Since Disney took over the Star Wars franchise in 2012 and started pumping out movies on an annual basis, the series has clocked up big bucks at the box office. Sure, Solo: A Star Wars Story is struggling at the moment, but The Force Awakens, Rogue One and The Last Jedi have all proved to be a *cough* force *cough* to be reckoned with.
Except in China.
In China, Star Wars is not popular. Not popular at all. In fact, starting with The Force Awakens, each entry in the Star Wars series has taken considerably less than the one before it.
The Force Awakens clocked up around $124 million in China back in 2015/2016; Rogue One took $69.5 million the following year; and most recently The Last Jedi took a measly $42.6 million. I say measly because China is one of the biggest markets in the world, often with the power to make or break a movie, so $42.6 million isn’t all that impressive.
This decreasing trend continues with Solo, which to date has only taken around $10 million in China. And it’s likely this figure isn’t going to increase all that much before the film drops out of Chinese cinemas.
Why is Star Wars unpopular in China?
So why is Star Wars so unloved in China? Do you want the short answer?
Star Wars isn’t popular in China because Chinese audiences never grew up with the original trilogy.
Yep, it’s really that simple.
When the original Star Wars films were released back in the late ’70s & early ’80s they were shown in various markets around the world; however, they didn’t reach Chinese cinemas. So, while Western audiences became accustomed to the Millennium Falcon, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader, Chinese audiences didn’t.
This early connection to the Saga has clearly had a knock-on effect with future releases and while the prequel trilogy did make it over to China, it never really took off because the audience didn’t have the same nostalgic connection as you or I. This same thing has happened with the most recent films and with each new movie, Chinese audiences seem to disconnect even further.
Could Lucasfilm have done more to attract Chinese audiences?
The original trilogy created the foundations, so without those initial movies Chinese audiences have struggled to connect with the material, however Lucasfilm did release the prequel trilogy in China, so what gives?
Well, it’s only really been within the last ten years or so that Hollywood has realised the true potential of the Chinese box office. As such, while nowadays producers and directors look for ways to engage with Chinese audiences through casting and marketing, that wasn’t necessarily the case back when the prequels were released.
The upshot of it is, the groundwork for Star Wars simply hasn’t been done. Without the nostalgia factor or the connection to the characters, Star Wars is simply just another sci-fi/fantasy series and nothing more and that’s causing a big problem.
Is Lucasfilm/Disney doing anything to win back the Chinese audience?
To date, Lucasfilm & Disney have tried to appeal to Chinese audiences, either through marketing or through actors, perhaps most notably with the casting of Donnie Yen in a substantial role in Rogue One. Unfortunately, this just hasn’t been enough and it’s unlikely things will change in the immediate future.
Solo is struggling everywhere at the moment, but specifically in China, although this isn’t really a surprise. The character is linked to the original trilogy, so once again his story means very little to the audience.
Of course, this doesn’t really bode well for the forthcoming Boba Fett movie, which is reportedly set to follow the release of Episode IX. Boba Fett would have to do a lot of leg work to stir up interest in China and I simply can’t see that happening.
Will Lucasfilm/Disney give up trying to crack the Chinese market?
With ever decreasing numbers at the Chinese box office logic would suggest that Lucasfilm/Disney will eventually give up their attempts to appeal to Chinese audiences as it could become a waste of time. I’m not sure we’re at that stage yet though.
Of course, there’s always the chance that one of the Star Wars films will catch the interest of cinemagoers. Sometimes it only takes one movie and that one movie could make all the difference.
For now, Lucasfilm/Disney will have to rethink their approach to China. This could be a change of tactics or it could be the acceptance that this is a market that may never be cracked.