine role model, and there is a spirit of friendship and collaboration that’s downright wonderful. While there are talky moments in this two-hour-plus film, the visceral surge of the final third is thrilling.
In addition, another critic friend made a crucial point that I had not considered: “I think the idea of Han Solo’s own son murdering him in ‘The Force Awakens’ is psychologically much worse than anything shown in ‘Rogue One.’ ” Still, something happens that will require discussion and explanation. It may even shock you.
So what’s the appropriate age for “Rogue One”? It sounds like a cop-out, but that answer depends on the child. For better or worse, my 6-year-old son has seen all of the “Star Wars” films (we fast-forwarded through the darkest moments in “Revenge of the Sith”) and the eight “Harry Potter” adaptations (liberal fast-forwarding was involved here, as well).
My wife and I have known for months that he would be aching to see the film at the theater, but it was important for us that I see it first.
As a parent, then, my advice is simple: Do not take your kids until after you’ve seen the film. You know what your children can handle better than anyone, so avoid placing blind trust in critics or even friends. Know what you’re in for. Then, make your decision and feel confident.
In addition, if your child’s only “Star Wars” experience is “The Force Awakens,” it’s best to hold off. Work through some of the others first, then go “Rogue.”