As soon as the early reviews for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story started hitting the internet, I knew I had a problem. We’d bought our tickets weeks ago — for me, my husband, and our two daughters, ages 10 and 8. Sure, it was rated PG-13, but they’d seen the original trilogy and The Force Awakens and loved them (along with a slew of other PG-13 action and fantasy movies), so we figured this new installment would be a great theater outing for our whole family.
Boy, did the reviews throw a bucket of cold water on that plan.
I spent hours last week reading every spoiler-free parent-oriented review I could get my hands on, and while they helped my youngest daughter ultimately make her decision to hold off on seeing it, none of them gave me all the information I was searching for. For example, lots of reviews mentioned “violence,” but there’s a big difference between, say, Avengers-style violence and the violence in a film like Saving Private Ryan, and I honestly couldn’t suss out which way Rogue One leaned.
So below I break down the categories I was most concerned about (for parents who are concerned about mature language and sexual content, I’ll make that part real easy: there isn’t any), along with some titles of films with comparable content to help inform your decisions. Note: the films I’m referencing are only intended to be compared in that category, and not as a whole. So I’m not saying, “if your kid was okay with this movie, they’ll be okay with Rogue One,” but rather, “if your kid would be okay with this one particular aspect of this movie, they should be okay with that same aspect of Rogue One.”
As a warning, I am going to avoid spoilers, but I’m trying my best to provide the information I would have wanted as a parent before showing this movie to my kids, which means that I’m going to need to at least allude to certain plot elements. Hopefully by avoiding specifics, you can still have a highly enjoyable moviegoing experience, even if you suspect which way a few of the storylines are going. But if you want to go into the movie completely blind (in which case, my only advice for how to proceed with your kids is to prescreen the film yourself), I’d suggest reading no further.
The violence in Rogue One is all very Star Wars (blasters, not lightsabers, are the weapon of choice here). It is entirely bloodless and there are no lingering shots of wounded or hurting characters.
The space dogfights are spectacular, and on a bigger scale than we’ve ever seen before, but not out of line with what we’ve seen in other Star Wars films. If your kids are fine with the space battles in the Original Trilogy, they’ll think the space battles of Rogue One are awesome.
That said, the non-space violence in this film is mostly war violence, and not like the battle scenes in previous Star Wars films. It is far more brutal, and in some instances, far more personal than what we’ve seen in the other films in this franchise. I don’t believe any of the Marvel movies provide a good comparison here — both Avengers films are far too clean, and even in Captain America: Civil War, where the lines become a bit murkier, the battles don’t feel nearly as visceral or raw as they do in Rogue One. Look instead to the feel of the battles in Mockingjay Part 2, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, or Pearl Harbor.
The director of Rogue One said in an earlier interview that his influences during filming were Saving Private Ryan and Black Hawk Down, and honestly, although I scoffed at the time, those are pretty spot-on. No, this movie does not have any of the graphic gruesomeness of either of those movies (let me reiterate that there is absolutely no gore or graphic violence in Rogue One), nor does it go nearly as dark as those films in what the characters face. But the feeling and intensity of the battle scenes are actually very similar, as are many of the themes.
So with this one, it’s not so much “would you let your kid watch Saving Private Ryan” (resounding no for my kids), as “are you okay with your kid feeling similar to how you felt while you watched Saving Private Ryan?” Personally, my 10-year-old was fine, but I was glad I prepped her going in that this movie would probably feel very different to other Star Wars movies, and that the cost of rebellion would likely be higher.
I’ve seen some reviews likening this film to The Empire Strikes Back, and while I see why they made that comparison (as Empire is the most somber and weighty of the Original Trilogy), to me, that’s misleading. I found the tone of Rogue One to be far more harrowing than Empire, and the intensity greater throughout. However, I will say that as far as the content, I do not believe that Rogue One ever gets anywhere near as dark as Revenge of the Sith (and frankly, I hope no Star Wars film ever decides it needs to go darker than Anakin slaughtering younglings). Both are heavy films, but why they are heavy differs greatly.
That said, this still feels very much like a Star Wars movie. The humor, heroism, and worldbuilding is all spot-on for the Star Wars universe. There were tons of moments all throughout the film where our whole theater (including my 10-year-old daughter) burst into laughter, cheers, or applause. So prepare your kids for heaviness, but they don’t need to worry that the whole film is one big gut punch. It’s intense, but it’s still Star Wars.
While Rogue One contains strong themes of friendship, teamwork, and perseverance which are very much in line with the rest of the franchise, it also heavily emphasizes themes of sacrifice, the cost of war, and standing up for what’s right against odds that have never seemed quite so overwhelming. Additionally, there is occasional murky morality and infighting that is a bit of a departure from the clear black and white, good vs. evil stance of previous Star Wars films. Films with similar thematic elements would include Mockingjay Part 2, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Captain America: Civil War, and The Magnificent Seven.
About halfway through Rogue One, my 10-year-old daughter leaned over to me and whispered, “this is the first Star Wars movie that has ever made me cry.” Nothing particularly sad or emotional was happening on screen at the time, but I think what was getting to her was the sheer intensity of the story. While the tension in Rogue One is by no means constant — it ebbs and flows, similar to The Force Awakens — its peaks are a lot higher, and it holds that high tension for extended periods of time, particularly toward the end (the last 45-ish minutes are relentless). Again, a good comparison would be Mockingjay Part 2, or possibly Inception, Twister, or Jurassic World. (I’m having a hard time coming up with non-Hunger Games titles for this one — Rogue One is not necessarily suspenseful, so a film like Jurassic Park wouldn’t be a good comparison, but it’s very tense with extremely high stakes.)
Similar to A New Hope or The Force Awakens, there is a good amount of large-scale destruction in Rogue One (the film is, after all, about the Death Star), but unlike in those films, Rogue One‘s devastation is filmed in such a way to make it far more personal. Prepare kids to see the power of the Death Star on display in a way that makes you really feel the losses, similar to the mass destruction pictured in Deep Impact or Star Trek (2009). My daughter had no problem with the collapsing cities of the Avengers movies, but told me that she had trouble sleeping with some of the images from Rogue One in her head.
There is also a tentacled CGI beastie that some kids might think looks silly, but others will find scary, especially considering how it is used. If your kids are sensitive to monster imagery, maybe cover their eyes for that one scene, which you will see coming and doesn’t last for very long.
Oh, and if your kid is already uneasy about Darth Vader, you should know that Rogue One has what is probably the scariest Vader scene yet. Might be another candidate for eye covering.
I’m including complexity on this list not because kids shouldn’t be exposed to complex plots, but because sometimes complexity can stand in the way of them being able to fully enjoy a movie. For example, although my kids love most Marvel movies, we held off for a couple years on showing them The Winter Soldier because we didn’t think they’d be able to grasp the highly political plot when it was first released.
The plot of Rogue One isn’t quite as intricate as Winter Soldier, but it is more involved than previous Star Wars fare, partially due to the heist structure. It is extremely helpful to watch A New Hope shortly before seeing Rogue One, not only so kids will understand what the Rebels’ end goal is (and catch most of the many Easter eggs hidden throughout the movie), but also so they can grasp what the characters are talking about when they reference technical aspects of the Death Star.
While the stakes in Rogue One are much higher, if you think your child would be able to grasp the plots of simple heist films such as Ant-Man or The Italian Job, they will have no trouble following the story of Rogue One.
Should you take your kid to see Rogue One? I don’t know. For us, the answer was yes for one and no for the other. Hopefully this guide has helped inform your decision. If you do decide to take your kid(s), I really appreciated this guide for its non-spoilery descriptions of what to prepare for, as well as some discussion topics following the film.
Someday, when my youngest daughter is a little older and a little less easily upset, I look forward to showing her Rogue One. I hope she will love it. Right now, all taking her to the theater would’ve accomplished is giving her nightmares and probably ruining the moviegoing experiences of those around us thanks to all the inevitable crying and screaming. Plus, it probably would’ve ruined her enjoyment of Star Wars for years to come, which would’ve completely defeated the purpose of taking her.
Fortunately, we didn’t have any of those problems with my oldest daughter, who thoroughly enjoyed the latest installment in the Star Wars universe… but only because she was ready.
One thought on “A Spoiler-Free Parent’s Guide to Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”
Thanks for your review! It was the same here: We already bought 5 tickets and wondered if we should take the kids. My husband and I went on the release day, and we asked the kids if they want to know what happens to decide if they want to go. They wanted to know, we told them what happens in the end and told them as well that there is no blood (especially my 9 y.o. daughter is very sensitive when it comes to seeing blood on screen and covers her eyes when Obi-Wan uses his lightsaber in the Mos Eisley cantina). They decided they wanted to go. My son is 7 years old, but he is more “hard-boiled” (he is more sensitive concerning ghosts and horror – the brain worms from Clone Wars were waaaayyyy too scary for him and today he climbed onto my lap when Ezra saw Maul on Atollon in the latest Rebels episode). My oldest one is 17, so no question for him. 😉
So, we all went to watch Rogue One – and it was okay for them. My son (the youngest) didn’t feel the emotional stakes of the finale because he was so caught into the action of the space battle and whenever I asked “Are you okay?” he was like “Why is she asking that all the time, I’m having the time of my life!” My daughter cuddled up against my husband and cried in the end – but I cried as well and enjoyed the movie nonetheless. We cried when Han Solo died last year. 😉 Both were glad that they had the chance to see it.
What really made me somehow “proud”: When I asked “Who did you like most?” They said: “Well, they were all great, and K-2SO was really funny, but I liked the one with the ponytail because he was such a good and kind guy.” Why this made me proud? Because I think Bodhi is the most human character, the one who wants to be forgiven and to forgive himself in the end, and somehow I find this very touching, because I did not expect that kids would understand him in the way we as adults understand him. 😉 Ah, long stream of consciousness here …. Thanks again and bye!