In Hollywood, it’s conventional wisdom that a project needs to reach the widest possible audience in order to maximize its box office potential. For this reason, PG-13 has become the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) rating of choice, as it’s able to appeal to adults with darker material than squeaky-clean PG releases, but remains accessible to younger audiences who wish to hit the theater without their parents.
Just take a look at the all-time highest-grossing film franchises: Harry Potter, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and Star Wars. The “galaxy far, far away” in particular, has seen its fanbase grow over the years, and its nearly 40-year history means that it has gained the multi-generational appeal that few ongoing film series can boast.
As such, the franchise — which started out with an original trilogy of PG-rated pulp adventures — has diversified to simultaneously include both kid-friendly animated series and darker, more violent big-screen releases. The latter have settled into the realm of PG-13 ratings ever since Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith.
The latest entry in the saga — Rogue One: A Star Wars Story — takes the franchise into yet another direction, as the first standalone anthology release following Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm in 2012. While the film retains the same PG-13 rating as Star Wars: The Force Awakens, its starkly different tone and aesthetic begs the question if parents who may have brought their young children to The Force Awakens should do the same with this latest Star Wars adventure.
It’s a worthy concern. After all, Rogue One doesn’t feature the same stylistic touches that directors like George Lucas, Irvin Kershner, Richard Marquand, and J.J. Abrams have brought to the franchise. The core episodes have always been inspired by the all-ages space operas that once featured heroes like Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers, but filmmaker Gareth Edwards — best known for the decidedly dark 2014 Godzilla reboot — brings something new to the table. His tale isn’t concerned with the mystical good-versus-evil conflict that has always been at the center of the Star Wars universe. Rather, his is a gritty, morally ambiguous story set amidst the backdrop of the larger-than-life tale that everyone knows ultimately sets Luke Skywalker on the path toward becoming a legendary Jedi Knight.
At its heart, Rogue One is a war film, and despite being a part of the new Disney-owned Star Wars canon, it does not shy away from the cost of battle. Without delving into spoilers, Rogue One is perhaps the darkest entry in the franchise to date, a standalone story colored by conflict, tragedy, and the very real revelation that victory on the battlefield never comes easy. As Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy has said, there is no sequel in the works to this one, as it ties directly into A New Hope. So parents who are considering gathering together their little ones for a fun romp at the theater might be better off waiting until Star Wars: Episode VIII hits next year.
Although Rogue One does have some moments of levity (largely due to a droid named K-2SO, voiced by Alan Tudyk), it lacks the kind of affable moments that recurred throughout The Force Awakens or even A New Hope. Both those films marked the start of a new trilogy and, as such, were beacons of optimism. Since Rogue One ultimately lays the groundwork for Luke Skywalker’s (Mark Hamill) destruction of the Death Star (spoilers?), there’s the faintest glimmer of hope present by the end, but this isn’t Luke’s story. The destiny of Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) and her crew lies on an entirely different path.
For adult moviegoers or even older children, Rogue One places the original trilogy in an intriguing new context and fleshes out the saga with added depth and complexity. However, this is one case in which the PG-13 rating should probably be adhered to. Of course, parents should use their own discretion for how much darkness their children can handle, but from our perspective, Rogue One is probably best kept away from small children. Might we instead recommend Moana or even Doctor Strange, both of which are lighter adventures — and Disney-owned projects, naturally — that would play better for children who might not be ready for the harsh reality of the Galactic Civil War. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.
Follow Robert Yaniz Jr. on Twitter @CrookedTable
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