Kids: Isaac, 11; Manny, 10; Julius, 8
I think our three boys first watched Star Wars when the oldest was 8 and the youngest was 5, and in the end I was pretty comfortable with that.
The approach I've taken with regard to allowing my sons to watch movies with increasingly "mature" content has been mostly intuitive and ad hoc.
One thing that has been most helpful is the fact that we're a low- visual-media family in general. For most of our boys' lives we've had one 19-inch, cathode-ray-tube TV with no cable. My wife and I rarely watch TV. The boys have no video games. As a result of this, they love movies and will watch just about anything!
Once they moved out of the stage where Shrek was exciting, I tried to give them edgier fare by resorting to documentaries. We saw [Man on Wire], about Philippe [Petit] the tightrope walker, who walked between the [World Trade Center] twin towers. It had one scene with a naked groupie, but I'm OK with that. We saw The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, and we saw The Cove, about the dolphin slaughter in Japan. My boys are big readers, so we always try to combine the movies with reading materials that give a deeper and broader analysis of the issues addressed.
Eventually our boys became interested in action movies and began to have access to more intense films — such as the Indiana Jones movies and the Star Wars series — at their friends' and cousins' houses.
Basically, the boys seemed to be at a place where their imaginations could handle the intensity of the action/violence, and the fantasy aspect made me feel like it didn't pollute their minds with senseless, cold-blooded killings.
Kids: Vittoria, 5; Renzo, 3; Carlo, 1
I'm always amazed at how people of recent generations seem to feel compelled to have their kids' childhoods mirror their own.
I adore the Star Wars series as much as the next thirtysomething (OK, 40-year-old), but I don't need my kids to know who Han Solo is. They deserve to discover their own version of Han Solo, not Dad's.
That said, if my kids were to watch Star Wars, my 5 1/2-year-old daughter would wilt before Leia's ship was boarded in the opening sequence: "Too scary." My 3 1/2-year-old boy might last a few minutes longer, but I'm not ready for him to act out everything that happens in that movie yet, or bombard me with questions about blasters, etc. He understands that Dad "guns" animals when I go hunting, but we also talk about that when we're eating what Dad has "gunned."
I was 6 when I saw Star Wars in the theater, and I remember on the way home asking whether there was really a war going on in space. I had no idea what I had just seen.
So, to answer the question, I think that there's a pretty high level of maturity that should be demonstrated by a child before being exposed to Jedis and stormtroopers. The classic "right vs. wrong" storyline is pretty heavy stuff when portrayed through armed conflict.
And don't forget: No one tells the Empire's side of the story — they're just the bad guys.
Kids: Jake, 7; Joey, 5
We have two boys, just about 8 and 6. It's definitely different with the second one. I feel like we were very cautious with Jake, and tried to determine what movies were "age appropriate." Joey, on the other hand, wants to be just like "big" brother. I think we're still cautious with Jake, but if Jake is ready, Joey is also ready, even though he's two years younger.
Now, what is age appropriate, and, specifically, when did we feel Star Wars was age appropriate? When choosing films, we try to stay away from violence, specifically graphic violence. Most cartoons have some sort of violence, but it's typically not graphic.
There is also the distinction between stories that are based in fantasy compared to a "real world" setting. Obviously Star Wars has violence — quite a bit, considering there is usually a war going on — but it's based in a fantasy world, and I believe my kids understand the difference.
I feel comfortable enough that my kids will choose not to watch something if they're not ready for it. We still haven't watched all of the Harry Potter series yet.
So, when did we decide that our kids were ready to watch Star Wars? We didn't. They watched it at someone else's house first and told us how much they liked it.