A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
The film is intended to entertain, not educate, but there are some clear messages around good and evil.
The film's story and characters emphasize personal sacrifice for the greater good. Positive traits like bravery, thoughtfulness, and inner peace are demonstrated throughout by the heroes. A key element of the film's plot hinges on racial acceptance between two alien groups. The villains are sharply defined, and their behavior is cast in a purely negative light.
Positive Role Models
Characters generally exhibit positive character traits throughout. One of the lead heroic characters demonstrates a disregard for authority, which is the only poor example set by the heroes in the film.
Violence & Scariness
Heavy sci-fi violence, although none of it is especially gory or detailed. Viewers see the deaths of at least two major characters on screen, one of whom is sliced in half by a laser sword. The movie's climax cuts together a sword duel, two separate ground invasions, and a space sequence, all of which feature frequent lasers, explosions, and the deaths of minor characters and creatures. A key moment in the film involves the lead character, a boy of about 8, leaving his mother forever; the moment is played as bittersweet, and the character recovers quickly. The film's chief villain is a menacing, silent figure with a frightening appearance.
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Though there are no curse words and very few moments of derogatory language, there's a bit of potty humor -- for example, a lead character stepping in the droppings of an intergalactic creature, or another creature passing gas.
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Products & Purchases
The film takes place "a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away," so there are no real-world product placements. But the Star Wars film franchise is perhaps one of the most heavily merchandised in the history of film, with action figures, kids clothing and accessories, and every other type of product available even today.
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that The Phantom Menace is a prequel to the classic sci-fi action trilogy and has a few scary and surprisingly violent moments, although there's no explicit gore. Viewers see the deaths of at least two major characters on screen, one of whom is sliced in half by a laser sword. The movie's climax cuts together a sword duel, two separate ground invasions, and a space sequence, all of which feature frequent lasers, explosions, and the deaths of minor characters and creatures. A key moment in the film involves the lead character, a boy of about 8, leaving his mother forever. The film's chief villain is a menacing, silent figure with a frightening appearance. The humor and plotting are aimed at children, but very young kids may not be ready for the movie's darker moments. Widely considered to be the weakest of the films in this franchise, the film will likely entertain children with its straightforward story and imaginative design; though it may also confuse those who've already seen the original films and aren't yet old enough to understand the concept of a prequel. Note: The 3-D version of the movie renders some scenes (like the pod race) more exciting and others (like lightsaber battles) more intense. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
With its 8-year-old lead character, bright and imaginative design, and never-lets-up plotting, this prequel is perfectly suited to kids' attention span. It's a shame that The Phantom Menace doesn't hold up to adult standards as well as most of the original three Star Wars films did. It could be a generational thing, and maybe 1977's Star Wars is as clunky and leaden to older viewers as The Phantom Menace is to most twenty- and thirty-somethings.
But director George Lucas seems to make some of the same mistakes here that he narrowly avoided in the original trilogy. Technology trumps storytelling, plot trumps character, and hollow exposition trumps clever dialogue. There's little doubt that Lucas and his team accomplished some amazing visual feats with Menace, and there are a few sequences (the opening 10 minutes, the Tattooine pod race) in which that old Star Wars feel returns once again. Overall, kids will probably love Phantom Menace, but parents will be wishing it were over so that they can put the kids to bed and watch the classics again.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.