This year marks the 40th anniversary of The Empire Strikes Back. The Star Wars sequel, largely considered to be the greatest Star Wars movie of them all, is celebrating the occasion with a theatrical re-release (COVID aside).
But if you have attended one of those screenings in the UK, you might have noticed something different. It is a subtle change, and one that falls largely by the wayside, but the current screenings of The Empire Strikes Back are not quite the same as before.
In the UK, The Empire Strikes Back has been given a new theatrical classification – moving up from a U (Universal) to a PG (Parental Guidance). For 40 years, The Empire Strikes Back has carried a U certificate, meaning it is suitable for all ages; but now parents have to be aware the film is considered suitable for “general viewing, but some scenes may be unsuitable for young children.”
So, what has changed to make this decades old movie go from a U to a PG? Have Disney/Lucasfilm been tinkering with the picture (again), to add new scenes of peril? Does Boba Fett let out a few curse words? Does Chewie do a nude scene – i.e sans-belt?
Nothing in the movie has changed. The reason the film has a slightly higher classification is all down to the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC).
When movies are re-released in the UK, be it at the cinema or on home video, they are given the once over by the BBFC to check the classification is correct. To give you an example, since 1980 The Empire Strikes Back has been resubmitted for classification ten times – three times for the cinema and seven times for home video – and this is to see whether the certificate it carries is still appropriate for contemporary audiences.
On this most recent re-release, the BBFC decided to change the certificate of The Empire Strikes Back to keep it in line with its recently updated guidance. In short: The BBFC has updated its film guidance, and as a result, the Star Wars sequel has had to become a PG to fit in with this.
Explaining the change to a Facebook user on the BBFC’s official page, a spokesperson for the BBFC said:
“The film was last classified for theatrical release in 1997. Since then we have revised our Classification Guidelines around such issues as violence, horror and threat. Under our current guidelines, the established U is no longer appropriate and we have therefore classified The Empire Strikes Back PG.”
And The Empire Strikes Back isn’t alone. Lord of the Rings – The Fellowship of the Ring has also been bumped up from a PG to a 12A. This means anyone below the age of 12 will need to be accompanied by an adult, if they wish to watch it at the cinema – and yes, it is also back on at selected cinemas.
At present, these changes only affect the theatrical releases of these two movies. Should you want to watch The Empire Strikes Back or The Fellowship of the Ring on home video, you will find they still carry their former certificates.
Is it odd to bump up a film’s certificate years after its release? Yes, but changes in certification do happen.
Personally, I have always felt the U certificate was too low for The Empire Strikes Back. After all, this is a film in which the main hero is mauled by a snow beast, has his hand cut off by his dad, and clearly wants to get it on with his sister. How this escaped being a PG before now is beyond me.
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