10 (Spoiler-Free) Things Parents Should Know About ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’

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Note: There are no spoilers in this article beyond what has already been shown or referenced in trailers, ads, and merchandise.

1. Will I like it?

Yes! I’ve been a die-hard Star Wars fan for more than 35 years, and I thought The Force Awakens was great. It’s definitely one of my top three films in the series, and probably in my top two – I’ll have to see it another time or two before I can really judge where it stands related to A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, but I can tell you for sure it’s better than Return of the Jedi.

2. What about the prequel trilogy?

The what? Seriously, The Force Awakens is so much better than any of Episodes I-III that it’s almost enough to make you actually forget they ever happened. This is the kind of movie we all wanted to see in 1999 when we walked into the theater for The Phantom Menace. Every scene in The Force Awakens is better than the best scene in the prequel trilogy.

3. Will my kids like it?

If they like the original trilogy, then they absolutely will, because it not only (as you may have heard) features several characters from that trilogy, but also, more importantly, because it feels like the original trilogy. J.J. Abrams has made the kind of Star Wars film anybody who grew up loving the movies would if they could.

That being said, it is of course not a quiet, understated film. There are explosions aplenty, though overall it’s probably a bit less noisy than A New Hope or Return of the Jedi. There’s quite a bit of violent one-on-one combat, though (as usual for Star Wars films) very little gore. The plot is a bit convoluted, and might be tough for really little kids to follow, but that might not matter that much, especially when there’s BB-8 to provide some comic relief. There are also several scenes, and one in particular, that I think would be tough for younger kids to process. I can’t say more without spoilers, but I will say that I would probably not have taken my kids to see the film in the theater when they were younger than six. If your kid is younger than that, or doesn’t handle intense scenes well, you might want to consider seeing the film without them before deciding to take them with you to see it a second time.

4. When’s the best time for a bathroom break?

The Force Awakens moves pretty fast, so there aren’t a lot of great times, but it is a bit over two hours long, so you may not have a choice. There is an extended bit roughly halfway through, right after a scene where Rey finds something really important (you’ll know when it happens – I’d risk spoilers by saying more). It’s not unimportant, but if you missed it you’d be able to easily figure out what had happened when you returned.

5. Do I have to stay through the end credits for a bonus scene at the end?

J.J. Abrams has publicly said there is no mid-credits or end-credits scene in The Force Awakens, and he did not lie.

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6. Is it worth paying extra for 3-D and/or IMAX?

The press screening I attended showed the film in regular old 2D. It was just absolutely fine that way, and might even be best that way if you (like me) have fond memories of being a kid watching the original trilogy on the big screen, since of course we didn’t have as many options then. That being said, I have not actually seen it in any other format yet. I will be seeing it on Thursday evening in IMAX 3D, so after that I will update this article to compare that experience to the 2D viewing.

ADDED 12/18/2015: Having now seen it in IMAX 3D as well, I can say that, while the 3D was good and the IMAX made it more immersive, neither was that significant a difference. If it’s not a big increase in price, I’d go for it; if it is, though, save your money and see it in 2D.

7. Do I need to make sure my kids have seen Episodes I-VI recently before I take them to see The Force Awakens?

Episodes I-III, absolutely not. Episodes IV-VI, I highly recommend it. There are a lot of references to things that will make a lot more sense if you remember the original trilogy really well. I’m sure the movie would be enjoyable without that, but I’m also sure it would lose something.

8. How close to the line between cute and annoying does BB-8 get?

A bit closer than I would have liked, honestly, but he/she/it/whatever never crosses over to the dark side of the line. And he/she/it/whatever is pretty funny, too, and only sometimes in a slapstick kind of way.

9. Does the movie pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test?

Yes! It’s possible that your definition of “woman” might have to stretch to include aliens who are clearly intended to be female, but I think that’s fair for a sci-fi film. Also, characters talk a lot about BB-8, who is (as I subtly indicated in #8 above) of ambiguous sex and/or gender.

There is also no doubt that The Force Awakens is in every way better at dealing with its female characters than any of the previous movies. I realize that’s not setting the bar high, but really, Leia is “General Organa” now and Rey is a very independent, smart, strong female character whom I would be proud to have my daughter look up to (even if Daisy Ridley is not the most nuanced of actresses). Sadly, the same cannot be said of Captain Phasma, played by the excellent Gwendoline Christie but relegated to a secondary role at best.

10. Does the plot hold together any better than those in Star Wars movies usually do?

Not really, but it doesn’t matter. There are plenty of plot holes, and anomalous things left unexplained, but none so egregious it reduces the sheer enjoyment of watching the movie. I don’t know about you, but I’m willing to forgive a few plot holes as long as they don’t take me out of immersion in the film’s story. Plus, if I’m honest, I enjoy having plot holes to discuss with friends, family, coworkers, random people on the subway, etc., and I’d be kind of disappointed if the plot were rock solid. Wouldn’t you?

11 – Yes, this one goes to 11. Does Greg Grunberg have a better cameo in this film than the voice-only one he had in 2009’s Star Trek?

(For those who don’t know, Greg Grunberg is to J.J. Abrams what John Ratzenberger is to Pixar and Bruce Campbell is to Sam Raimi, which is to say a “good luck charm” of sorts.) Yes, he does, and a much longer one as well. I can’t say more without spoilers, but if you know what Grunberg looks like I guarantee you won’t miss him.

Disclosure: I was invited to a free press screening of the movie. All opinions expressed here are my own.

Images: Lucasfilm/Disney.

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