"Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker" could cause seizures in those with epilepsy

Disney and the Epilepsy Foundation have issued a warning about photosensitive scenes and offer a solution

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published December 10, 2019 4:38PM (EST)

Disney and Star Wars (Chesnot/Lars Niki/Getty Images/Salon)
Disney and Star Wars (Chesnot/Lars Niki/Getty Images/Salon)

Disney and the Epilepsy Foundation are issuing a warning: There are scenes in “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” that may trigger seizures.

The Walt Disney Studios and the Epilepsy Foundation are working together to advise photosensitive viewers to use caution when watching ‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,’’ the Epilepsy Foundation said in a warning that was written with the help of Disney. “The film contains several sequences with imagery and sustained flashing lights that may affect those with photosensitive epilepsy.”

After thanking Disney for reaching out to them, the Epilepsy Foundation offered advice to epileptic people who wish to see the film, including asking a friend to see the movie first and then warn them prior to scenes that may induce a seizure.

“For about 3% of people with epilepsy, exposure to flashing lights at certain intensities or certain visual patterns can trigger seizures. This condition is known as photosensitive epilepsy and it’s more common in children and adolescents,” the Epilepsy Foundation explained.

Disney has taken additional steps to protect epileptic viewers from suffering medical harm while watching the movie.

“Out of an abundance of caution, we recommend that you provide at your venue box office and online, and at other appropriate places where your customers will see it, a notice containing the following information: ‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’ contains several sequences with imagery and sustained flashing lights that may affect those who are susceptible to photosensitive epilepsy or have other photosensitivities,” Disney said in a letter to exhibitors that was published in Variety.

“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” is not the first major Disney film that has come with seizure warnings. In last year’s “The Incredibles 2,” which had the largest opening box office for any animated film in history, there were scenes that viewers posted on Twitter could be dangerous for people with photosensitive epilepsy. As a result, warning signs were displayed outside theaters so that vulnerable patrons could protect themselves.

“To avoid any serious medical incidents, the Epilepsy Foundation is requesting that Disney Pixar post a warning on all its digital properties, including relevant websites and social media channels, about what has been described as ‘flashing’ and ‘strobe’ lights in its ‘Incredibles 2’ movie. There should be a warning of the potential effects on people with visual sensitive epilepsy or migraine features,” the Epilepsy Foundation wrote at the time.

According to the Epilepsy Foundation, photosensitive epileptic seizures can be triggered by factors like frequently flashing lights, the wavelength of those lights, the brightness of the lights, the contrast with background lighting, whether the viewer’s eyes are open or closed and the distance between the viewer and the light source.

“Photosensitive epilepsy is more common in children and adolescents, especially those with generalized epilepsy and with certain epilepsy syndromes, such as juvenile myoclonic epilepsy and epilepsy with eyelid myoclonia (Jeavon’s syndrome). It becomes less frequent with age, with relatively few cases in the mid-20s,” the site writes.

"Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” opens wide on Dec. 20.

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012 and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

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