Rated: PG for sci-fi action violence
Recommended for: ages 8 and up
Run Time: 124 minutes
Quick Take: This installment is darker than ever before, casting an interesting new shadow over an old classic.
As a sequel, Empire is darker and deeper than A New Hope -- in fact, it's nearly out of hope by the end. It's more violent, less cheery, and much less certain about who is good and who is bad (the lines are blurred for several of the main characters). We also discover that as evil as Darth Vader is, he answers to someone worse. There is a real sense of danger as characters become more complex, and there's a real possibility that all could be lost if Luke does not come to terms with his own dark side. In other words, it's a lot closer to real life. All of that makes it more interesting for adults, but a little harder for kids to watch. Still, there are new creatures and worlds, plus the trademark deadpan humor. Both kids and parents can enjoy that.
Kids Will Like:
Boys in particular will have a love/hate connection to this film. There are squirm-producing love scenes between Han and Leia (eeewww -- they kiss!) and a kiss between Leia and Luke (double eeewww!) but also some gory/cool moments such as the Wampa snow monster scene and the battle between Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker. All kids will get a laugh out of Yoda's first meeting with Luke, and will have fun figuring out what's going on with the "cave" where Han and Leia hide in the Millennium Falcon. Overall, the film is action-packed, which will keep kids watching, even if some of the character dilemmas go over their heads.
Parents Will Like:
The introduction of Yoda offers a major lesson in not judging by appearances. Han and Leia's growing attraction adds an element of romance to balance the film's action. The story moves quickly, and fills in background on the Jedi and the Force.
About that gore ... depending on a child's age, s/he could wind up with nightmares of the snow monster chewing on some unfortunate creature's limb -- and then losing one of his own. Ditto the scene where Han slices open a just-dead tauntaun and shoves Luke inside to keep him warm. Luke loses a hand in his fight with Vader (although we see it replaced -- good as new! -- later). Darth Vader once again Force-strangles an underperforming Imperial officer; C-3PO is torn into pieces (but rebuilt); and Han and Chewie are all briefly shown (and heard) in torture chambers. Did we mention that this episode is darker and more violent?
Oh, yes -- along with A New Hope and Return of the Jedi, because you'll want to browse among them to replay how all the details fit together in the larger story.