by Michelle Erica Green

This review originally appeared on the now-defunct site FamilyWonder.com, which showcased children's entertainment for parents and caregivers.

Grade: A
Year: Fox, 2000
Running Time: 6 hours

Video Summary:
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, Luke Skywalker and the Rebel Alliance brought down an empire led by the dark lord Darth Vader. In the original STAR WARS, now subtitled A NEW HOPE, Luke Skywalker leaves his home planet of Tattooine in the company of Jedi knight Obi-Wan Kenobi. As they help the Rebel Alliance fight the planet-destroying Death Star, Luke joins forces with Han Solo and rescues Princess Leia.

In THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, the rebels are forced to split up when they flee an attack on their new home base. Luke goes to train with the Jedi master Yoda, but when he learns that Han and Leia have been taken prisoner, he abandons his studies to try to rescue his friends. Meanwhile Han and Leia fall in love.

THE RETURN OF THE JEDI begins with a triumphant rescue and reunion, but the heroes must prepare for battle as Imperial forces bring a new Death Star to crush the Rebellion. While Leia and Han defend the troops, Luke faces a showdown with Darth Vader, the Emperor, and his own dark side.

Best For Ages:
6-8 - The violence in these films will be too intense for some children, but older kids in this age range will adore the futuristic fairy tales.

9-12 - Nearly all pre-teens love these movies.

13 and up - These groundbreaking movies make adults nostalgic and continue to thrill teenagers more than 20 years after their original release.

Parental Advisory:
Educational Value: Characters accept the discipline and hard work necessary to defend their values. Dialogue about The Force may interest children in spirituality.

Entertainment Value: The story isn't sophisticated but its thrilling, timeless qualities appeal all over the world. John Williams' award-winning score has become a modern classic. The special effects, enhanced on video with new digital technologies, enable this trilogy to compete with recent releases.

Violence: All the main characters shoot armored enemy soldiers and blow up spaceships. Luke sees his aunt and uncle's burned corpses. Obi-Wan Kenobi is struck down by a lightsaber. C-3PO is broken into pieces. Luke loses a hand in combat with Darth Vader. The overall body count is very high.

Sex: There's some pretty passionate kissing between Luke and Leia before they learn that they're brother and sister.

Emotional Intensity: Luke witnesses his mentor's death, then learns his arch-enemy is also his father. Han's best friend turns him over to Darth Vader. Leia falls in love with Han, then nearly loses him to a bounty hunter. Several other characters die or are wounded.

Frightening Situations: Darth Vader's menacing mask and voice alone scare the heck out of very young children. All the major characters face death several times. Villains torture Leia, deep-freeze Han and shoot constantly at Luke. The trio is trapped in a garbage compactor; Han and Luke nearly freeze to death in the snow, Han and Leia are nearly eaten by a giant space worm. Vader strangles subordinates using mental powers.

Questionable Behavior: Luke disobeys Yoda and nearly gets killed as a result. All the major characters use weapons frequently.

George Lucas' STAR WARS trilogy reinvented the science fiction genre and created a modern myth in the process. Although the special effects won't impress contemporary audiences as much as they did during the films' initial runs, the stories and characters remain beloved by several generations of fans, some of whom grant the franchise nearly the status of a religion. The plots are relatively simplistic, and the acting's only passable, but the themes resonate dramatically.

STAR WARS offers uncomplicated fun, establishing the characters and the stakes for the Rebellion. Although it has the best script of the three, THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK suffers from a darker tone and unhappy ending. RETURN OF THE JEDI wraps up the series in triumphant fashion, though it also introduces the terminally cute Ewoks that kids love but many adults can't stand.

Mark Hamill's Luke Skywalker and Carrie Fisher's Princess Leia are uncomplicated, accessible heroes, but Harrison Ford's Han Solo has the most fun, even though he gets carbon-frozen. A smugger recruited against his will into the politics of the Rebellion, he becomes a general yet keeps his cocky attitude and independent spirit. Still, kids gravitate more toward witty droids C-3PO and R2-D2 and toward Yoda, a Muppet completely believable as a centuries-old Jedi master.

Grade-school boys watch these films over and over, though younger children often get scared when Darth Vader threatens Luke. Teens who have seen the mediocre prequel THE PHANTOM MENACE often enjoy these earlier movies more. The new material added for the video release contributes very little, but STAR WARS completists will want to have it anyway -- and they are legion.

Fans of this trilogy almost always love Lucas' INDIANA JONES films. Science fiction buffs may appreciate the STAR TREK films as well.

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