Star Wars: The Force Awakens at El Capitan: Spoiler-free Parent Review

If you are a family of die-hard Star Wars fans, then you've obviously already seen The Force Awakens (probably multiple times) and have no need of an outside opinion. But what about the rest of us? What about parents who like Star Wars movies (or at least 20th century Star Wars movies) but didn't feel driven to join the throngs in seeing the new one opening weekend? What about those of us who take a PG-13 rating to heart, and wonder whether this is a movie to see with kids? And, if you do want to see it as a family, is it really so special seeing it at El Capitan? I'll take a vow of no spoilers and answer all of these questions.

First and foremost, if you want to enjoy this movie with kids you really should make sure they've seen the original three movies first (the ones millennials call numbers 4, 5, and 6), which is slightly more complicated than you might expect. None of the films are currently available for online rental or download; catching up means borrowing the DVDs from your local library or kindly geek friend, or taking the plunge and buying the DVDs. Now that the initial excitement has died down, it is possible to find the original set of three online for under $50, if that's the route you choose.

Once everyone is caught up, it's much easier to gauge whether or not your kids are ready for The Force Awakens, because the new film is fairly comparable to the original three as far as PG-13 factors go. The violence and stress levels are pretty similar to the original film, with the one exception that the new episode has some blood. Romance is tame and limited to fully clothed kissing between characters who have certainly earned it. The pace is rip-roaring, which is perhaps the biggest age influencer; viewers younger than age 10 are likely to be left in the stardust, and there isn't really any down time for Mom and Dad to explain. Finally, without giving anything away, there are one or two intensely sad moments when we lose a character we care about. Suffice it to say that if your child can handle the later Harry Potter movies, he or she can handle this one.

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Issues of parental guidance duly covered, how about the question of seeing this movie at El Capitan? As usual, Disney's signature Hollywood Boulevard movie house turns a movie into a special occasion. The foyer has some magnificent life-sized LEGO versions of characters from the film, and the downstairs exhibit area presents a display of props, costumes, and design drawings from the film. After the film there is always a line to see these items; if you want to peruse them at your leisure, slip down before the movie, while everyone else is buttering popcorn.

The other treat included with the price of admission is the pre-show. The theater's resident organist plays John Williams' iconic score on El Capitan's classic pipe organ—a treat not to be had elsewhere. After this, and after the trailers, the audience is treated to a short laser light show simulating a light saber battle. And, as usual, the El Cap MC comes out to hype up the crowd (not that Star Wars fans require much extra hyping). All together, it makes every screening at this theater into a memorable event, which seems particularly merited with this film.

But wait—there's more! The first screening each day (the 12:55pm showing) is in 3D, in case you prefer to see those X-fighters flying straight at you and dropping their bombs down the gap between your seats. El Capitan is the only theater in North America offering The Force Awakens in Dolby Vision 3D.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens plays at El Capitan through February 7, 2016.

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