I posited to Amanda that there are two factors to consider when determining when a child’s maiden viewing of the films should be: Will the child get scared, and will the child understand all (or at least enough) of the films’ allegorical richness and abstruse political plotlines? Amanda agreed. She explained that she was easily terrified as a small child—“a wimpy fat kid,” as she put it. (She couldn’t watch the Indiana Jones movies, and “Howard the Duck scared the heck out of me.”) And yet Star Wars never frightened her. Empire, the darkest of the original trilogy, was actually her favorite: She remembers rewinding the VHS as soon as it was over and watching it all over again—then rewinding again. And as for appreciating the films’ complexity, she never had a problem on that front either, she said, since she could always ask her father to talk through any confusing parts. “He was always really good at explaining them,” she told me. Amanda’s father is George Lucas.
Amanda doesn’t remember when, exactly, she first saw Star Wars. “I just grew up with it,” she said—which is what all of us say, of course, but she means it in a very different way. She was hesitant, or maybe just unable, to pinpoint a foolproof method of determining an ideal age for another child. She went back and forth on the question for a while, talking extremely fast. “I’m not sure,” she said, and—like others I canvassed—she seemed to keep returning to “I think it depends on the kid.” At one point, she ventured: “Four years old?” But then again, she said, maybe that’s a little young. Then again, “it’s not like Star Wars is so bloody or gory.” Then again, again, “there is the part when Vader takes off his helmet.” And then again, again, again, maybe we coddle our children too much. “My husband always says that we grew up watching the Rambo movies,” Amanda told me, “which is totally insane!” So maybe 4 years old is right.
Your question may be unanswerable, but it is not unimportant. It’s urgent, actually. With The Force Awakens awakening this year, and all that familiar glee kicking up once again in the culture—that trailer! that crazy lightsaber hilt!—now is the moment to get our precious young ones up to hyperspeed. It’s a question Amanda says she’s bound to take more seriously now, since she recently had her first child. “It would be great for him to be able to watch the movies for the first time with my dad,” she said. She added that George Lucas and his wife recently had a baby too—Amanda has a 20-month-old sister. Maybe they could show the kids Star Wars for the first time together!
So what’s the answer? The answer is 4 years old, just like Amanda said. Or the answer is 6, which is what a friend of mine insists. Or it’s 7, which is how old I was when I first saw Star Wars. The right age, yes, depends on the kid. But the most important thing, for children of any age, may be that they watch the films with just the right people on the couch alongside them—people who’ve been waiting, and longing, to host that special screening just for them.