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Sex, horror, crime, cruelty and Star Wars

Posted on 17 December 2015 by Henry

When we examine a film, these are the criteria we're looking for: sex, horror, crime, cruelty and violence. These criteria were also used by the old Chief Censor of Films office when examining the original Star Wars trilogy, a long time ago in a government office not that far away (from us anyway).

So are all these criteria in the movies?

Han Solo kissing Princess Leia


Sex is kept behind closed blast doors in the original Star Wars movies, but there was a fair bit of kissing and maybe the odd (very) low-level reference, as in "Sorry sweetheart. I haven't got time for anything else".



The horror tropes are strong in these movies. There are scary monsters like the wampa in The Empire Strikes Back (see image), the giant rancor in Return of the Jedi, and the dianoga (garbage monster) in A New Hope. Scenes with Darth Vader are often designed to install fear and foreboding, with moody lighting, fearful supernatural powers and jump scares. This is most prominent in The Empire Strikes Back.

Leia captured by Jabba the Hutt


Depending on your point of view, many actions of the Rebel Alliance could be considered criminal activity against the Imperial government, and the Empire obviously commits heinous war crimes like the destruction of Alderaan. Other crimes include theft/kidnapping of droids by Jawas and Leia being held against her will by Jabba.

Han Solo being tortured


Cruelty is often associated with Darth Vader, who uses torture devices on rebels (in A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back), and freezes Han Solo in carbonite. Jabba the Hutt is cruel to his minions, slaves and captives, whom he feeds to his rancor beast, and carries out executions in a particularly cruel way by dropping them in the sarlacc pit - "In its belly, you will find a new definition of pain and suffering as you are slowly digested over a... thousand years."

Darth Vader and stormtroopers


The movies depict a galactic war and so are unsurpisingly filled with war violence, fighting both in space and on the ground (and in plenty of corridors). Blaster shootouts and lightsaber duels are peppered throughout the trilogy.

The original Star Wars films were all classified GY by the old Chief Censor of Films office. This unrestricted classification meant "Recommended as more suitable for persons 13 years of age and over". Films that were assigned a GY classification now carry the classification of PG "parental guidance recommended for younger viewers".

Star Wars - The Force Awakens

The latest movie in the series, Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens, was not classified by our office. It got its New Zealand classification label through a process called 'cross-rating', where a film is assigned an NZ rating equivalent to the Australian classification. This is also the source of the film's descriptive note - "science fiction themes & violence". You can learn more about the cross-rating process on our website for students.

Much like the Force, movies, TV shows and games with content like sex and violence surround us - so make sure you always check the classification label and ensure that kids aren't exposed to harmful content. We wouldn't want them turning to the dark side.

Henry works in the Information Unit at the NZ Office of Film and Literature Classification. His views do not represent those of the Chief Censor or of the Classification Office. The Information Unit provides information to other staff, to the public, and to industry members - they are not involved in assigning classifications. Keep up with our blog posts by following us on Facebook and Twitter.

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