I must confess, as a Star Wars fan, this is a question that didn't even occur to me. Everyone around me grew up watching Star Wars. We had pop up books and fashioned light sabers out of sticks. To me, Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader and the ewoks were all images and characters absolutely tied to childhood.
My naivety was so pronounced, I didn't even bother to check the parental classification for the film (I now know it is rated PG-13 in the US according to IMDb). As soon as the first trailer for The Force Awakens was out, my 5-year-old and I were talking about when we could go and see it. As soon as the tickets were available for presale, we had booked. And the day after its release, we had already seen it.
It was only once we were inside the cinema, immersed in surround sound and high tech digital graphics (so sorely lacking from the original films) that it occurred to me that perhaps the film might not be suitable for my young child. As stormtroopers swept in to cull a village of innocents, I wondered about the wisdom of my own parenting. But whenever I second guessed myself and stopped enjoying the movie and started worrying about my parental capacity, I had only to look at my son, eyes wide, face full of popcorn, smiling at the screen, to know that he was fine. As were the many other children, much younger than him, in the cinema.
But as other concerned parents have asked me over and over in the weeks since December 17, I have come to realise that this might not be the case for many young kids. I have heard of many other mums and dads who found the movie completely inappropriate for their similarly aged children. My son has been watching Star Wars for a long time. He knows the movies inside out. He seems to comprehend the themes of good versus evil without being frightened by wicked villains or scary weapons. This is not necessarily true for everyone else.
Without doubt, in the new Star Wars there is violence. There is death. There are horrible beings who do horrible things to other beings. As in all the Star Wars movies, there is no avoiding these because they are inherent to the story. After all, this is a tale of an entirely galaxy that has been under siege for generations.
For young kids who have not been exposed to Star Wars or similar styles of movie, The Force Awakens may even be too confronting just because of the heightened experience of being in a dark cinema with a large screen that cannot be paused or stopped. You will see blood. You will see suffering. You will see characters portray fear and loss.
But, for my family, what Star Wars is really about is the survival of hope and positivity throughout all the bad times. While there are characters who have the capacity to turn towards evil, they are always balanced out by other characters who find redemption and good. For me, this is the reason why I love and trust Star Wars as a franchise and never thought twice about introducing it to the kids around me.
For those who are not quite so indoctrinated as my family, the best way to know if your young kids are truly ready to be introduced to the universe of Jedis and Siths is to show them the original Star Wars movies (episodes IV to VI). Having recently rewatched these with my parental filters on, I realised the visuals and the themes are extremely similar. If the kids are not responding well to these old movies in the safety and comfort of home (where you can talk them through it and gloss over the more disturbing aspects to redirect their attention to the overall story) then taking them into a darkened cinema isn't going to be a positive experience.
But if your children love a Wookiee and a droid as much as mine do, the only danger with seeing The Force Awakens (from my experience) is they might become even more obsessed with what happened a long time ago in a galaxy far far away.