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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens is the hugely anticipated seventh installment in the big-screen Star Wars franchise, featuring new main characters as well as beloved favorites like Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), and Chewbacca. Directed by J.J. Abrams, the sequel takes place approximately 30 years after the events of The Return of the Jedi, and although there's tons of sci-fi action -- space battles, crashes, explosions, lightsaber duels, and more -- there's less violence overall than viewers saw in Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. Villains do order the mass murder of countless civilians, prisoners are coerced physically and with the Force, and duels lead to injuries and death, but none of it is bloody or gory. With little language ("dammit" and "hell" are as strong as it gets) or sex, this is the kind of epic adventure that will undoubtedly appeal to Star Wars fans of all ages. But while younger kids may be familiar with the franchise and its many spin-offs (like the animated Clone Wars), they might not be ready for some of The Force Awakens' more violent or emotional scenes. (Spoiler alert: One death will hit very hard.)
What's the story?
STAR WARS: EPISODE VII: THE FORCE AWAKENS takes place in a familiar galaxy far far away, about 30 years after The Return of the Jedi. Luke Skywalker, the last surviving Jedi, has gone into hiding, allowing the Empire's remaining sympathizers to grow into a considerable military force called the First Order, led by the masked Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson, in a scenery-chewing performance). The First Order captures the resistance's most daring pilot, Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), in hopes of securing a secret map to Skywalker's whereabouts -- but rogue stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) helps Poe escape. Finn ends up teaming with a skilled young scavenger, Rey (Daisy Ridley), who -- unbeknownst to her -- is protecting Poe's droid, BB-8. Finn and Rey don't know much other than that they're in constant danger and that they need to get BB-8 back into the hands of the Resistance. Enter a familiar smuggling duo, Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), who agree to lead their young counterparts to the resistance leader, General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher).
Is it any good?
Star Wars fans can rest easy; director J.J. Abrams (Star Trek) clearly knows how to stay faithful to sci-fi classics. He focuses not just on fantastic action sequences, but on the heart of these stories: the characters, both new and old. Finn and Rey are, like Luke once was, appealingly naive -- but also a lot more proactive. They're both alone, Finn because he was brought up as a stormtrooper with only one skill (to kill), and Rey because she was torn away from her family as a young child and lives a lonely existence of scavenging for parts. Like Leia and Han, they banter and argue, but they're also refreshingly earnest and encouraging with each other. Boyega and Ridley have an immediate chemistry that's sweet, with just a hint of possible romance.
Finn and Rey (as well as swashbuckling fighter pilot Poe) may be the franchise's new main characters, but The Force Awakens ultimately belongs to Ford, reprising his role as Han Solo. Still smirking after all these years, Han is reunited with his original love, the Millennium Falcon. He and Chewie see in Finn and Rey the urgency they remember from their days with Luke and Leia. Despite considerable emotional baggage between Han and Leia, the couple's reunion will melt fans' hearts. Ford is utterly brilliant as what's arguably his most definitive character; he's the bridge between the new characters and the old. He's the one whose vulnerability and humor make you remember how much you missed these characters in George Lucas' misguided style-over-substance prequels. Featuring John Williams' forever enduring score and the universal themes of the original movies, the Force is back in Episode VII -- and stronger than ever.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens' violence. Do scenes of explosions and space battles affect you differently than those of close-up, one-on-one duels and killings? Why do you think that is? What makes more of an impact -- violence or loss?
Who are the movie's heroes? What makes them heroes? Are Finn and Rey positive role models? How are they different than Han, Leia, Luke, Anakin, etc. from the earlier films? What motivates them? How do they demonstrate courage? Teamwork?
Talk about the themes from the previous movies that repeat themselves here. Why are issues of mentorship, loneliness, good vs. evil, fatherhood, and son on so important to this series? How do they play out on-screen?
How does Kylo Ren deal with his anger? What are some other options for managing frustration and disappointment? How do the two sides of the Force represent feelings we all wrestle with?
Have you noticed all the Star Wars merchandise in stores? Does seeing the characters on products make you want to buy them?
- In theaters: December 18, 2015
- On DVD or streaming: April 5, 2016
- Cast: Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, John Boyega, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley
- Director: J.J. Abrams
- Studio: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
- Genre: Science Fiction
- Topics: Adventures, Space and Aliens
- Character Strengths: Courage, Teamwork
- Run time: 136 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: sci-fi action violence
- Awards/Honors: Common Sense Seal
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.