Why “Solo” Won’t Be a “Star Wars” Movie When It’s Released in China

Matthew Loffhagen
(Photo: Lucasfilm)

When is a “Star Wars” story not a “Star Wars” story? When it’s in China.

There are several big challenges facing Lucasfilm at the moment. In domestic markets, the studio is having a hard time appeasing a large chunk of its core audience, and the pressure of making a “Star Wars” movie every year has led to a lot of challenges with visionary directors who want more autonomy than Lucasfilm is willing to allow.

These problems get a lot of attention here in the West, but they’re by no means the biggest problem that Disney faces with their newly refurbished “Star Wars” franchise.

No matter how many fans grumble at the characterization of Luke Skywalker in “The Last Jedi”, and no matter how many reshoots are needed on anthology films, at least these movies are earning a truck load of money in the West.

The big problem is that the “Star Wars” brand just can’t crack China.

Every other audience around the world loves “Star Wars”. Fond memories of the original films in the Seventies mean that Lucasfilm is always going to be able to turn a profit with their movies.

China, though, didn’t get the original “Star Wars” when it was new, thanks to strict rules against importing American cultural products. As such, the nation still doesn’t really understand these new movies.

Rogue One Donnie Yen
Source: Lucasfilm

“The Force Awakens” grossed a measly hundred million dollars in China, compared with two billion dollars earned throughout the rest of the world. This wouldn’t seem like such a big deal, were it not for the fact that China is the second biggest movie market in the world now, and America increasingly wants a piece of the pie.

“The Last Jedi” fared even worse – as controversial as the movie has proven to be in Western countries, audiences in China really hated Rian Johnson’s work, and the film was pulled early from theaters after earning just forty million dollars in the entire country (less than “The Force Awakens” made in its opening weekend).

Even deliberately casting Chinese stars can’t save “Star Wars” – “Rogue One” managed just shy of seventy million dollars even though it has the wonderful Donnie Yen and Jiang Wen thrown into the mix, ostensibly to try and trick Chinese viewers into caring about the film.

So what’s left for Disney to try in getting China to watch “Star Wars” movies?

Simple: the company is rebranding.

“Solo: A Star Wars Story” will not be a “Star Wars” movie in China.

According to Chinese film market analyst Gavin Feng, “Solo: A Star Wars Story” will instead be called “Ranger Solo” (“游侠索罗”) in China. This move looks to be an attempt to distance the new movie from anything that’s come before in the “Star Wars” franchise.

Without lightsabers, Jedi, and Sith Lords in this movie, Disney might just manage to pull off this bait and switch – but it’ll all come down to luck (even if, in some people’s experience, there’s no such thing as luck!).

After all, China also doesn’t care for “Guardians of the Galaxy”, although that’s largely put down to a poor translation of the film that doesn’t do justice to half the movie’s jokes.

If “Ranger Solo” isn’t able to woo Chinese audiences, Lucasfilm will likely start getting even more desperate in future, trying to tailor their “Star Wars” movies so that they deliberately appeal to Eastern sensitivities.

This wouldn’t be a bad thing if we were to get some awesome “Star Wars” martial arts films, but the easier route would be to make future films more like the “Transformers” or “Fast and the Furious” franchises, which do very well in China.

Star Wars China Poster
Source: Lucasfilm

All of the nuance and depth of “The Last Jedi” might end up on the cutting room floor in future films, in order to make the movies more spectacle-heavy. Essentially, we’d be getting the Prequels again.

Whether that sounds like progress will depend on your personal view of the Prequels and “The Last Jedi”. In the meantime, the odds are against “Solo” in more ways than one.

But, as we all know, you should never tell Han Solo the odds. With its expected reliance on fast, furious speeder chases and starship explosions, “Ranger Solo” might just prove to be a hit after all.