Why “The Last Jedi” Totally Flopped in its Opening Weekend in China

Matthew Loffhagen
(Photo: Lucasfilm)

“Star Wars” is not a popular brand in China.

While the most recent movie in this series has proven somewhat controversial in America, the world’s second largest audience is unified in its opinion of George Lucas’ masterpiece saga.

By and large, the Chinese public has absolutely no interest in “Star Wars”, and the box office figures for “The Last Jedi” proves this.

In its opinion weekend in China, Rian Johnson’s controversial “Star Wars” movie made a mere $23.5 million, which sounds particularly bad if you remember that over a billion people live in the country. Clearly the interest in this franchise is very, very, very low.

Rey The Last Jedi
Source: Lucasfilm

“The Last Jedi” made less than half the money that “The Force Awakens” made in its opening weekend in China (that movie took $52 million), and almost a third less than “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”, which earned $30 million when it opened in January of 2017.

So why doesn’t China care about “Star Wars”? It all comes down to nostalgia, or, more accurately, a lack thereof.

Because of censorship and strict import laws in China during the 1970s, the country never knew the joys of “Star Wars” when the franchise was new. While most of the world is clamoring for more “Star Wars” out of an abiding love for the series, Chinese audiences have, by and large, never experienced this particular movie universe before.

Luke Skywalker Looking Whiny
Source: Lucasfilm

As it turns out, the new “Star Wars” isn’t a big draw if you’re not already familiar with the property, and even shoving in Chinese movie stars like Donnie Yen hasn’t been enough to make “Star Wars” appealing to a wholly new audience.

There’s perhaps a lesson in this for all of us; a question worth asking of our own fandom.

Do we like the modern “Star Wars” movies because of their inherent quality as pieces of fiction, or are we just interested in them because they remind us of our youth?

As difficult as it may be to swallow, China’s reluctance to accept the new “Star Wars” movies is probably an indicator that our entire Western culture is viewing these movies through rose-tinted glasses.

It’s interesting to see things from another point of view, and realize that our own love of a famous franchise is learned behavior that doesn’t apply in other parts of the world.

But, hey, whatever. “The Last Jedi” is still probably going to end up as one of the five highest grossing movies of all time, even without China’s help.

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